It turns out there is no lifeguard at the “gene pool”. But what if you could go back in time
and change your past. If your child inherited, Gran’s worrying habits, Granpa’s short temper, or Aunt Meg’s extreme silliness in times of stress, then at least knowing your past may help you. Behavioral epigenetics is a fairly new eld that has recently proven the past experiences of our ancestors can alter our genetic makeup on a molecular level.** This discovery indicates we are more likely to mimic the behaviors of our parents as the DNA is handed down by both the father and the mother. So, Freud lovers, you can no longer blame bad mothering for all your faults. As with most things, there are both positive and negative outcomes to this. If your ancestors were exposed to the stressors of famine and poverty, but responded to these stressors by rationing and becoming more resourceful, then you may have an explanation for habits such as future planning, creativity and calm in the face of a storm. However, if your ancestors responded to these same circumstances with anxiety, bitterness or food insecurity, chances are your responses to similar triggers will be negative as well, even if the trigger is a brief hunger pang between meals. By understanding the experiences of our ancestors, we can gain information about our own behavior. If we wish to change what we pass along to our children, we need to change how we behave in response to our environment. Thus, Nurture molds Nature.
This research also indicated that environmental factors such as chemical exposure will also alter our DNA. The chemical bisphenol A, commonly called BPA
was used in many plastics until public outcry several years ago. When animals were exposed to this chemical, they not only demonstrated increased anxiety, problems with learning, memory, and socialization, but their o spring did too. Specifically, the mothers exposed to this decreased the social contact with their o spring, which in turn imprinted higher levels of stress responses on their own DNA.
So what does all this highly scienti c yet somewhat di cult to understand research mean to us? Most importantly, we, as parents, need to clean up our act. If we want to ensure the best possible outcomes for our children and even our grandchildren, we need to take care of ourselves, and
the earlier we realize this the better. Nearly every aspect of our environment will
alter the genetic material we pass along. So we need to eat right, as both the nutrients and habits are likely to show up in the future. Take care of our physical
environment, it’s the tub your body bathes
in. Eliminate potential toxins and exposure to
chemicals, preservatives, drugs, and alcohol.
Nurture emotional health by managing and
reducing stress. Stress responses and chemicals
are one of the most critical factors that impact our
DNA, and the wellbeing of our future generations. Most of all,
engage in healthy behaviors, as these behavioral responses will also be
handed down. Right now we may be a lowly branch on the family tree, but one day we may be the trunk that supports many. Nourish the healthy and prune what is not.