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Epigenetics: It Goes On and On

by | Jan 4, 2023 | Blog, Science

Unfortunately, there are some wounds that time does NOT heal. Current findings show the emotional damage of trauma and other environmental factors/experiences not only affect the individual but can be inherited by their children and further generations.

The mechanics of our DNA and how it is passed on to our offspring has been understood for years, either at a clinical or practical level. We know how recessive and dominant genes interact, which provides a bit of comfort and predictability in the range of characteristics (physical, mental, etc.) that are passed on. Breeding two English Setters will (almost certainly) not result in a litter of toy poodles. With humans, it is significantly more complex and varied (and unpredictable), although the same principles apply.

Until very recently, it was believed we were either blessed/cursed with our own DNA, which remained static throughout our lives. Blues eyes didn’t suddenly turn brown, nor does a previously tone-deaf singer become the next Adele at the age of 30. From birth, it seemed we were held hostage by our DNA.  Only recently have we been able to see past its cryptic code.

New findings show that our DNA is not static, but constantly adjusting. Switches on the surface of our DNA (or the proteins on the DNA) are activated (or not) depending on our experiences and external factors. This changes how those genes behave, but not the information the genes contain. The study of this process is called Epigenetics and is challenging the age old argument of nature v. nurture.

Epigenetics teaches us we are not just the product of our parents’ DNA (in the traditional sense), but also their past experiences and choices. If one parent experiences trauma (especially at a young age), it will alter their DNA, and this alteration may be passed down to their children. Lifestyle choices such as drug use, diet, environment chemicals and even exercise also produce epigenetic changes in offspring.

Research has shown that we are also the product of our grandparents’ experiences as well.

In the small town of Overkalix in northeast Sweden, data supports significant epigenetic effects on grandchildren as a result of the grandparent’s diet. Of note, grandfathers who experienced food shortages (famine) when they were 10-13 years old, had grandsons who lived 32 years longer (on average) than those who had plenty to eat at the same stage in life. Also, well fed grandfathers from Overkalix were four times as likely to produce grandsons who suffered heart disease. Similar, but fewer extreme results were identified between grandmothers and their granddaughters.

Evidence demonstrates the epigenetic effects of trauma in children as well. Dr. Rachel Yehudi PhD, and her research team at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, examined the genetic code of 32 female Holocaust survivors and their children.

Previous findings indicated that the children of Holocaust survivors experienced higher incidence of stress disorders, and Dr. Yehudi was curious to learn if there was an epigenetic component connected to the increased stress disorders. The researchers examined the genes of Jewish children whose parents were not Holocaust survivors for a control group.

Dr. Yehudi’s findings were conclusive as she found significant genetic changes in children from mothers who survived the Holocaust compared to the control group. The “stress gene” of the children of Holocaust survivors had chemical tags not seen on the genes of the control group.

There is also research demonstrating that positive lifestyle choices and diet can have beneficial effects on the genetic switches – leading to longer and healthier lives. Dean Ornish M.D, renowned author, president and founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, as well as Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is well known for his mantras “Change your lifestyle, change your genes” and “Our genes are not our fate”. His study “Gene Expression Modulation by Intervention with Nutrition and Lifestyle Activity” showed that gene expression in more than 500 genes was beneficially affected. Genes controlling tumor formation, oxidative stress, and inflammation were downregulated.

We believe that regular and sustained use of CalmConnect supports emotional well-being, in the same way eating healthy foods and exercising supports physical well-being. The safety and affiliation provided by CalmConnect may neutralize or even reverse the effects of trauma and abuse within an individual, hopefully minimizing their effects, even on future generations.