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HomeVolume 29Spreading illness down generations

Spreading illness down generations

By TED STEELE and DON FULLER

The explosion of type two diabetes, obesity, kidney disease and renal failure among remote and closed NT Aboriginal communities – at least 10 times the incidence among non-Aboriginal people – can be tracked to poor lifestyle choices not only within individuals: Such acquired changes can be passed on to the offspring down generations.

This is known by the tongue-twister “Lamarckian acquired inheritance trans generational phenomena”.

Diabetes and associated metabolic disease can lead to heart attacks and limb amputations, chronic eye diseases and blindness, and debilitating chronic kidney disease and end stage kidney disease requiring dialysis and kidney transplants.

The question needs to be asked as to why the growth in such diseases has escalated so rapidly over the past few decades.

In our view, it is clear from the latest scientific research that induced diabetes, caused for example by excessive consumption of alcohol, leading to very high blood sugar levels in either the mother or father individually, or both, are directly relevant to the escalating calamity engulfing Aboriginal peoples.

The initial transmission is usually thought of as being strong through the mother but equally, such acquired disease traits induced in the father are also observed to be transmitted to first generation children, wholly or in part, in studies of animals.

It is likely that such important knowledge is not fully appreciated by health bodies responsible for Aboriginal communities. 

Where do these important scientific facts lead us? They lead us directly to the design of far more effective policies aimed at controlling the explosion of related illnesses.

The question needs to be asked as to why the growth in such diseases has escalated so rapidly over the past few decades.

Very high blood sugar levels affecting many traditional Aboriginal grandparents and great-grand parents over 60 to 70 years ago, by exposure to non-traditional high salt and sugar and Western processed foods diets, are also suspected as a primary cause.

What is observed from research is that whether the initial diseased state is acquired in the mother or the father, this state can be transmitted to offspring and then the “hereditary” effect is reinforced in subsequent unions among those who have the disease.

An escalation in the incidence of apparent “genetic” diseased states therefore proceeds into subsequent generations.

The key observation is how the medical–health problems escalate over time. The escalating Lamarckian transmission process needs to be appreciated by those responsible for health.

Importantly, to achieve reversal from such debilitating health issues as diabetes, action needs to be initiated as soon as possible, as the original first generation effects are far easier to reverse than say at the fourth.

Possible action should include early treatment of type two diabetes by medical interventions, as well as substantial lifestyle and dietary changes. Sufficient exercise for example, is also important.

However, the first step to solving the uncontrolled diabetes and kidney disease in remote Aboriginal communities is an understanding of the root causes of the trans generational epidemic.

PHOTO: Purple House provides dialysis in the most remote parts of Australia. It is an Indigenous-owned and run health service operating from its base in Alice Springs.

Ted Steele and Don Fuller grew up in Darwin and attended Darwin High School and Adelaide University together. Both have remained firm friends over the years. Ted completed a PhD in Science, specialising in Genetics and Immunology, while Don completed a PhD in Economics. They both share a high degree of interest and concern about Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

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