Nature vs Nurture

Giraffes nurturing their youngster

Gifts of Inheritance vs Choices We Make Now

“She’s the only one of her litter who is still alive.”

Those words, recently revealed in the story of Suzi, the 15 year old Wheaten Terrier who’s lived this long without a single vaccination, speaks volumes about health management and the natural path.

Has the way Suzi was raised affected her life outcomes? Absolutely. This is the nurture side of the equation.

But what about her inherited tendencies, or the nature piece?

This part of the story is of great interest to anyone practicing homeopathy: the inherited chronic disease susceptibility that comes from our parents and ancestors certainly affects our wellbeing.

But maybe, just maybe, we have quite a bit of control of those bits of nature wound up in the DNA our animals come in with.

Inheritance, Physical and Non

As someone pointed out in comments about Suzi’s story on Facebook, the Wheaten breed has a troubling genetic inheritance towards getting PLN, protein losing nephropathy.  Like it’s more common cousin, hip dysplasia, these diseases are clearly not caused by a single gene that can be selected for and eliminated from the breed.

Many of these plagues of animals and people today have a complex genetic component, and that’s a bit beyond our discussion today.

Homeopathy has long recognized inherited chronic disease tendencies, and these may have no or very little genetic basis. Now, perhaps we haven’t studied genetics deeply enough to uncover these roots, but it’s quite common to see illness patterns occurring in families, handed down into the present youngsters.

There’s a famous quote often cited in homeopathic circles, of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s homeopathic physician, answering FDR’s question upon being given a dose, “Doctor, what’s this remedy for?”

The physician’s cryptic answer, “This, sir, is for your grandfather.”

Any visit to a good human homeopath will include your family history, often asking about illnesses and causes of death a few generations removed from you, the patient. I always ask for this kind of information in my case taking, but it's often simply unavailable.

Why would it matter what your paternal grandmother died of? Or what sicknesses plagued your parents?

You quite likely will have tendencies to suffer in similar ways, and that information from your family history will help a homeopath to root out these tendencies. This can prevent not only your illness from ruining your life, but it can help you “send” a cleaner bill of health to future generations, if you have children.

The Tree, The Acorn

It’s apparent to me what I’ve received in my own health challenges as a “contribution” from each of my parents.

When my life became severely stressed after leaping off the proverbial cliff from conventional practice, my right hand broke out in a skin eruption. Right at the base of my thumb.

It was red, circular, weepy and, try as I might, I could not affect it with anything I rubbed into it.

It only dawned on me months later that this was the exact same spot in which my mom had eczema. She’d rubbed cortisone cream into it for years, and I was finally able to help her get off of that dangerous habit when I learned homeopathy and sent her a remedy.


No, that’s inherited predisposition. Nature. Some homeopathic authors refer to it as a “taint” that’s come from the ancestors. Hahnemann used the word “miasm.”

My father died of prostate cancer that metastasized to his bones. He was afflicted at about age 70, and died a few years later.

My eldest brother, 8-9 years my senior, was afflicted with prostatic hypertrophy that repeatedly pulled him from his courtroom lawyering, in the midst of cross examination. No sooner would he return from the bathroom after emptying his bladder, than he would have to beg the judge’s pardon to leave once more.

He was in his 50’s.

I, the youngest born, received a more advanced and developed “taint” of this disease, as it had more time to develop in my dad before I was conceived.

My own prostate starting acting up in my early 40’s.

All of my siblings (3), my mother and my father (both deceased) had hypothyroidism. My thyroid gland has been challenged, but has never gone hypothyroid, likely due to preventative measures that included homeopathy.


The Power In Our Hands: Epigenetics

When inherited tendencies affect us or our animals, we are not necessarily doomed. We have a few chess pieces to play that can greatly reduce the effects of even clearly genetic disorders.

Epigenetics refers to those variables that are “on top of” genetics (epi is from the Greek, for “over, outside of, on top of”).

While inherited genes may seem immutable, how any gene expresses is often a function of environment, or nurture. It’s now clearly been demonstrated that biochemical changes take place on the outside of the chromosomes, that affect how the genes within act.

A common way to speak of epigenetics is the ability to "turn on" or "turn off" genes.

The expression and action of genes in our genetic code depends on variables like diet, vaccines, exposure to toxins, and even upbringing.

When Literal Nurturing is Absent: Oh Oh.

Some of the most interesting studies of epigenetics were made by two scientists carefully studying rats and their mothers’ behavior. Rats raised by doting, grooming mothers showed lowered stress as adults, and were less skittish. Those raised by careless mothers who rarely licked and groomed them had a higher sensitivity to stress as adults.

Other workers found this was passed on to the next generation — inattentive mothering produced another generation of inattentive mother rats.

It was determined that a biochemical change occurred in the genome of the neglected rats. It was measurable.

In a second experiment, these same scientists took careless rat mothers’ offspring, at birth, and swapped them on to doting moms, and vice versa. Those who got more tending and licking after birth reversed their stressful inheritance, growing into low stress adults. The opposite occurred in those born to grooming, attentive moms but who were put on careless mothers.

This proved that it was not just genes at work. Nature took a back seat to nurture.

