Recent research suggests that we may have a genetic predisposition to certain maternal behaviors – including how they respond to stress.
While it is true that you learn coping mechanisms from those you spend the most time with earlier in life, it appears as though you may also biologically inherit a predilection for certain behaviors at birth.
A recent study published in the Biological Psychiatry journal looked at adult female rats who were exposed to a chronic and unpredictable stress environment.
Two weeks following the stress exposure, the female rats mated and reproduced. Tests of anxiety and fear behavior were then conducted on the offspring at birth and in adulthood.
The study found that the expression of genes controlling corticotropin releasing factor-1 (CRF-1) was increased in the rats whose mothers had been exposed to stress. CRF-1 is a hormone that initiates the stress response.
Rats born to stressed-out mothers had increased gene expression of CRF-1. The study suggests that the high expression of CRF-1 led to a higher vulnerability to stress behavior at birth that also extended into adulthood.
When the female rats were exposed to chronic stress, stress genes were up-regulated. That up-regulated gene expression was found in their egg cells and ultimately transferred in the gene expression of her offspring.
The study offers further evidence that lifestyle factors affect our genes, and those changes can be passed to our kids.
What functional medicine and epigenetics has shown us, is that just because you have an higher vulnerability to stress, does not mean that it has to be your fate. Taking measures to reduce and manage stress in your life may also be able to reverse those changes, thereby breaking the cycle. Those reversed changes may also be transferred to subsequent offspring.
So before you go blaming your mom for your stress, she likely passed on some positive qualities too, so instead, go give her a hug.
Prereproductive stress to female rats alters corticotropin releasing factor type 1 expression in ova and behavior and brain corticotropin releasing factor type 1 expression in offspring. Biol Psychiatry. 2013; 74(9):680-7.
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