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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

Environment: Genes and Brain Development

Jan 30, 2012 09:37PM ● By Dr. Jeremy Fritz

One of the most dramatic discoveries in science over the past decade has been the understanding of how early experiences and environmental factors shape the expression of how, where and when genes function to build the brain.

Current neuroscientists avoid the question of “nature versus nurture” and instead focus their interests on the interplay between the two. Without question, brain development is influenced both by genes and the environment, with a stronger emphasis on the environment. Dr. Robert Melillo, childhood neurobehavioral expert and author of Reconnected Kids, states, “Though genes are responsible for building the brain, they, for the most part, depend on environmental influences to stimulate them into action. At precise times during development, various environmental factors must interact with the senses to turn on the genes to signal a new brain-building process to begin.”

Epigenetics, a scientific term that describes how environmental factors affect overall genetic expression, means that the way we live our lives and the choices that we make influence how our genes are expressed. Most people realize that every one of us carries our own unique gene sequence within every cell in our body. However, few realize that our genes are continually regulated throughout the day, receiving instructions from our environment to either turn on or turn off certain genes.

Imagine that each one of us carries within us our own “book of life” that is written by our genetic sequence, with good chapters and bad chapters. An environment that is nourishing to our brain, comprised of loving parents, healthy foods, enriching relationships, exercise, meaningful play, continual learning and laughter will focus the reader on the good chapters, while ignoring the bad.

“Parents generally don’t give it a lot of thought, but babies aren’t born with much of a brain. A child is born with little more than a brainstem and just enough brain power to keep the heart beating, the lungs breathing, the bowels moving and other, less obvious, necessities of life functioning,” says Melillo. An infant enters this world with basic reflexes and instincts housed in the brainstem, but is not fully equipped to handle all of the stressors this world brings on its own. The infant is dependent on his or her parents and caregivers to assist them with the tasks that their baby brain can’t handle.

Dr. David Perlmutter, neurologist and author of Raise A Smarter Child By Kindergarten, states, “Parents can have a profound influence on the actual physical structure of their child’s brain and in turn, it’s functionality.” As a parent, you can help build your child’s brain by providing an environment that is nourishing; with love, interaction, healthy food and lots of movement and play.

For parents, this knowledge is good news: an understanding of epigenetics helps value the hard work of raising children. The right environment can mean everything, and your children deserve no less out of life.

Dr. Jeremy Fritz is the executive director of the Brain Balance Achievement Centers of Chicago (Vernon Hills) and Milwaukee (Mequon). Fritz studied under childhood neurobehavioral expert, Dr. Robert Melillo, creator of the Brain Balance Program, and is passionate about helping children suffering from neurobehavioral and learning disorders through natural brain-based mechanisms. Fritz is also a parent educator and strives to provide them with a deeper understanding of current research as it relates to childhood developmental disorders. For more information, call 847-821-1328 or visit

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