Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children’s genes

Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.

The conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.

They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.

Her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” – the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren.

The idea is controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations. However, our genes are modified by the environment all the time, through chemical tags that attach themselves to our DNA, switching genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that some of these tags might somehow be passed through generations, meaning our environment could have and impact on our children’s health.

Other studies have proposed a more tentative connection between one generation’s experience and the next. For example, girls born to Dutch women who were pregnant during a severe famine at the end of the second world war had an above-average risk of developing schizophrenia. Likewise, another study has showed that men who smoked before puberty fathered heavier sons than those who smoked after.

The team were specifically interested in one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones, which is known to be affected by trauma. “It makes sense to look at this gene,” said Yehuda. “If there’s a transmitted effect of trauma, it would be in a stress-related gene that shapes the way we cope with our environment.”

They found epigenetic tags on the very same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their offspring, the same correlation was not found in any of the control group and their children.

Children in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images
Through further genetic analysis, the team ruled out the possibility that the epigenetic changes were a result of trauma that the children had experienced themselves.

“To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” said Yehuda, whose work was published in Biological Psychiatry.

It’s still not clear how these tags might be passed from parent to child. Genetic information in sperm and eggs is not supposed to be affected by the environment – any epigenetic tags on DNA had been thought to be wiped clean soon after fertilisation occurs.

However, research by Azim Surani at Cambridge University and colleagues, has recently shown that some epigenetic tags escape the cleaning process at fertilisation, slipping through the net. It’s not clear whether the gene changes found in the study would permanently affect the children’s health, nor do the results upend any of our theories of evolution.

Whether the gene in question is switched on or off could have a tremendous impact on how much stress hormone is made and how we cope with stress, said Yehuda. “It’s a lot to wrap our heads around. It’s certainly an opportunity to learn a lot of important things about how we adapt to our environment and how we might pass on environmental resilience.”

The impact of Holocaust survival on the next generation has been investigated for years – the challenge has been to show intergenerational effects are not just transmitted by social influences from the parents or regular genetic inheritance, said Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of paediatric genetics at University College London.

“Yehuda’s paper makes some useful progress. What we’re getting here is the very beginnings of a understanding of how one generation responds to the experiences of the previous generation. It’s fine-tuning the way your genes respond to the world.”

Can you inherit a memory of trauma?

Researchers have already shown that certain fears might be inherited through generations, at least in animals.

Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta trained male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom by pairing the smell with a small electric shock. Eventually the mice shuddered at the smell even when it was delivered on its own.

Despite never having encountered the smell of cherry blossom, the offspring of these mice had the same fearful response to the smell – shuddering when they came in contact with it. So too did some of their own offspring.

On the other hand, offspring of mice that had been conditioned to fear another smell, or mice who’d had no such conditioning had no fear of cherry blossom.

The fearful mice produced sperm which had fewer epigenetic tags on the gene responsible for producing receptors that sense cherry blossom. The pups themselves had an increased number of cherry blossom smell receptors in their brain, although how this led to them associating the smell with fear is still a mystery.

• The subheading was amended on 25 August 2015 to clarify that the new finding is not the first example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance. The researchers described it as “the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes”.


The System

Right now our society doesn’t monitor mental health except in crisis situations. when the fact is, we should all be monitoring our mental health all the time to make it better to live richer, fuller, happier lives.

The system starts with a device that comes into contact with the skin, either by adhesive or wearable technology. It would be standard issue as part of the admission process to the hospital. So either incorporated into their wrist identification band, or an adhesive sticker worn on the skin.

The system links to the main hospital record system where the information is kept along with your other vital statistics. It will monitor
changes in emotion during the patients stay in the hospital. This allows the doctors and nurses the ability to view a patients emotional history and how it relates to their pain levels. It can also help to determine if the patient is feeling better or worse which will indicate if treatment is successful or not. This will be very helpful with drug treatment with patients that have verbal communication issues, are unconscious, or are faking it.

The users would be the patient, doctor, nurses and family. Information would be shared more quickly and creates a vehicle to communicate, giving everyone a reason to talk to each other.
I felt good when…..
I felt bad when….
These can be marked or benchmarked and used to discover what was occurring at that time that may or caused or helped the situation. Did you move wrong and it hurt? Did the sun come through the window and make you feel better?

What’s your pain level? How do you define that?

