Epigenetics In Psychology & Adverse Childhood Experiences ~ How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology!
The technical definition of epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. It’s been more than 20 years since I first decided to peek inside the world of multigenerational trauma. I needed to understand many enigmatic issues, behaviors, illnesses, etc., that plagued Black people. Having been more than 100 years removed from slavery but still showing signs of its impact had to be explained, not only to myself but to those who were starting to buy into the “It’s been 100 years, just get over it” argument.
My journey brought me to the Jewish Holocaust, where I unearthed a gem that has led to thousands of hours of subsequent research. There were reports of the grandchildren of holocaust survivors (notice they are referred to as survivors and not victims) who were experiencing memories and dreams of things that occurred during the Holocaust that their grandparents had never shared. Enter the world of epigenetics.
What I would discover was so much more than the propensity to project trauma genetically, but the source of many poor health outcomes people experience, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lupus, asthma, and more. While epigenetic influence is not some racial phenomenon, the unique experience of foundational Blacks in this country definitely magnifies the epigenetic impact.
I discovered that one of the greatest influencers in developing many types of cancer is epigenetics through environmental stress and acute stacked traumatic events (complex trauma). My work in this area led to an invitation to speak at the Epigenetics Cancer Research Society’s Epigenetics Congress in 2017.
I was only beginning. I would stumble into a subcategory of epigenetics now referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). While there are more than 10 ACEs, the ones listed in the image are the most prevalent and are used to create ACE scores for individuals. What should be alarming is that 1 in 6 people have at least 4 ACEs, 61 percent of adults have experienced at least one ACE, females and certain racial and ethnic groups are at a higher risk of reaching four ACEs, etc. This fact is important because when you reach an ACE score of four, you are 2.5 times more like to develop pulmonary obstructive disease, 2.5 times to develop hepatitis, 4.5 times more likely to develop depression, and 12 times more likely to experience suicidality. With an ACE score of 7 or more, you triple the risk of lung cancer and are 3.5 times more likely to develop ischemic heart disease (the number one killer in the U.S.). It is important to understand that outcomes are dose-dependent, meaning the higher the exposure to these stressors (ACE score), the more devastating the health outcomes.
While the epigenetic influence on adults is significant, ACEs are an even greater threat because young children are still developing.
ACEs negatively impact the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure reward center of the brain that is implicated in substance abuse. They inhibit proper function in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control, and executive functions like appropriate decision-making and planning. MRI scans reveal ACEs impact the amygdala, the brain’s fear-response center. Furthermore, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is negatively impacted, disrupting the body’s fight-or-flight response system.
The fight or flight response is an ancient mechanism that triggers the brain and body to respond to threats. So, if you were in the woods a saw a mountain lion, your hypothalamus would send a message to your pituitary gland, which subsequently sends a message to your adrenal gland that says release stress hormones. The adrenal gland would then release cortisol and adrenaline, your heart rate would increase, the prefrontal cortex would shut down, and the blood flow would be redirected to your extremities to facilitate your ability to fight the lion or run. But what happens when the lion comes home with you every day? Cortisol in the bloodstream for extended periods begins to attack the body and weaken the immune system. The stress response system ceases being an adaptive life-saving system and becomes a maladaptive destructive force.
Today, I will present to families at high risk and Harris County officials and high-ranking members of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. The goal is to increase awareness, funding, and resources to address this national epidemic.
and the Influence of Epigenetics on Health Outcomes
Additional Reading: Adverse Childhood Experience: Confronting Childhood Trauma
Introduction to Epigenetics
Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. Various factors, including environmental exposures, lifestyle choices, and social experiences, can influence these changes. Research has shown that epigenetic changes can significantly affect psychological and physical health outcomes. Over the following paragraphs, we will explore the role of epigenetics in psychology and health and discuss some of the latest research findings in this area.
Epigenetics and Mental Health
Epigenetic influences have been linked to various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. For example, studies have found that individuals with depression have altered epigenetic marks on genes related to stress response and inflammation. These changes can contribute to the development and maintenance of depression symptoms. Additionally, epigenetic variations have been linked to the efficacy of antidepressant medications. Understanding the role of epigenetics in mental health can lead to new treatments and interventions for these conditions.
Epigenetics and Neurodevelopment
Epigenetic shifts can also impact neurodevelopment, with potential long-term consequences for psychological and cognitive functioning. For example, studies have found that prenatal exposure to stress can alter DNA methylation patterns in the offspring’s genes, leading to changes in brain development and behavior. These changes can persist into adulthood and increase the risk of mental health conditions later in life.
