My interest in epigenetics, and the ability it provides to customize therapy based on an individuals’ genetics, is behind the information I have been sharing recently, and today’s post will be no different. Quite honestly, I am amazed at the power of epigenetics.
As you may now be familiar, epigenetics is the study of genetic expression and how certain lifestyle changes can, in fact, alter the expression of genes. Epigenetics is already a game changer in the world because it helps individualize medicine. Broad-based treatment strategies for a wide variety of people (think: one size fits all) will become a thing of the past. As therapy and solutions can become more individualized for the patient, wellness can be optimized and so can the future of medicine.
I’d like to share information from a 2017 study that evaluated the effects of mothers hugging their newborns and how that affected the genetic expression of the children.
In 2017, a study out of Cambridge University Press was published in the journal, Development and Psychopathology, entitled, “Epigenetic correlates of neonatal contact in humans.” The study attempted to duplicate a previous animal study in which a mother’s grooming behaviors altered the genetic expression of her offspring through a process of epigenetic modification called methylation.
This more current study looked to see whether DNA methylation altered the genetic expression of the children four to five years later. In the study, 1,000 mother-infant pairings were recruited in the Vancouver, BC, Canada area. The baby’s day diary of four consecutive days were recorded during the baby’s fifth week of life.
The mother-infant pairings were divided into two groups: high contact and low contact. The high contact group experienced contact defined as 6 hours of contact greater than average and the low contact group experienced contact for six hours lower than the average. The followup took place when the child was four or five years old.
Mainly, the study was curious about three items: the methylation of the DNA of four target genes to identify Differentially Methylated Regions or DMRs between the high and low contact groups; an Epigenome-wide association analysis to assess sites across the entire genome, instead of four genes, to high versus low contact; and finally a third analysis point to assess the relationship between high and low contact and Epigenetic age deviation which is the deviation between the actual chronological age and the developmental age.
The study concluded that a child’s DNA methylation signature, also known as epigenetic expression, is altered by a mother’s contact, which mean’s that when your mother hugs you, it can literally change the expression of your own DNA. I mean…come on!
A potential delay in development was also found. The study determined that a child’s development is negatively inhibited or slowed when high distress is met with a response of low contact from the mother. Within the study, this delay in development was called a negative epigenetic age deviation.
As integrative medicine will continue to integrate evidence, knowledge like this will continue to shape our future. In this case, you may have always known that there is nothing better than a hug from your mother when you need it the most, but now…well, there’s science to back it up.
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