Epigenetics is the study of how genes are expressed, or turned on and off, in an organism. It is a relatively new field of study, but it has already revolutionised our understanding of genetics and has significant implications for parenting.
One of the most interesting things about epigenetics is that it shows that our genes are not fixed and immutable.
Rather, they can be influenced by the environment, including our experiences and behaviors.
This means that the way we live our lives can potentially affect the genes that we pass down to our children.
One of the key ways that epigenetics influences parenting is through the process of epigenetic marking. This occurs when certain molecules attach to our DNA and alter the way that our genes are expressed. These marks can be influenced by a variety of factors, including diet, stress, and even social experiences.
For example, research has shown that the diet of a pregnant woman can have an effect on the epigenetic marks that are passed down to her child. This means that the choices a mother makes during pregnancy, such as what she eats, can potentially impact the health of her child later in life.
Epigenetics also has implications for parenting after birth. Studies have shown that parenting behaviours, such as the amount of nurturing and support that a parent provides, can affect the epigenetic marks in a child's DNA. This suggests that the way that we raise our children can have an impact on their long-term health and well-being.
Overall, the field of epigenetics is still in its early stages, but it has already provided us with valuable insights into the complex relationship between genetics and the environment. As our understanding of epigenetics continues to grow, it is likely that it will have even more profound implications for parenting and child development.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) refer to negative events or experiences that occur during childhood, such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; neglect; or household dysfunction, such as exposure to substance abuse or domestic violence. Research has shown that ACEs can have a significant impact on a child's physical and mental health later in life.
One of the ways that ACEs may have an impact on a child's health is through epigenetic changes. Epigenetic changes are alterations in the way that genes are expressed that can be influenced by environmental factors, such as stress. Studies have shown that exposure to stress, including the stress of ACEs, can result in epigenetic changes that may increase a person's risk for certain health problems later in life.
For example, research has found that exposure to ACEs is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It has also been linked to a higher risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
It is important to note that while epigenetic changes may contribute to the negative health outcomes associated with ACEs, they are not the only factor at play. Other environmental and genetic factors may also play a role in the development of these conditions.
Overall, the field of epigenetics is helping us to better understand the long-term health consequences of ACEs and the ways in which the environment can influence our genes. This knowledge can inform the development of interventions and strategies to support the health and well-being of children who have experienced ACEs.
Epigenetics is a fascinating area of study. We now know that stress, in particular - cortisol, is related to how genes are expressed. For instance, even if you carry the gene for breast cancer, it doesn't mean this genetic marker will turn into a disease - it's often the stress that essentially causes the disease to present itself.
What does this have to do with parenting? Other than keeping our own stress levels under control, we have to think about how much adversity our children face. Based on the study of A.C.E's, the more incidences of familial trauma (i.e., abuse, neglect) a child has the more prone they are to a variety of medical conditions such as cancer or even allergies.
Have you ever had something stressful happen to your child and been told it's not a big deal? “They're so young, they won't remember.”That's not exactly true.
The part of the brain in charge of encoding autobiographical or explicit memory is fairly poorly formed until five years of age.
So while it's true your child may not have a visual memory of that incident happening (like it's happening on a movie screen) , they still have the ability to remember it.
We have a second type of memory that especially when engaged under negative circumstances is highly encodable.
From the time we're born, (and many professionals even believe it encodes prenatally) this second type is called implicit memory. These memories are unconscious and automatic and include cellular memory or muscle memory.
They are emotions felt in our body when something happens.
So while we might not encode the story of what happened, the sensations and triggers of those incidents stayed with us.
We remember at a cellular level, feeling scared, alone, misunderstood or ignored.
And repeated experiences like this prime the brain for a stress response, and we are more likely to suffer from emotion dysregulation or mental health issues later in our lives.
The good news? We know that having just ONE ADULT in a child's life who is safe, responsive, and caring can counteract these effects.
With love, gratitude and peace,
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