PULLMAN, Wash. – We know the food we eat and the air we breathe influences our overall health.
But, researchers at Washington State University are working hard on what they believe is another key element to health. They said if your ancestors were exposed to environmental toxins, it could influence whether or not you get sick.
"What your ancestors are exposed to is going to cause disease in you. And you're going to pass it onto your grandchildren," said Dr. Michael Skinner.
Skinner said he has found several common environmental toxins that are changing our evolution. He points to a recent in-depth analysis revealing more than 95% of the world's population has at least one health problem. This includes things like heart disease, cancer, anxiety along with infertility, asthma diabetes and more. According to the report, even kids age 0-9 have an astonishingly high rate of health problems.
"It turns out 80% of the population in developed countries ages 0 to 9, 80% of them have a chronic disease," said Dr. Skinner.
Skinner believes babies are now simply born with a disposition toward disease. His studies focus on things like pesticides, herbicides, jet fuel and plastics. When they exposed pregnant rats to these kinds of common environmental toxins the embryo that was actually exposed did not grow up to have disease. But, as they bred the animal its eventual offspring developed disease in astounding numbers.
"Four generations later, 90% of the population of animals both males and female will develop a whole variety of different diseases," said Dr. Skinner.
Skinner said those are the kind of rates humans are seeing. The findings are troubling. They are finding that trouble in several toxins in different ways. For example, vinclozolin, while banned in some countries, the fungicide is still used worldwide on fruits and vegetables. When they exposed rats to vinclozolin, the male rats and their male offspring had extremely low fertility. Meantime, the female offspring were more prone to be anxious and stressed out.
The Skinner lab is in the middle of a study on a common herbicide called Atrazine. It's been banned in Europe for more than a decade, but still widely used in the United States. Its maker maintains it is safe.
Skinner said once this disease destiny has a hold of our DNA, it doesn't go away. He believes knowing the bad news is better than not knowing the news at all.
"So even though it's doom and gloom, I think it really is a major step forward in us basically treating the condition. We won't heal it or solve it, get rid of it, but we can at least treat the condition so we have better lives and better medicine," Skinner explained.
The findings are controversial. Some argue a rat's reaction to toxins may not mimic that of a human.
In the meantime, everyone in the Skinner lab said their findings prompt pause in their personal lives.
"Yes, I don't use a lot of plastic containers and I'm much more careful about the types of products that I purchase at the grocery store," said Scientific Assistant Maggie.
They hope their labor in the lab will prompt greater care in all of us. They are pretty sure your great-great-grandchildren will appreciate it.