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Can Trauma Be Passed Down?

Experiencing severe psychological trauma may have a genetic impact on a person's future children, a new study suggests. The daughters of women who have experienced trauma are more likely to suffer from mental illness, a new study by Scandinavian scientists and Johns Hopkins University has found. One study found that children of torture victims had more symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, and behavioral disorders than a control group who had not suffered a specific trauma. A study of the DNA of Holocaust survivors and their children found similar abnormalities in genes linked to depression and anxiety across both generations.

He found that their epigenetic changes correlated with their levels of cortisol, a hormone involved in stress responses. Scientists have long known that parents pass genetic traits on to their children, but Yehuda's research shows that life experiences can also have a chemical impact on DNA. In studying epigenetics in mice, Dr. Oliver Rando of the University of Massachusetts suggested that male stress and the environment may affect their tiny RNAs, which are critical for sperm production. Another study in mice showed that parental exposure to toxins, dietary changes, or harsh environmental conditions resulted in changes in offspring behavior, weight gain, and effects on offspring brain development.

In 2016, Mansui published evidence that injured mice raised in this enriched environment do not pass on injury symptoms to their offspring. The presence of similar biomarkers “suggests that similar pathways operate in mice and children after trauma,” says Mansui. Importantly, acquired traits, in addition to those caused by trauma, can also be inherited through similar mechanisms, the researcher suspects.

In recent years, researchers have learned that trauma can be inherited due to changes in DNA, known as epigenetics. If trauma can cause such epigenetic changes in humans, these changes could serve as biomarkers to identify individuals at increased risk for mental illness or other health problems, and as targets for interventions that could reverse this heritability. It is unclear whether epigenetic modifications caused by trauma can be passed on from traumatized individuals to offspring of future generations.

Remarkably, scientists studying epigenetics have found that trauma experienced by parents can affect the DNA and behavior of their offspring for future generations. A growing body of research shows that trauma (such as extreme stress or hunger among many other things) can be passed down from generation to generation. Generational trauma (also known as intergenerational trauma or transgenerational trauma) is still a relatively new area of ​​study, meaning that researchers have much to learn about its impact and how it manifests itself in people who suffer from it. Much of this research is incredibly compelling, but until more research is done on the effects of trauma across generations, we must wait to uncover all the possible implications.

In addition to being passed down from generation to generation, sociological research also provides examples of how groups manage these social effects in both beneficial and harmful ways. Sociology can help show how past traumas are transmitted through social connections and their impact on current health and well-being. Experts believe that identifying and working with trauma survivors can help improve outcomes for their children.

This study was able to offer not only a sustained model of intergenerational transmission of traumatic experience but also one of the models of resilience that can be passed down between generations and developed within generations. Studies in mice, in particular, have been proposed as evidence for the transmission of such injury and as a model for studying its mechanisms.

Critics argue that while correlations can be established between certain behavioral tendencies and traumas inflicted by previous generations, the biological mechanisms of this process are unknown and may be implausible. In addition to affecting the mental well-being and behavior of exposed individuals, it has been suggested that psychological trauma may affect the biology of individuals and even have biological and behavioral consequences for the offspring of exposed individuals. Transgenerational trauma has also been widely reported in refugees and their children, which can persist for generations.

Transgenerational trauma or intergenerational trauma is a psychological term that states that trauma can be passed down from generation to generation. Once the first generation of survivors has experienced trauma, they can pass the trauma on to their children and subsequent generations of children through the complex mechanisms of post-traumatic stress. Second-generation trauma is often considered a traumatic response to parental trauma.

This traumatic shift may be related to the family unit itself, or it may be found in society through current discrimination and oppression. Historical trauma can lead to a greater loss of identity and meaning, which in turn can affect generation after generation until the trauma takes root in society. And while some of this is certainly due to ongoing social injustice, some of the consequences may well be inherited.

For the black community, the impact of centuries of unresolved trauma is still evident today. The feelings of fear and distrust that many blacks experience can be traced back to lived and inherited experiences. These social consequences of trauma can be even more powerful than genetic influences, affecting group dynamics, identity, history, and culture. But proving that emotional trauma, unlike physical stress, can be passed on to subsequent generations of people is a difficult task.

This adaptive change can then be passed on to our children and grandchildren, biologically preparing them to deal with such trauma. He began research with orphanages to explore the troubling possibility that the emotional trauma of parental separation causes even subtle biological changes—changes so long-lasting that children may even pass them on to their children.

A study of the worms showed that the residual effects of trauma persist for 14 generations. In 2016, Mount Sinai Hospital's Rachel Yehuda and her colleagues found that Holocaust survivors and their children had evidence of methylation in a region of a stress-related gene, suggesting that the survivors' trauma was passed on to their own offspring. Our review found increasing evidence that the long-term effects of trauma are transmitted to offspring in a transgenerational way through the mechanism of epigenetic inheritance of DNA methylation changes and have the ability to change gene expression and metabolome. Although the information on a possible epigenetic basis for the association between trauma exposure and PTSD risk has been discussed in several reviews, it remains to be established whether trauma-induced epigenetic modifications can be passed from traumatized individuals to subsequent generations of offspring.


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