Born this way? Nature vs Nurture in the Age of Epigenetics

Bronwyn's picture

We’ve been having this nature vs nurture argument since time immemorial: are we born a certain way, or does our environment inform who and what we are? The question is one of predestination vs free will: do we have control over what we become? Or do our traits come to us written in stone and handed down ready-made? As it turns out, the answer is far more fascinating and bewildering than previously thought: it’s actually both.


Genetics is a profoundly complex and fascinating topic. Our genes are the building blocks of life, and it used to be thought that they were hardwired, etched in stone and inescapable. However, there’s another piece to the story coming to light in the past decade or so: while genetics encode for the traits we will eventually have, epigenetics is the process by which environmental variation turns those specific genes on or off, without changing the genetic code. Epigenetics functions like the director of a movie; although the actors and script are hardwired (genetics), the way these elements are directed changes the expression of the script (genes) without altering the script itself.


So what is the relevance of this on fertility? We know that our diet, lifestyle and (good and bad) habits influence our own long-term health. However, we now realize that the influence stretches beyond our own lives and into subsequent generations. It seems profoundly unfair, but actually your grandfather’s smoking habit has an impact on your health today, and possibly that of your children. This being the case, the importance of these diet and lifestyle choices for expectant parents, and especially those trying to conceive, cannot be overstated. And this is precisely the premise upon which we base our treatment recommendations at Acubalance.


In Traditional Chinese Medicine fertility treatment, I always suggest acupuncture, supplements and herbal treatment for 3-5 months before conception. Although a woman has all of her eggs in her ovaries since before birth, the quality of those eggs has yet to be determined. With treatment, the quality can be vastly improved as we increase blood flow, reduce inflammation and stress, and nourish those eggs by creating the optimal environment for their maturation. The same is true in the production of sperm. While a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have, a man only begins to produce sperm at the onset of puberty, and it takes 75-90 days to create a sperm cell. Again, those 3 months present an opportunity to create the optimal environment for sperm production. The best quality eggs and sperm means baby’s best chance at a healthy life, and what more could a parent ask?


For more information on preconception fertility care, or to ask any question you may have, call Acubalance at 604-678-8600 and book your 15 minute phone consultation. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.