LICK YOUR PUPS: HOW NURTURE AFFECTS NATURE
So there’s this wonderful research by Dr. Moshe Szyf and Dr. Michael Meaney that came out of the McGill University a couple of decades ago. They’d noticed that some rat mothers licked their pups after being handled by members of the team while others sort of ignored the anxious pups being put down. Not only that, but the rats who had received extra loving from their mothers actually grew up to be calmer and more laid back adults.
“Yeah! Yeah! That’s not groundbreaking news. Mothers have been coddling their children so long in some communities we make ‘cut the chord’ jokes! So what!?!”
Dr. Meaney was able to provide proof that maternal licking actually stimulated a chemical change in the glucocorticoid receptor in the brain. You know, the mechanism that regulates how much stress hormone gets released from the adrenal gland. Let me use parts of our chemical makeup most people understand. Moms licking their pups releases a cascade of serotonin into their babies. It’s natures equivalent to popping a few prozacs in their puppers mouths after a stressful encounter with those pesky scientists.
If the story stopped there it would be interesting but it could hardly be described as a groundbreaking discovery. We know our bodies and minds continue to develop well after we are born but science hasn’t exactly mapped it all out yet. Like, we know we have 67 billion miles of genetic code but it’s only been over the past 20 years or so that we’ve developed an understanding of what that means. To make matters even more confusing the term epigenetics has made huge waves on the scene of late. While most of you probably haven’t the foggiest what that means I can assure you it’s not that complicated of a subject-
ep·i·ge·net·ics/ˌepəjəˈnediks- the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.-Oxford Dictionary
–because we at the Mystical Mindstate are fans of being direct allow me to put all of this into plain English. If our genes are little bumper cars racing down miles of genetic code then our epigenetics would be the bumpers. They act as buffers between our environment and our genetic makeup.
Now that we’ve taken a quick segway into the epigenetic phenomenon let’s take another look at our rat pups. The less grooming the rat received as pups the more stress hormones said rats release as an adult. What was even more interesting is the fact that high licker moms tended to birth high licker moms whereas impartial mothers birthed impartial mothers. Now, we’re used to thinking of inheritance in terms of the letters of the DNA code that come from our parents via eggs and sperm. However, the rat-licking story tells us that there is a whole other pathway to our offspring’s DNA. They even took pups from low licking moms and passed them on to high licking moms to test their theory. What they discovered is high licker moms would write information onto any pups’ DNA in a way that completely bypasses eggs and sperm. Yes. Those pups would then grow up to be high licker moms themselves even if they weren’t blood relatives. It would appear that our epigenetics give our genome a bit of flexibility that would allow for us to adapt to whatever environment we are born into.
This is a real game changer for the whole nature versus nurture argument that’s gone on since forever now. We went from saying it’s either/or to it’s both/and. Not only that but we now understand how dangerous it is to leave people in hostile environments for prolonged periods of time. This is where science dips back into old-school religious ideologies.
Don’t worry, I’m not diving into the concept of demonology or how that seance your Aunt Sally did in the 70’s is going to turn into a full on pea soup in the face of Padre Karras situation. Granted the Bible does state that-
“visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”-Exodus 34:7
-but none of that says anything about demonic influence. I know, those good ole boys at your local “Spirit-filled” Church love peddling that fear to the masses but I guarantee you it’s nonsense. You’ll often hear the aforementioned verse tied into Deuteronomy-
” have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;”-Deuteronomy 30:19
-but none of these yoyo’s will ever point out how choice plays a role. It’s easier to blame a spirit of alcoholism than look at what can be done to treat a child suffering from neglect and abuse as a result of said alcoholism. Think back to the pups that would grow to be high licker moms themselves even if they weren’t blood relatives. So, while there is a certain level of genetic predisposition put into effect when generation after generation is raised in high stress environments it only takes one to decide enough is enough and break the chains. You can be that person.
You can rewrite the genetic code of your bloodline just by being the loving and caring person you wanted as a child. Not to be a complete mystical cliche but you can “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Look, there is a ton we still don’t know about the subject of epigenetics. I could do 15-20 posts on childhood traumas and increased methylation but none of that really translates into what I’m shouting off the rooftops here. Yes. There are switches that fire in our developmental years. No. It’s not your fault nor are you cursed to a life of repeating the same mistakes your ancestors made.
“St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. But no cause is lost if there is still one person devoted to it. So Jude might as well be the patron saint of us all.”-Corey Taylor
There is no such thing as lost causes.