This Mother's Day got us thinking about what it means to be a mom. It all started with Heidi and I reflecting on our own experiences as moms through our cancer diagnosis and beyond. We talked about our own moms, and the journeys that we have travelled with them too.
Our reflections looked beyond the sleepless nights, the school runs, the homework battles, the first heartbreaks, bunking out to go to nightclubs and giving our parents' grey hairs, to the support our moms gave us when we became mothers. We wanted to look deeper into the bond between mother and child. We wanted to look at the epigenetic and biology of this bond and what we found was simply wonderful!
When Heidi enrolled in the Principles of Genetic Counselling at The University of Cape Town (UCT), she did her project on the hereditary features of our mitochondria. Research has revealed that our mitochondria come from our moms only. This is truly amazing. Mitochondria are the energy 'powerhouse' inside of each of our cells.
Your mitochondrial DNA accounts for a small portion of our total DNA. It contains just 37 of the 20,000 to 25,000 protein-coding genes in your body. But it is notably distinct from DNA in the nucleus. Unlike nuclear DNA, which comes from both parents, mitochondrial DNA comes only from your mom. Damaged or defunct mitochondria has been linked to many lifestyle-related, chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease and cancers. The good news is that we can make better choices to better support our mitochondrial function through better nutrition. These include products that contain the therapeutic nutrients such as L-carnitine, folate and key amino acids.
Mitovive is a great product for mitochondrial renewal.
Now that we know that the transfer of mitochondrial DNA comes from your mother to you (often called maternal inheritance which occurs in humans and most multicellular organisms) we have been able to trace our maternal ancestries. You inherited your mitochondrial DNA from your mother, who inherited hers from her mother and so forth. Maternal inheritance also gave rise to the idea that there exists a "Mitochondrial Eve', a woman from whom all living humans inherited their mitochondrial DNA!
While researching, I came across another interesting, epigenetic research project into the mother and child bonding. Dr Aleeca Bell and Dr Jessica Connelly looked at the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) may be a genetic-epigenetic biomarker of postpartum depression. While a person’s DNA structure never changes, epigenetics is the system of how genes are turned on, off, up or down, which can affect their overall expression. Changes in epigenetics occur naturally, but can also be influenced by factors including age, environment, lifestyle and disease conditions.
They compared the DNA of depressed and non-depressed mothers. They found that higher DNA methylation- an epigenetic marker- of the OXTR was associated with greater risk of postpartum depression in women with a specific OXTR genetic profile who were not depressed during pregnancy. Based on these findings, an epigenetic hormonal predictor of postpartum depression risk could allow for early interventions. This is the foundation of Bell’s future research.
We know that a woman's nutrition during pregnancy is critical for the healthy development of the embryo. Now, what's really exciting is the science of epigenetics has enabled us to look a little deeper into 'what' this means. Research conduction by Geraghty, Lindsay, Alberdi, McAuliffe and Gibney aimed to look at 'how' epigenetics, specifically DNA methylation, plays an important role here. As nutrition is influential for DNA methylation, this review aims to determine if maternal nutrition during pregnancy can modify the offspring’s epigenome at birth. The research focused on micronutrients and methyl donors such as folate and B vitamins. A link has been shown between a pregnant mom's nutrition and the methylation patterns of her baby. We see this as exciting times!
When we look at this type of information, we realize that we share a deep connection with our moms with the greatest of these being love.