Threats to the mother during pregnancy can affect her child’s life into adulthood. For example, if you are anxious and more susceptible to stress. Strong emotional stress that affects a pregnant woman, such as domestic violence and emotional abuse during pregnancy, affects the gene activity of children. This proof is provided by scientists from the University of Konstanz. “In later life, the child becomes more susceptible to stress and mental illness,” explains study author Thomas Elbert. The children are more anxious and less curious. Contact IVF Clinics in Adelaide to learn more how stress affects a child.
Researchers have long suspected that there is a connection between the stress levels of pregnant women and the altered behaviors of their children. However, scientists at the University of Konstanz have now been able to prove this connection in humans on a genetic basis.
Stress changes the gene activity
The working groups of the psychologist Thomas Elbert and the evolutionary biologist Axel Meyer pointed out that an ongoing threat situation causes an epigenetic change. It does not change the sequence of the genes themselves, but their activity. Domestic violence or massive existential anxiety, for example, is considered a continuing threat situation.
The researchers were able to prove the epigenetic change in the glucocorticoid receptor gene. This inheritance is associated with behavioral problems and susceptibility to mental illness. “The mother’s body signals to these children that they will grow up in a threatening environment,” explains Thomas Elbert. “That’s why these kids go into their escape or fight mode faster in stress situations where other kids still want to stay cool and look at things first.” Axel Meyer adds: “We did not expect these threats to be so clearly demonstrated in the human genome.”
The degree of the threat still unclear
The Konstanz researchers have found relevant changes in the glucocorticoid receptor gene of children aged 10-19 years, whose mothers were exposed to domestic violence during pregnancy. The scientists included data from 25 mothers and their children in the study. It is not yet clear at what stage of pregnancy the genes of the children will be affected and which level of emotional stress will trigger the changes. Whether stress at work or in everyday life is already sufficient to cause the changes, the researchers cannot yet say.
Moreover, they expressly point out that their study shows clear findings, but that this is not yet the ultimate proof of a causal relationship between the maternal experience of violence and the genetic makeup of their offspring. The scientists have announced further research on this topic.