A third study showed the biochemistry of this inherited stressed state could actually be chemically changed with a drug. Those neglected and stressed rat babies could be changed into relaxed adults with a drug that reversed the negative biochemical changes in their brains.

These discoveries gave rise to a new branch of science, known as “behavioral epigenetics.”

Was a youngster raised by abusive parents? Odds are, he’ll be more prone to depression and even suicide.

Did your young pup come rescued from an animal collector who couldn’t possibly tend to or nourish all of her charges? Those early life experiences may well affect the behavior you see in today’s young adult dog.

So, Nature or Nurture?

You know the age old question,

Are we (and our animals) the result of inheritance (nature) or upbringing (nurture)?"

The answer is resounding: Yes!

Both have a role to play, and both can be affected by the way we treat those in our care.

Clearly, Suzi outlived her littermates because she was weaned onto balanced raw food and completely avoided the health challenges inherent in vaccinations throughout life.

Nurture most assuredly affected her inherited nature.

Hope for Future Generations

The most striking practical application of this nurture affecting nature is in the movement of naturally reared animals. In addition to excellent species appropriate diets, naturally reared animals are often minimally vaccinated or handed off to their new homes unvaccinated, or protected with nosodes.

The homeopathic treatment of breeding animals to cure them of their own inherited or acquired chronic disease holds the greatest potential for positively changing the course of animal health.

When we do this carefully, before youngsters are even conceived, the end result is a healthier stock of offspring. And they’ll pass these healthy tendencies on, if they themselves are bred.

As we learn more of epigenetics, we’ll hopefully take ever greater care of those animals that we raise with the intent of producing future generations.

I suspect those Bach Flower Remedies I've written about in your free Bach Flower Remedies for Animals course inside Vital Animal Pack may even affect epigenetics.

Not a member yet? It's easy to join us and get your own free library of resources. Click here to become a Pack member.

Have you seen inherited tendencies pass generationally in your animals? Ever consider getting your next animal from a natural rearing breeder? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. Dog Lovers on November 1, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    Another fabulous article, Dr. Will. We’ve decided that our next pair of dogs will be from a natural rearing breeder. Every dog we’ve owned was from a shelter, rescue or conventional breeder; ALL had health/mental problems and lived lives that were too short. We feed raw meaty bones and are fortunate to get pasture-raised meats and eggs. I have no doubt our previous dogs were all damaged by being vaccinated and fed kibble while with their previous owners and breeders. It’s impossible to produce healthy off-spring with pitiful nutrition and it’s known that vaccines alter and damage DNA.
    I’m so grateful to NR breeders and vets like you who are truly making a tremendous difference and literally, saving their breeds. We met a doctor years ago who remarked that the only animals and humans who will survive will be the unvaccinated. I know many conventional breeders are seeing all kinds of genetic defects in their lines, their females cannot conceive and reproduce, and entire litters are still born. It’s proof that poor nutrition and vaccines are an absolute disaster.
    We know a woman who owns a naturally raised Labrador and this dog is incredibly healthy and intelligent. No strange behaviors or fears and absolutely no disease. She told us that as a pup, this boy was potty trained in just 2 days. We’re so looking forward to having healthy, smart, NR dogs! Just as God intended.

  2. Elle on October 8, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    This is a wonderful overview of the topic and I’m hoping that there’s more to come on the subject in future postings. My newest puppy will be one of those success stories but it’s going to take a good 12-14 years to be official.
    I subscribe to several pet listservs with one specifically dedicated to researching the genetics of a particular breed to help prevent, in the future, some of the terrible diseases that take our dogs. Looking into how one can change the bad genes homeopathically so they don’t get passed down to future generations seems to me a better focus than just amassing statistics and then praying some scientist in some laboratory somewhere comes up with a cure. That’s just not going to happen with conventional pharmaceuticals, which add to our dogs’ troubles and shortened lifespans.
    Hahnemann was a genius of mammoth proportions and I really appreciate those like Dr. Falconer who have raised this amazing science to new heights. Ever onward forward…

  3. Jane Jones on September 29, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    There is a fabulous book about this. The Genie In Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention by Dawson Church. It is one of the best books I have ever read. We have a lot of control over how our genes are expressed, for us and for our furry companions. And being able to solve problems in a pet that came from their previous surroundings or breeding is so wonderful. I used to think that with enough love they would be okay….I was wrong….homeopathy can work those miracles, along with love.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on September 29, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      Thanks for the reference, Jane. And yes, love moves mountains, so don’t stop that. Just add homeopathy to melt them away and you’ve got a great combo at work for your animals.

  4. anne kee on September 29, 2014 at 10:16 am

    My last 4 dogs came from rescue so no way to know background. Once in a while a smidgen of information and yet all have been very friwendly and easy to work with when at the vet or anywhere.
    My former vet, now retired told me once that I made a beliver of him.
    I asked what he ment.
    He had a running argument with a friend. He felt that genetics had more influence on a animal and his friend felt that enviroment did.
    He then said, and now you come along. Your dogs are not related. Some you found ,some came from rescue, some were given to you and yet when they come in here to have foxtails removed from noses or teeth cleaned ( before a raw diet ) they are all cooperative and easy to work with.
    I took that as a wonderfull complement.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on September 29, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      A rather nice complement, I’d agree, Anne. You’re clearly doing something right in the caregiver’s role.