Environmental Factors – Predetermine Adult Physical and Mental Health
We have long been told that our genes rule and there’s nothing much we can do about it. Even the latest research holds that our genes account for childhood anxiety, which in turn is the gateway to all future mental issues.
But now, an article in The New York Review of Books notes environmental factors that arise in early childhood can predetermine our future mental and physical health, including heart disease, cancer, mood and dietary disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, infertility, suicidal behavior, hyperactivity, learning deficits, and sleep disorders.
The basis for heritable environmental factors is that excessive stress or deprivation, whether experienced in early childhood or while in utero, affects our genetic programming by making long-lasting changes in the way our genes are expressed. By blocking access to certain genes, this mechanism can program us to experience future feelings of depression, anxiety or paranoia. And most surprisingly, these changes can be passed on to future generations that have never directly experienced the stresses or deprivations.
An example might be future obesity. The fetus, newborn, or child suffers continuing stress from hunger. But when food becomes available, the stress response cannot shut off, but continues as if the body thermostat is broken. Instead of feeling satiated when a certain amount of food is ingested, we keep craving more food. The long-term consequences can be inflammation, diabetes, heart-disease, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia.
A more meaningful takeaway might suggest that that the fetus is prone to future physical and mental issues arising from exposure to unhealthful environmental stresses particularly during the first trimester.