Epigenetics and Addiction
Epigenetic permutation has also been linked to addiction and substance abuse. Exposure to drugs and alcohol can alter epigenetic marks on genes related to reward and pleasure, leading to changes in behavior and an increased risk of addiction. Additionally, studies have found that stress-related epigenetic changes can contribute to addiction vulnerability. Developing an extensive perspicacity of the epigenetic mechanisms underlying addiction can lead to new prevention and treatment strategies.
Epigenetics and Physical Health
Epigenetic shifts can also impact physical health outcomes, including the risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. For example, studies have found that exposure to environmental toxins can alter epigenetic marks on genes related to inflammation and immune function, leading to an increased risk of autoimmune diseases. Additionally, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can impact epigenetic changes and influence disease risk.
Epigenetics and Aging
Epigenetic changes can also play a role in the aging process. As we age, our cells undergo changes in gene expression that contribute to age-related decline and disease. Epigenetic factors, including exposure to environmental toxins and lifestyle choices, can influence these changes. Grasping the role of epigenetics in aging can lead to new strategies for promoting healthy aging and preventing age-related diseases.
Epigenetics and Gene-Environment Interactions
Epigenetic influences can also interact with environmental factors to influence health outcomes. For example, studies have found that genetic variations can influence susceptibility to environmental toxins, with epigenetic shifts playing a mediating role. Additionally, research has shown that social experiences, such as childhood trauma and stress, can impact epigenetic marks on genes related to stress response and immune function. Understanding the complex interplay between genetics, epigenetics, and the environment can lead to new insights into disease risk and prevention.
Epigenetic Research Methods
Epigenetic research relies on various methods to study gene expression and epigenetic changes. These include DNA methylation analysis, chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-seq), and RNA sequencing. Researchers also use animal models to study the effects of environmental exposures and interventions on epigenetic changes and health outcomes.
Ethical Considerations in Epigenetic Research
Epigenetic research raises ethical considerations related to privacy, consent, and the potential for stigmatization. For example, epigenetic testing could potentially reveal sensitive information about an individual’s health risks and susceptibility to certain conditions. Additionally, epigenetic research could reinforce social inequalities if certain groups are disproportionately exposed to environmental toxins or other risk factors.
Epigenetics is a rapidly growing field with significant implications for both psychological and physical health outcomes. Research has shown that epigenetic changes can be influenced by a range of factors and can have long-term effects on gene expression and health. Understanding the role of epigenetics in health and disease can lead to new prevention and treatment strategies and ultimately improve health outcomes for individuals and populations.
About Rick Wallace:
Dr. Wallace has authored and published 26 books, including his latest work, Transcendent: The Remarkable Ability to Rise Above the Chaos to Win in Life, The War on Black Wealth, Academic Apartheid, Critical Mass: The Phenomenon of Next-Level Living, Born in Captivity: Psychopathology as a Legacy of Slavery,” The Undoing of the African American Mind, and “The Mis-education of Black Youth in America.” He has written and published thousands of scholarly and prose articles and papers, with the overwhelming majority of his work surrounding the enigmatic issues plaguing blacks and inner-city communities on every level. Papers that he has published include: “Special Education as the Mechanism for the Mis-education of African Youth,” “Racial Trauma & African Americans,” “Epigenetics in Psychology: The Genetic Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma in African Americans,” and “Collective Cognitive-Bias Reality Syndrome” — to name a few.
Dr. Wallace is also a powerful and electrifying public speaker who speaks to various types and sizes of audiences on several subjects. He is also a personal life enhancement advisor, life strategist, consultant, and counselor.
As the Founder and CEO of The Visionetics Institute, Dr. Wallace uses a wide range of disciplines. These disciplines include psycho-cybernetics, neuro-linguistic programming, psychology, neuro-associative conditioning, embodied cognitive conditioning, and transformational vocabulary to help people improve their performance in every area of their lives, including finance, marriage, business, parenting, and more.
To learn more about the work I am doing, visit: https://linktr.ee/RickWallace21
*Note: “Children of different races and ethnicities do not experience ACEs equally. Nationally, 61 percent of black non-Hispanic children and 51 percent of Hispanic children have experienced at least one ACE, compared with 40 percent of white non-Hispanic children and only 23 percent of Asian non-Hispanic children. In every region, the prevalence of ACEs is lowest among Asian non-Hispanic children and, in most regions, is highest among black non-Hispanic children.”
* It is essential to understand that while there is a racial disparity in the prevalence of ACEs, race is not the distinguishing factor; poverty is the problem. It is also worth noting that the original ACE study was conducted among a population where 70 percent of the participants were Caucasian and 70 percent were college educated. So, while poverty exacerbates the issue, it does not effectively isolate it.
“Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.” ~ Dr. Robert Block (Former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics)