One of the things the reading for Tuesday left me thinking about was the quote from Wentz in “Crazy Like Us”, “The psychological damage in terms of the PTSD and the anxiety and depression was only going to grow as a problem. I told them that the impact could be multigenerational” (Watters, 67). There is no doubt that PTSD is a long-lasting disorder, but the idea of the multigenerational disorder reminded me of epigenetics. The alteration in the function or expression of the genes due to environmental factors will be apparent in an individual each time a protein is made. Since we found that famines could affect the genetic make-up of following generations, can PTSD cause similar methylation or histone deacetylation of DNA?
Some researchers have studied the epigenetic result of PTSD in rats (either in utero or after birth). While it is unethical to induce PTSD in humans, researchers took blood samples from patients suffering from PTSD and found that they had six or seven times the number of abnormalities in the function of genes in comparison with non-PTSD patients. Additionally, they noticed that many of these changes regarding these genes lead to a heightened immune system. They go further and state that “epigenetically, the body has judged [a PTSD patient]’s surroundings too dangerous to let him or her relax too much”. So this psychological disorder can also be explained through the changes in the expression of DNA.
If famine or sever stress can change our DNA, which is in turn passed onto our children, aren’t these technically “genetic disorders”. Whenever I have to fill out the forms in doctor’s offices, it is typical to include family history of heart disease, cancer, mental illness, etc. Should these forms be including more environmental factors that can affect our DNA? If chemicals that we experience daily (tobacco, alcohol) and experiences can alter the expression of our genes that can be passed to our offspring, aren’t these similar to genetic disorders?
The obvious difference is that genetic disorders are caused by abnormalities in genes, while epigenetics refers to the changes in the expression of our DNA, not the DNA. But since we have seen that epigenetics can be passed down to future generations, is this a field we should be spending more time in?
Currently, experiencing a traumatic event is essential for the diagnosis or PTSD, but if a child inherits a risk or even the symptoms of PTSD, they will not be able to be properly diagnose and treated.