I recently read an article on Aeon.co entitled Die, Selfish Gene, Die by David Dobbs. It talks about the work of Steve Rogers, Mary Jane West-Eberhard and Gregory Wray (among others) and how physical and behavioral traits are not just about the genes themselves but also about the variation of expression available within each gene, and how genetically similar organisms can vary widely in their physical expression based upon their environment , e.g., grasshopper vs. locust; worker or scout bee vs. queen bee.
This made me think of an article I read several weeks ago that I’m still not sure that I fully understand, about how stress factors can cause epigenetic changes that can be passed on to offspring through changes increasing CRF-1 expression in the prefrontal cortex, affecting emotional regulation and decision making, even if those stressors occurred prior to conception. This ruled out the cause of these changes being congenital due to prenatal exposure to elevated cortisol levels. Further reading introduced the concept of DNA methylation which can suppress the expression of certain genetic factors and be passed on even while the actual DNA structure remains the same.
Often family members of war veterans experience what some call Secondary PTSD. Some mental health professionals believe that there really isn’t such a thing as Secondary PTSD, but that the family members can experience PTSD due to the frightening and sometimes violent behaviors of the veteran parent. In families where the parent’s behavior is not extreme enough to be a primary cause of PTSD, it would seem to me that the epigenetic changes discussed in the articles noted above would give some credence to changes in stress response of offspring, even if they were not primarily exposed to such stressors.
I work in child welfare services, and most, if not all, of the children in care have experienced some level of trauma. In extreme cases, this can manifest as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). If you’ve read about the difficulties adoptive families have had with the adoption of Romanian children from the austere and emotionally sterile orphanages there , many of their difficulties can be attributed to RAD due to their early childhood experiences. But if methylation of parental DNA prior to conception can cause such changes, then even children adopted at birth would be susceptible to stress disorders and attachment issues, and possibly their children as well, based not just on direct experience but inherited DNA expression or inexpression.
An abstract on the PNAS website states that methylation is a reversible process but doesn’t suggest that we know how it might happen naturally nor how we might positively facilitate it.
Bruce Lipton (and many other New Thought advocates) posit that “with our intentions and beliefs we can ‘reprogram’ or ‘control’ our genes and our lives”. It makes me wonder if the positive benefits I have personally experienced from meditation, affirmations, and a focus on positive and healing thoughts are things that can facilitate this demethylation and help erase the ill effects of stress inherited from previous generations.