• Sarah Tottle

What is Epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the study of how experience, thoughts, and words can modify our DNA. These changes can be passed on from one generation to the next. We can change the structure of our genes, and this can have lasting consequences.

A genome is a double helix code that is uniquely you, unless, of course, you have an identical twin. Added to this is another layer of complexity called the epigenome. The epigenome sits in your cells with your genome and is the instruction manual that decides which parts of your DNA are activated and which genes are switched on or off. Every cell in your body contains its own epigenome. This is impressive stuff because it is the epigenome that decides the actions of a cell.

Trauma and Epigenetics

Your DNA stays consistent throughout your life, but the epigenomes are fluid. They change as we grow (i.e. throughout adolescence), and the experiences we have in life impact on them. Epigenetic changes affect our body, both positively and negatively, and impact on the health of our bodies. Experiences, such as trauma, can have an adverse impact on our cell health. But not only that, it can also impact on our children and grandchildren’s development. This is the same as the experiences of our grandparents and parents on our own lives.

In a study conducted by Professor Yehuda Bauer, the impact of traumatic experiences on war veterans, Holocaust survivors, and the September 11th attacks were considered. The study aimed to understand the impact this had on the survivor’s children. Professor Yehuda found that children whose parents had suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) displayed PTSD and depressive symptoms, too. The children also shared epigenetic markers with their parents, meaning they were more reactive to stress.

The good news is that we can rewire and reverse these changes through our personal experiences. We can also do this using powerful words, thinking positively, seeking out joyful and enriching experiences, and keeping our focus on the here and now. Our words are powerful and can influence health at a cellular level. It is estimated that between 75 and 98% of mental and physical health problems come from the mind.

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