The science of epigenetics shows that the choices we make today will resonate in the minds and bodies of our grandchildren.
How? Each of us has biochemical markers that signal our genes in response to input such as nutrients, toxins, even behavior. As a result potential gene expression is switched on or off.
These epigenetic changes persist well after the original stimulus for change is gone. Some of them pass on through generations like biologic memories of what our ancestors ate and breathed, as well has how they felt about their experiences. This also means that our personal choices today can become a living inheritance sent on to those we won’t live to see.
As Duke University genetics researcher Randy Jirtle, Ph. D recently commented,
We can no longer argue whether genes or environment has a greater impact on our health and development, because both are inextricably linked. Each nutrient, each interaction, each experience can manifest itself through biochemical changes that ultimately dictate gene expression, whether at birth or 40 years down the road.
Much of the research about epigenetics correlates to earlier studies showing that parental stress has a negative and long-lasting effect on their children, often well into adulthood. That’s true of the effect of prenatal stress, parental stress during early childhood, parental depression, conflict in the home, unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. Epigenetics may, in part, explain the strong correlation between these stressors and resulting poor mental and physical health in the next generation.
But there’s good news too. Studies have shown that early nurturance can flip “dimmer switches” on genes related to stress, permanently shaping offspring to be calmer and better able to handle new situations. Healthier too.
Chances are good that I was born with genes predisposing me to anxiety or depression. My sorrowful grandmother nurtured my own mother as best she could despite very stressful circumstances. In turn, I was lovingly nurtured and well attached to my parents. As a result, these predispositions were more likely to be dimmed or switched off in me. I hope to carry on this legacy of positive epigenetic changes by gently parenting my children. Epigenetics show us that grandparents and parents can bless children to come (including foster children and adopted children) even if they don’t live to see those children.
As a society, we’ve known for a long time that serious parental stress leaves a legacy of pain into the next generation. Maybe the science of epigenetics will be enough to convince us that parental support and nurturance doesn’t just benefit the child. It also benefits society as a whole.
Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance by Richard C. Francis
The Genie in Your Genes by Dawson Church