How often do you hold your baby? How often do you hug your child? How often do you hug your teen?
As children age, we tend to hug and snuggle less. When they become teenagers, parents often practice a physical hands-off approach, however, children of all ages need to be hugged and touched by their parents. It positively affects their DNA!
Nature vs. Nurture and Epigenetics
The competition between how nature (the DNA we are born with) and nurture (how we are raised) has been made moot by epigenetics. They work togther.
According to “Epigenetics: The Science of Change” by Bob Weinhold and published in Environmental Health Perspectives:
The word “epigenetic” literally means “in addition to changes in genetic sequence.” The term has evolved to include any process that alters gene activity without changing the DNA sequence, and leads to modifications that can be transmitted to daughter cells (although experiments show that some epigenetic changes can be reversed).
Basically, epigenetics is how nurture affects nature both positively and negatively. For example, the toxins we are exposed to alter our DNA. Our own lifestyle and those of our ancestors alters are genetic makeup having consequences both mentally and physically .
Weinhold goes on to cite interesting epigenetic studies that found:
- Epigenetic changes may endure in at least four subsequent generations of organisms.
- Epigenetic effects occur not just in the womb, but over the full course of a human life span.
- Along with behavior, mental health may be affected by epigenetic changes.
Human Touch Affects DNA: Hold Your Baby
Moshe Szyf is a leader in the field of maternal nurturing’s effect on DNA. In one study he found, “The licking, grooming, and nursing methods that mother rats use with their pups can affect the long-term behavior of their offspring.”
Mothers actually reprogram their offspring’s genes through their maternal behavior.
Furthermore, the negative effects of poor mothering could be reversed in older pups.1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1392256/2)https://www.reed.edu/biology/professors/srenn/pages/teaching/2008_syllabus/2008_readings/5_Weaver_etal_2004.pdf
This work has been followed up with human participants by researchers at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. 94 children were followed from five weeks of age to four and half years old. DNA samples were collected from their cheeks and compared to parental logs of caregiving and their children’s behavior.
Specifically, researchers looked at methylation. This DNA modification tells which genes and thus cells to function and at what level. It has been compared to a “dimmer switch”.
The results of the BC study:
Scientists found consistent methylation differences between high-contact and low-contact children at five specific DNA sites. Two of these sites fall within genes: one plays a role in the immune system, and the other is involved in metabolism. However, the downstream effects of these epigenetic changes on child development and health aren’t known yet.
The children who experienced higher distress and received relatively little contact had an “epigenetic age” that was lower than would be expected, given their actual age. A discrepancy between epigenetic age and chronological age has been linked to poor health in some recent studies.3)http://www.med.ubc.ca/holding-infants-or-not-can-leave-traces-on-their-genes/
Holding your baby more changes their DNA! These effects last well into the preschool years. Babywearing is a great way to get the positive changes while remaining active.
Human Touch Affects DNA: Hug Your Teen
Epigenetics does not end when our children are young. Research supports:
- Poor nurturing can be reversed with prescription drugs in older rat pups
- Research in genetic differences in adult identical twins shows the epigenetic effects continue into adulthood.
Our tweens and teens may be too big to hold or wear, but they need parental touch too! Hugging release the hormone oxytocin in the brain. It’s called the “Love Hormone” or “Cuddle Hormone”.4)https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html Oxytocin plays in important role in stress regulation. Teens are often stressed from school work and peer relationships. Parenting teens can be stressful. Hugging your teen benefits both you and your child!
We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth. -Virginia Satir
Of course, teen parents must be respectful and cue into the times their teens want physical affection. Some teens are particularily sensitve to be hugged in public; others don’t mind. The more you hug your teen, the more natural it will feel.
Hugging is the easiest way to prepare them for college and adult life and make up for past parenting mistakes genetically. 12 hugs a day!
Image: StockSnap / Pixabay
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