The Wall Street Journal ran a short piece last week on recent research into epigenetics and the effects of childhood poverty. Alison Gopnik was the author of “Poverty’s Vicious Cycle Can Affect Our Genes”. Some scientists believe that the chronic limited security and support many children experience in poverty changes their genetic makeup to bias them for depression and difficulty handling everyday stress later in life. This is different from saying that you didn’t learn effective coping skills to manage stress, this is saying that your biological ability to deal with stress is impaired by your early experience. And that your altered genes get passed onto your children. And their children. The thought that only poverty affects genetic responses is short-sighted. The effect of interpersonal stressors, absent of poverty, has to have strong effects as well.
If you haven’t heard of the field of epigenetics, then expect to hear about it soon. The study of how our genes change with the effects of our environment and our experiences is new, exciting, and a bit frightening. Simply put, there are scientists working on studying how positive nurturing can change our ability to turn on or turn off genes that control important functions like protecting us from toxins. They are also looking at how exposure to environmental toxins and stress in the womb affect the development of disorders such as autism. Epigenetics is huge.
The WSJ piece reported on the research, and did not offer recommendations for living. But it does make me think that my diet, my exposure to chemicals, and my behavior could change more than my appearance or my attitude. It makes me reconsider my choices for the very long run.