Studies of mass trauma have been conducted by Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., and others have previously established that survivors of the Holocaust have altered levels of circulating stress hormones compared with other Jewish adults of the same age.
The outcomes for their offspring give us additional clues about how our cells work.
Epigenetics is a word used to describe how heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes) do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence — a change in phenotype without a change in genotype — which in turn affects how cells read the genes.
We are just at the beginning of understanding epigenetics.
Epigenetics has been researched for decades but it has not made it to main stream medicine quite yet. Meaning, your doctor, counselor and psychiatrist aren’t using this information to help you understand your health.
Research shows that the children of victims of the Holocaust’s stress response systems have been affected because the original victims of the Holocaust had a chemical response to the trauma of being starved and tortured for years which in turn impacted the chemicals their unborn children were exposed to in utero (even years later), as just one example. This response in utero produced children with an increased sensitivity to PTSD, depression and anxiety during their lives.
Our cells try to get us ready for the expected environment through changing cellular proteins and DNA expression. Trauma is passed down generation to generation for about two generations until the cells catch up and realize the environment has changed.
If you’d like a crash course in this information– Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. is the author of the book The Biology of Belief and he explains quite eloquently how all of this works. Here is my abbreviated version:
Main stream medicine teaches you that your DNA is the front runner for basically all of your functioning. This is the furthest from the truth, and scientists like Dr. Lipton have known this for years. He actually quit his job at Stanford University Medical Center because they would not allow him to teach the up to date cellular information he knew to be true from the tests he ran in the laboratory at Stanford.
Imagine two circles, one just inside the other. These two circles make up your cell wall, like a double pained window with proteins incased between, and in the center is the DNA that we are all familiar with. Your DNA is set and the proteins are in charge of DNA expression, SO if a person experiences mass genocide, the proteins inside the cell wall will communicate to your DNA how to express in order to keep you alive.
All organisms move towards survival vs extinction.
It is the proteins running the show! Our cells are in constant communication with our environment. What we eat, who we are in relationship to, the kinds of energy we are around, our thoughts and perceptions- our cells take it all in.
Who cares, right?
Why to care:
Empowerment. Some have the perception that epigenetics feels deterministic. My take is that genetic determinism goes out the window when you realize proteins run everything. You can impact your proties with intentionality which alters expression. Some things like your brain’s map at birth has to do with genes but even that shifts and changes as a young brain interacts with it’s environment. The science behind how the environment impacts our cells gives us some power over our own genes by changing our environments in ways we can, which impact our proteins, and thus the expression of our DNA.
Understanding. It feels good to understand why you may be prone to certain symptoms. It just feels nice to make sense out of things and to feel less broken. It also helps us understand other people’s experiences more fully. Learning about epigenetics has opened my eyes to the experience of being Black in America. The slave trade went on in America for 400 years. Some sources may say 246 years, either way it was HUNDREDS of years of torture, starvation and enslavement as compared to the Holocaust which lasted 12 years from the very start to finish. If Holocaust descendants are experiencing changes in chemistry I would bet my bottom dollar that descendants of slaves are as well. In both cases the descendants of these horrific mass traumas are only 2-3 generations out.
Epigenetics would disqualify the statement, “Slavery was a long time ago, you weren’t a slave and I didn’t enslave you.”
We can look at epigenetics and understand a lot about the emotional state of the descendants of the Holocaust and slavery as well as the impact on their cells and thus chemical makeup.
For those of us who are lucky enough not to have such persecution in our genetic lines, we can use these horrific examples to help us understand that what our parents and their parents went though has had an impact on our cellular structure which may give us clues to a path to healing in the future, and hopefully enable us to have compassion for others.
-No- one thing is everything.
Epigenetics is a tool for understanding and, in my opinion, knowledge to be used towards empowerment and compassion. It is one layer to the puzzle of the human condition in all it’s glory. Use this information to take back your body, mind and spirit and to see the bigger picture.
How can you change your environment (chemical exposure, relationships, thoughts, space, pace, etc.) to impact your DNA tomorrow?