Nurture vs. nature, which shapes a person? This debate has been going on in the biological and behavioral science world for centuries. But the connection may be closer than you think. Recent findings, made by a team of researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, indicate trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors is capable of being passed to the next generation.
What Is the Holocaust Survivor Stress Hormone?
This Holocaust survivor stress hormone is an example of epigenetic inheritance—a transmission of trauma from a parent to their child. The common school of thought used to be that only genes in DNA were passed down to the next generation, but Dr. Rachel Yehuda and her colleagues are pioneering research efforts about the effects of cataclysmic events on the next generation.
In September 2016, these research efforts were published in Biological Psychiatry: A Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Therapeutics.
Holocaust exposure had an effect on FKBP5 methylation that was observed in exposed parents as well in their offspring… Interestingly, in Holocaust survivors, methylation… was higher in comparison with control subjects, whereas in Holocaust offspring, methylation was lower…
“This is the first demonstration of an association of preconception parental trauma with epigenetic alterations that is evident in both exposed parent and offspring, providing potential insight into how severe psychophysiological trauma can have intergenerational effects.”[i]
These results reveal that descendants of those who survived the Holocaust have different stress hormone profiles than their peers who were not victims of the Holocaust. This altered hormone profile perhaps predisposes them to anxiety disorders.
How Is the Hormone Profile Altered?
It is difficult to say, as more research needs to be done. But in short, Yehuda and her team found that Holocaust survivors have altered levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is released as a response to stress.
- You’ve heard of the “fight or flight response,” right? This is cortisol ready for action. It aids in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. In layman’s terms, it’s a hormone that quickly taps into your body’s energy stores in order to fight or flee from whatever stressor is surrounding you.
Was the Holocaust an environmental stressor? Absolutely!
Yehuda’s team also found that survivors have low levels of the enzyme that breaks down cortisol. This correlative relationship between cortisol and the enzyme is the body’s way of prolonging starvation, one of many obvious stressors during the Holocaust.
The lower level of the cortisol-breaking-down enzyme allows the liver and kidneys to maximize glucose as fuel. Interestingly enough, the younger the survivor, the less of the enzyme they made throughout their lives.
What Does This Tell Us?
This theory of inherited stress is not that far-fetched when held up to other epigenetic studies. There is research that indicates certain experiences and situations from childhood, and even into adulthood, sometimes cross over into the next generations.
Yehuda admits this is just the beginning of understanding this phenomenon.
If you are looking for it all to be logical and fall into place perfectly, it isn’t going to yet. We are just at the beginning of understanding this.”[ii]
Does Epigenetic Inheritance Align with the Biblical?
As Christians, when we look at the world, science, news, and politics, we must ask ourselves if we see it all through God’s eyes. If we are doing God’s will, carrying out His purposes, fulfilling His prophecies, and joining a movement led by the Ultimate Leader, then we must sift everything through the Bible. If it cannot be shaken, we know it is the truth.
If this type of inherited stress and trauma can be passed from parent to child, isn’t this essentially an “inheritance”? Even if it is not a joyful one. The inheritance of trauma is not one that people ask for. Nor are its initial victims requesting it.
…The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”—Exodus 34:6-7
It seems the Lord knew about epigenetic inheritance long before we did.
But there is hope. We can do something; in fact, that is what we are called to do—put our faith into action.
We are to be a part of revealing the Lord’s Kingdom to the earth.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor;
defend the fatherless,
plead for the widow.”—Isaiah 1:17
How Do We Respond to This Information?
The Bible says this…
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith…”—Colossians 2:6-7 (emphasis added)
As Believers, as the Body of Christ, we are to walk in Him. So, what does that mean?
- We are to serve.
“For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”—Hebrews 6:10
- We are to spread the love of Christ.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:14
- We are to love and pray for the Jewish people.
“And give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”—Isaiah 62:7
- We can be a part of prophetic fulfillment!
“… for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance.”—Deuteronomy 15:4
You see, YOU are empowered by God—the One who strands together our DNA—to care for the brokenhearted so that generations are changed! What a powerful calling! If you are interested in learning more about the Holocaust Survivors and blessing Israel, click HERE! Together, we can bring heaven to earth!