In the King James Bible, there are several verses which relate to the sins, or iniquities, of the fathers being borne by later generations. Numbers 14:18 says “The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Exodus 34:7 and Deuteronomy 5:9 state much the same.
These days it is not a father’s sin which is being researched, but how a poor diet, exposure to toxins, trauma or stressful environments can affect not only the person or peoples who are suffering but also their children and grandchildren. The field of research studying these inherited conditions is called Epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of potentially heritable changes in gene expression. So far there has been research into populations who have survived periods of starvation in Sweden and the Netherlands which suggests the effects of famine on epigenetics and health can be passed down through at least three generations, potentially leading to diabetes and cardiovascular problems in children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. In other studies on rats, it was demonstrated that exposure to the active compound in cannabis during adolescence can predispose future generations to heroin addiction.
I am also interested in the studies which are underway to test the theory that PTSD can be inherited, again by epigenetic means. I am the granddaughter of both Russian and Baltic refugees, and the daughter of a German army junior officer who was a prisoner of war. Although never diagnosed, I’m sure my father suffered from PTSD. My grandfather on my mother’s side died when I was 9, so I never had the chance to know him well, but I can assume the fighting he saw during the Russian Revolution would possibly have also given him PTSD. So, the theory that it can be inherited might explain the attacks of sadness I sometimes suffer from, which are seemingly unrelated to anything else in my life.
The fact that we can influence the physical and mental health of not only our children, but generations to follow, is certainly a topic which intrigues me. Imagine how we could impact on those generations in a good way? How our healthy, peaceful life might ensure theirs.
Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist, nor do I understand many of the scientific experiments or results of studies in epigenetics or PTSD. I am merely interested in the concept that the conditions around our ancestors possibly contribute to our genetic make-up and the diseases and behaviour disorders we might or might not have. The studies in this area might go a long way to show how we can ensure our descendants live a better life.