surviving stress

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Did you know that descendants of Holocaust survivors have altered stress hormones? Research into "the intergenerational effects of trauma" indicates that "A person's experience as a child or teenager can have a profound impact on their future children's lives, new work is showing:"

[Rachel] Yehuda's team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., and others had previously established that survivors of the Holocaust have altered levels of circulating stress hormones compared with other Jewish adults of the same age. Survivors have lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that helps the body return to normal after trauma; those who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have even lower levels.

It is not completely clear why survivors produce less cortisol, but Yehuda's team recently found that survivors also have low levels of an enzyme that breaks down cortisol. The adaptation makes sense: reducing enzyme activity keeps more free cortisol in the body, which allows the liver and kidneys to maximize stores of glucose and metabolic fuels--an optimal response to prolonged starvation and other threats. The younger the survivors were during World War II, the less of the enzyme they have as adults. This finding echoes the results of many other human epigenetic studies that show that the effects of certain experiences during childhood and adolescence are especially enduring in individuals and sometimes even across generations... [...]

With low levels of cortisol and high levels of the enzyme that breaks it down, many descendants of Holocaust survivors would be ill adapted to survive starvation themselves. In fact, that stress hormone profile might make them more susceptible to PTSD (below, yellow); previous studies have indeed suggested that the offspring of Holocaust survivors are more vulnerable to the effects of stress and are more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD. These descendants may also be at risk for age-related metabolic syndromes, including obesity, hypertension and insulin resistance, particularly in an environment of plenty.

If the word epigenetics doesn't ring a bell, check out this video (h/t: 3 Quarks Daily):

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on March 7, 2015 4:51 PM.

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