Health Tips From The Professor: The Seventh Generation Revisited

When I was a young man I read an article called “The
Seventh Generation” in Organic Gardening magazine. That
article was based on the old Indian admonition to
consider the effects of everything we do on the seventh
generation of our descendents.

The article was written before the environmental
movement had co-opted the seventh generation concept.
It was also written at a time when the food industry
and the public had really started buying into the
“better living through chemistry” concept. Processed
foods, fast foods and artificial ingredients had just
started to replace real foods in the American diet.

The author envisioned a world in which, if we continued
to eat nutrient depleted foods, each generation would
be sicker than the previous generation until by the
seventh generation our descendents would live
miserable, sickly, shortened lives – and nobody would
know why.

That article made a powerful impression on me. I always
like to keep my mind open to new ideas, especially
ideas that challenge my preconceived thinking.

So I asked myself “Could it be true? Could it actually

Of course, the author did not have the foresight to
predict the obesity epidemic, so he did not envision a
world in which we might live sicker, shorter lives in
as little as one or two generations.

In addition, the author was not a scientist, and his
whole premise seemed scientifically implausible at the
time. In those days we thought of DNA as the sole
determinant of our genetic potential and as something
that could not be influenced by our environment. Now we
know the DNA and the proteins that coat the DNA can be
influenced by the foods we eat and other environmental
factors – and that those changes can be passed down
from generation to generation. This has lead to a whole
new scientific discipline called epigenetics.

All of that leads me to this week’s article (Bondi et
al, Biological Psychiatry,
doi:10.1016/j.biosych.2013.06.007). Let me start by
pointing out that this is an animal study. It was done
with rats. I usually base my health tips on human
clinical trials, but it is simply not possible to do
multi-generation studies in humans.

The authors hypothesized that omega-3 fatty acid
deficiency could be associated with psychiatric
disorders such as ADHD, autism, schizophrenia and
depression. They based this hypothesis on the known
role of omega-3 fatty acids in both brain development
and maintenance of normal brain function. They also
pointed to numerous clinical studies showing that
omega-3 fatty acids could either prevent or reduce the
severity of these diseases in humans.

They focused on adolescent rats as well as adult rats
because these diseases frequently emerge, and are
sometimes more severe, during the adolescent years in
humans. Finally, they included second generation rats
in the study because the change in our food supply that
created an excess of omega-6 fatty acids and a
deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids started in the 1960s
and 1970s. They reasoned that if the effect of omega-3
deficiency is multigenerational it would be more severe
in today’s human adolescents. As I said before, you
can’t do multigenerational studies in humans, but you
can do them in rats.

They separated litters of rat pups from omega-3
sufficient parents into two groups. One group was fed a
diet sufficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and the second
group was fed an identical diet except that it was
deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. When the omega-3
sufficient group reached adulthood, they were mated and
their offspring were continued on the same omega-3
sufficient diet. Similarly, when the omega-3 deficient
group reached adulthood, they were mated and their
offspring were raised on the same omega-3 deficient

They put each group of rats through a series of
behavioral tests when they were adolescents and again
when they were adults. It is beyond my expertise to
analyze the validity of rat behavioral assays, but the
authors claim that the tests they employed were good
measures of behavioral traits in human that would be
classified as hyperactivity, anxiety, attention deficit
disorder and reduced behavioral flexibility. [If you
have adolescents in your household, some of those
behaviors may sound awfully familiar].

The results were thought provoking. They found little
evidence that omega-3 fatty acid deficiency triggered
these behaviors in the first generation rats. However,
they found strong evidence that omega-3 fatty acid
deficiency triggered each of those behaviors in the
second generation rats – and the effect was much
stronger in the adolescent rats than in the adult rats.

The Bottom Line

At the present time, it just isn’t possible to predict
the significance of this study for you. This is a
single study. And, it is an animal study. It could mean
nothing, or it could mean everything.

We do know that the incidence of ADHD in US children
has increased by 38% from 2003 to 2012 – and nobody
really knows why. We also know that some studies have
shown that the American diet is often deficient in
omega-3 fatty acids. These same studies have suggested
that providing adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids
in the diet may prevent or reduce the symptoms of ADHD.

I’m a hard-nosed scientist. So I’m not going to be one
of those bloggers who writes sensational headlines
claiming that omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, or some
other nutritional factor, is the cause of our
skyrocketing rates of ADHD.

But, it is enough to make you wonder “What if? Could it
be true?”

To Your Health!
Dr. Stephen G Chaney

Dr. Stephen Chaney received his B.S. Degree in Chemistry from Duke University and his Ph.D. Degree in Biochemistry from UCLA.

He is a distinguished professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Dr. Chaney teaches first year medical and dental students. He ran an active cancer research program for 37 years.

Dr. Chaney has published 97 papers and 12 reviews in peer-reviewed scientific journals as well as two chapters on nutrition for one of the leading biochemistry textbooks for medical students. He has been named “Basic Science Teacher of the Year” several times by the first year medical students. He held the Medical Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professorship for the period 2005 to 2009.

Dr. Chaney is a devoted fan of Shaklee Nutritional Supplements. We are fortunate to have a man of his knowledge, intellect, and love for nutrition as contributor.  You will learn much from Dr. Chaney’s posts.


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