Child Abuse Effects May be Inherited

The effects of child abuse can last your whole life. Neglected or abused children have a higher risk of developing all sorts of ailments and mental disorders as adults. Depression, anxiety, stress and panic disorders are just a few of these. Adults who were abused during childhood also have a higher risk of developing cancer and stroke than people raised without abuse. In fact, these effects can last longer than a lifetime. According to a study published in “Translational Psychiatry,” emerging evidence suggests that the consequences of mistreatment in childhood may persist down through future generations, affecting a victim’s own children and grandchildren, even if they have never experienced abuse themselves. See Economist magazine article of May 26, 2018.

Genes Tell the Story

While experiments on humans are difficult and lengthy, studies on 28 male subjects held by Dr. Larry Feig and his colleagues at Tufts University indicate that certain organisms that regulate the activity of genes switching on and off as circumstances require are passed down to future generations.

The 28 male volunteers provided answers to a detailed questionnaire assessing their childhood trauma along with sperm samples. The researchers then looked for microscopic molecules called micro-RNAs and found concentrations of two types that were as much as 100 times lower than in normal men. These micro-RNAs travel in sperm alongside DNA that eventually create new proteins.

Female Offspring Affected

The researchers, armed with their human test results, then turned to laboratory rats for similar stress testing and found that the female offspring of stressed male rats tend to be more anxious and less sociable. Furthermore, the sons of the stressed fathers themselves produced stressed daughters, proving that the original stress effects last for at least three generations, and that the micro-RNA may be the responsible link. A much larger study is planned to include abused sisters and daughters to determine whether epigenetic changes arise from the subject or his father.

In the future it might be possible to genetically correct the flawed genes by boosting levels of the particular micro-RNAs in sperm, to prevent the legacy of childhood abuse from being passed down to future generations.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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