Epigenetics and our Ancestors

Sarah Knight has recently brought an internationally-known therapeutic practice to the clinic, that focuses on healing uncomfortable family dynamics, including inherited patterns and traumas that go back generations. Some people and old-world medicines refer to this as resolving energy patterns carried forward from our ancestors. Science calls it epi-genetics.

Human cells each contain thousands of genes, comprised of DNA, that carry the instructions for our personal traits inherited from our parents. A mere 20 years ago, we were so convinced of the impact of our genes on our health that the international scientific community pulled together to map the entire human genome. In 2003 the Human Genome Project came to completion and… There were many surprises and confusing revelations: How is it that humans have only 25,000 genes, but tomatoes have 31,000? And if only 10% of chronic illness is significantly impacted by our genes, who’s controlling the other 90%? This was the birthplace of a new branch of research, called Epigenetics.

Epigenetics studies the chemicals inside each human cell that tell our genes what to do. Envision little molecules tied tightly to portions of strings of DNA, hiding it from the rest of the cell, so that only some instructions can be seen. The outcome is analogous to a song played by a pianist when some of the keys are taped down. Though our inherited DNA blueprint remains largely the same, we get by with so few genes and share so much in common with other plants and animals because our genes can be flipped on and off, or parts hidden and exposed, to create an infinite number of expressions. Our environment and lifestyle, from the food we eat to the environmental toxins we’re exposed to, are the major epigenetic influencers and determinants of our character. Epigenetics explains why I’m so different from my identical twin sister. It shows us that the age-old nature versus nurture debate is not a linear event, but a collaborative and synergistic phenomenon, where our cumulative lifetime experience changes the impact of our DNA. But that’s not all.

We’ve learned a lot from the famous Dutch cohort, a group of children born to parents who survived a severe famine in 1944, just before the end of the 2nd world war. Scientific exploration of this tragedy taught us that mothers who experienced severe malnutrition during the first 3 months of pregnancy had babies who were far more likely than their siblings to develop diabetes and cardiovascular disease into their adult years, even though the babies appeared entirely healthy at birth. Even more amazing is that some of the grandchildren of these women, also experienced elevated risk of developing these diseases. It appears that starvation changes the genetic expression of the famine survivors and that these changes were passed down to children and grandchildren. This research shows us that the experiences of our ancestors has a real and direct influence on our own genetic function.

Researchers in the newer field of behavioural epigenetics have also identified ways in which traumatic events in our childhood create epigenetic changes in our brain. These changes affect our personality and can exist even if we have no recollection of the traumatic event that occurred when we were so little. These changes can manifest in the form of depression, or introverted or extroverted personality traits, that possibly kept us safe during dangerous times. These traits too can be passed down through generations and are believed to even skip generations. If your grandparents or great grandparents fled civil war, genocide, or concentration camps, its mark is possibly still evident on your DNA via epigenetics. Studies on mice have tracked conserved epigenetic changes for more than 100 generations.

Many of you know that my clinical focus the last few years has been on chronic Lyme disease symptoms. While at a conference in Halifax last month, I was surprised to learn that Family Constellations therapy is practiced as a foundational healing tool by many Lyme Disease specialists in other countries. At a time where I’m struggling to keep up with a busy practice full of beautiful people struggling with symptoms of chronic pain and fatigue, I learn that coincidentally we have just the tool already available in the clinic, to help some of these courageous souls address the deeper emotional and spiritual parts of their illness. Please contact Sarah directly if interested in exploring the Family Constellations work one-on-one with her.