Put on your thinking cap, please: How can a cesarean birth cause epigenetic changes in DNA?

By | July 8, 2014

Catchy headline, sensational picture, and a big question of confusion on my brow: why should cesarian delivery be responsible for changes in genetic expression in the baby's DNA?

To be clear: the scientists claim that DNA methylation – which affects with what frequency genes are expressed – changes at a faster rate for babies delivered by cesarian section than for babies delivered naturally. The article suggests that this rate of methylation change may be responsible for further complications, in particular type-1 diabetes and immune system response – perhaps adding a bit more sensation and scare than necessary.

As a non-biologist and rational thinker, I'd suggest the more logical explanation to be: we know that babies are born on average after 9 months (10 if you count from impregnation), but variances of up to 3 weeks are considered 'normal'. Assuming babies are naturally born when they are 'ripe', a cesarean birth scheduled prior to the natural birth date would be an induced birth before the baby is fully mature, which would be a more likely cause for the higher rate of change than 'natural' births. And, if the baby in question should have been a latecomer, then one month of development time is a lot.

In other words: Maybe if hospitals changed their cesarean birth policy to 'cesarean birth will be performed when the birth pangs start' instead of 'cesarean birth will be performed upon appointment', the rate of DNA change would be identical to that in 'natural' births.

That said, I personally think that unnecessary cesarean complications are not beneficial, extremely costly, and I agree with +Matthew Strain that we should think twice before agreeing to a cesearian section.

#Geist #Health

/via +David Kokua

Cesarean Delivery May Cause Epigenetic Changes In Babies DNA | IFLScience
Babies coming into the world by cesarean section experience epigenetic changes, a study has found. So far there has not been enough follow up to know whether the effects are long lasting, but the discovery may explain the relatively poorer outcomes for babies delivered in this way. Cesarean delivery, where the mother’s abdomen and uterus are surgically cut open to remove the baby, was once a last, desperate option. However, rates are increasing d…

8 thoughts on “Put on your thinking cap, please: How can a cesarean birth cause epigenetic changes in DNA?

  1. Matthew Strain

    I agree completely with the need for tempered words. I feel it is, perhaps, why I have struggled to share this successfully with women in my immediate dealings. The articles I share do not properly assist newcomers in assessing the full picture. For myself, the temperance is understood from this article, that more study needs follow. But I wonder after other writings on the same study. I am sure you would find more overselling than this one.

    I would have liked to have seen this one cross referenced with the germ-line robustness study for a few years ago.

  2. Sophie Wrobel

    +Solomon Asare What you quote is precisely my point: the scientific article is fine, because it is written for a scientific audience who understands scientific language. And they automatically interpret that since the claims in the article use the word "may", and does so towards the end of the article. Translated into normal English, that means "not yet proven, and we would like to research this in another project, so please give us more research money".

    Lay readers, on the other hand, tend to misinterpret "may" with "is", because they aren't used to hour-long discussions on whether the evidence is strong enough to write "causes" or not. Thus writing an article for the general public should emphasize that "may" does not mean "causes", in order to avoid false rumor spreading.

    "deliveries at term" typically means "deliveries at the end of the 10-month pregnancy phase" – the average length of a pregnancy – and not "delivery when labour pains start". I'd be interested to see if cesaerean sections that fit into the latter category, as opposed to the former, demonstrate the same methylation change characteristics as "deliveries at term", as I think the latter, and not the former, is a better measure of the development maturity of the child being born, and provide a more conclusive statement on whether the cesaerean birth method is responsible for the complications, or not.

  3. David Lane

    As the parent of a CS birthed child, I am in the "no evidence to support this" camp. But that is only one birth.

  4. Solomon Asare

    The Scientific Article says:
    "Cesarean section (CS) has been associated with a greater risk for asthma, diabetes, and cancer later in life" and concludes "A possible interpretation is that mode of delivery affects the epigenetic state of neonatal hematopoietic stem cells. Given the functional relevance indicated, our findings may have important implications for health and disease in later life."
    The website article is titled: "Cesarean Delivery May Cause Epigenetic Changes In Babies DNA".

    Also from the scientific article, the deliveries were at term.

  5. Sophie Wrobel

    +Solomon Asare I am saying that the article is following the bad practice of feeding rumors by emphasizing the worse-case scenario under a possible, but unestablished, hypothesis that has not been concluded by research. They should instead be clearly saying 'there could be something big here, but we need more research'.

    There is a big difference between 'methylation change and further complications both happen during cesaerean births' – which is what the scientists observe – and 'cesaerean births cause methylation change, which causes further complications' – which the authors do not claim, but suggest that we do more research to find out if that is the case.

  6. Solomon Asare

    "The article suggests that this rate of methylation change may be responsible for further complications, in particular type-1 diabetes and immune system response – perhaps adding a bit more sensation and scare than necessary." +Sophie Wrobel are you suggesting that contrary to the authors there are no significant diabetes/immune issues with CS birth?


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