TKG SCIENCE: Your early life stress can reprogram your kid’s DNA?!

by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.

Years ago, it would have been science fiction. You get diabetes because your grandfather didn’t get enough to eat as a child? You suffer from clinical anxiety because your father was a stressed-out teenager?

But thanks to the study of epigenetics, these scenarios have become the subject of mainstream science.

We’ve learned that our DNA, or genetic code, doesn’t always function the same way. Our genes come packaged in little chemical “wrappers,” wrappers that are formed, in part, under the influence of the environment. Are you stressed out? Starving? Exposed to toxins? These experiences can change the molecular shape of the wrappers, and the shape can determine whether a specific gene gets “turned on” or “turned off.”

This, in part, explains why identical twins become less similar over time. Each individual experiences somewhat different environments, and those environmental experiences may change which genes get activated. As a result, one twin might get cancer at the age of 60, while the other stays healthy.

And here’s the important twist for our discussion: It turns out these epigenetic changes can get passed down to your offspring and grandchildren. Childhood adversity can, in effect, re-program the way our genes work, and the effects can last for generations.

How do researchers figure this stuff out?

Comments are closed.