Epigenetics is the field of study of changes which can take place in the ways that genes of cells are expressed without any actual change in DNA. These alterations can result from a variety of factors, including environmental contaminants, such as pesticides (insecticides and herbicides), heavy metals, and *endocrine disruptors. The epigenetic changes can continue even after the initiating factor has been removed, and may be inherited by the next generation.
Initially, pesticides can cause a wide range of immediate problems, such as skin irritation, sleepiness, cognitive disorders, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Cancer rate studies of agriculture workers exposed to pesticides reveal inconsistent results. Rates of some cancers are lower than expected overall, but higher than expected for certain cancers, such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sarcoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and certain cancers (stomach, brain, prostate, pancreatic, breast and ovarian).
To date, the exact mechanisms by which pesticides cause these cancers are unknown. Epigenetics may be the mechanism by which pesticides cause cancers. The chemical changes by which these alterations alter gene expression are methylation, histone modification and changed RNA expression.
CONCLUSION: Evidence at this time indicates that epigenetic mechanisms may be responsible for the toxic effects of persistent organic pesticides on human health.
NOTE: *Endocrine disruptors are chemicals which alter hormone activity in animals which are exposed to them.
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