Saturday, March 7, 2015

Stress Effects Can Last For Generations

InterGenerational Science

Health Risks: “A variety of studies, many using long-term medical records from large populations, have found that certain experiences affect future descendants’ health risks.”
Image Credit: Victoria Stern, IStockPhoto
Source: National Geographic

An article, by By Tori Rodriguez, in Scientific American says that a parents’ traumatic experience can negatively effect their children's ability to cope with life’s difficulties; this early finding comes from a study of Holocaust survivors and their families in the field of epigentics, which looks at the heritable changes in an individual’s genes that are not a result of changes to an individual’s DNA. These changes are often a result of how we interact with our environment and this emerging scientific field examines such changes at the level of our genes.

In “Descendants of Holocaust Survivors Have Altered Stress Hormones,” Rodriguez writes:
A person's experience as a child or teenager can have a profound impact on their future children's lives, new work is showing. Rachel Yehuda, a researcher in the growing field of epigenetics and the intergenerational effects of trauma, and her colleagues have long studied mass trauma survivors and their offspring. Their latest results reveal that descendants of people who survived the Holocaust have different stress hormone profiles than their peers, perhaps predisposing them to anxiety disorders.

Yehuda’s team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., and others had previously established that survivors of the Holocaust have altered levels of circulating stress hormones compared with other Jewish adults of the same age. Survivors have lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that helps the body return to normal after trauma; those who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have even lower levels.
This is where science confirms anecdotal information; in many cases, children growing up with a parent or parents who went through a severe trauma like the Holocaust (as I did), are more anxious and nervous than their peers who resided in households whose parents did not. While such studies do not (yet) provide a curative method to help such children become less anxious or nervous, they do offer a scientific explanation of what happens at the genetic level to humans undergoing severe trauma, chiefly, that this is passed on to future generations.

This is a kind of help in itself. For one, it will prove that trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder are serious diseases that have an source explanation. Or more to the point: there is a valid reason why some people have high levels of stress, even though they themselves never underwent any traumatic or major life-threatening event. Actions of the past do influence the present.

For more, go to [ScienAmer]