When people survive horrific or traumatic incidents, it isn’t uncommon for them to develop mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
But according to new research conducted at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, enduring such trauma and stress could literally alter the shape of your chromosomes, increasing the likelihood of future offspring developing similar mental health conditions.
According to Newsmax, the findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, and are based upon the genes of 32 Holocaust survivors and their offspring.
All of the Holocaust survivors had experienced the horrors of concentration camps, torture, and hiding from Nazis during World War II.
Their genes were then compared with other Jewish families located outside of Europe at the time, as well as their offspring.
In their results, the researchers reported that the Jewish families who had experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand had children with increased likelihoods of developing mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
In addition to the increased likelihood of mental illness, the children of Holocaust survivors were observed to have what the study calls “epigenetic” changes to their genes. Namely, their parents’ life experiences affected their genetic makeup, ultimately playing a huge role in their overall development.
Rachel Yehuda, lead researcher and professor at Mount Sinai Hospital, reported that these “epigenetic” changes have also been seen with individuals with diseases such as PTSD.
“The gene changes in the children did not appear to be mediated by adversity experienced during their own childhood but could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” Yehuda said.
The United States spends approximately $113 billion on mental healthcare each year. While Yehuda’s findings provide the sobering truth about the effects of severe trauma intergenerationally, the research also provides key insight that could help to effectively treat and prevent such effects in the future.
“Environmental influences such as stress, smoking or diet can affect the genes of our children. Early detection of such epigenetic marks may advance the development of preventive strategies to address the intergenerational effects of exposure to trauma.”