Through scientific research it has been shown that your skin conductance when your pain level changes. So much of our fears and dislike of a hospital is knowing it’s going to hurt. If we could find some way to quantify pain levels, then maybe more attention could be placed on ways to admitigate those pain levels. Not necessarily through mediation, but possibly through meditation, massage, acupuncture or just a nice room full of plants that made you feel like your outside.

The goal in almost all medical systems is faster healing, less medication, less pain and improved overall health with out readmitance to the hospital. If there was a way to address stress and or emotions at a point before they become unmanagable, then blood pressure would go down, strokes would decrease, peoples enjoyment would increase. These all could take place by being taught techniques of bio-feed back through their time in the health care system, in the hospital or having procedures done.

One of the more difficult aspects of medical care for the caregiver is that they patient doesn’t always know or isn’t always honest with how they feel. Especially with older patients because they “don’t want to be a burden” therefore they are not always accurate with their assessments. Because cultuly it’s good to be strong, but sometimes you need help. It will be a huge help with children as anxiety levels could be delt with at the time of arising instead at the time of crisis.



What am I doing?


I am trying to make something for the health care industry that can be used as a vehicle to keep the health care system in touch with the patients emotions, body, mind and mental state.

The thing that fascinates me the most is skin conductance. Because we have the ability to measure it very finely. In minuscule increments, therefore we can detect changes very quickly. Skin conductance works off the principle of moisture on your skin produced by sweat glands. The more moisture produced the less resistance there is an electrical current. So, by measuring the amount of time it takes for electricity to get from one point to another point we can measure in changes.

Now, given your sweat glands are one of the few parts of your body which the nervous system can not be controlled that is why skin conductance is used in “lie detector tests”. By using the skin conductance data with other markers, such as blood pressure, my hope is that a pattern will emerge to show mood and pain levels.

It’s my goal, with using this, that this could create the open dialogue with doctors and nurses about mood and pain in such a way that it is common.


It detects changes emotional state and gives a measurement for those emotional states. It can’t say you are angry or laughing but it can say some levels have change which indicates a change in emotions.


It would be used for monitoring patients a or people like police who need to keep their emotions in check in order for them to do an optimal job.

Patients – an example would be, a patient moves wrong and experiences a great deal of pain, the patient should of waited to get help or call for help but they didn’t. Therefore an alarm would trigger at the nurses station that the patients status has changed, the nurse would realize they need attention and could care for the patient right away. This would lead to more compassionate care as nurses would have a better idea how their patients are feeling and as a result might require less monitoring, less medication and less time in a hospital or care unit.

A patient is in the ICU and can not speak.  The nurse is unable to know what level their pain is at, but their skin conductance is indicating a change, care can then be administered to the patient. Thus giving the nurses a way to monitor their emotional state even if they cannot verbally communicate so they don’t experience ICU Psychosis.



Reference Article – The Hospital Bed Gets A Makeover

The ‘Hospital Bed’ Gets a Makeover

Sales of adjustable beds get a lift, as retailers promote features such as massage, USB ports and anti-snoring functions

Bed makers have been spiffing up styling for adjustable beds, which include features like massage and remotes.ENLARGE
Bed makers have been spiffing up styling for adjustable beds, which include features like massage and remotes. PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

What was once known as the hospital bed has become one of the hottest products in the U.S. furniture industry.

Bed makers have stripped off guard rails, spiffed up styling and attached such features as remote controls, USB ports and massage, along with the basic ability to raise or lower the head and foot of the bed. Companies such as Select Comfort Corp. and Ergomotion Inc. promise benefits including reduced back pain and snoring, plus a convenient perch for binge watching or working on a laptop.

Urian Cofer, who manages a cellphone and laptop repair shop in Grand Rapids, Mich., expected to spend around $2,000 on a king-size bed when he went shopping recently. A salesperson at Art Van PureSleep, a bedding retail chain, persuaded him to splurge $3,800 for a mattress, adjustable base and accessories. Mr. Cofer said he sleeps better with his head raised slightly and he likes the tilt for reading or watching television.

“The mattress is becoming the recliner for the bedroom,” said Jerry Epperson, a partner at Mann, Armistead & Epperson Ltd., a Richmond, Va., investment bank specializing in the furniture industry.

The International Sleep Products Association, a U.S. trade group, estimates that wholesale shipments of adjustable bases sold via mattress companies in the U.S. rose 36% last year, compared with about 2% growth for the overall residential furniture market. Adjustables now account for at least 5% of the bed market, it said. Most are made in China or Taiwan.


Traditional bases for queen beds can sell for as little as $100 to $200. Queen-size adjustables start around $600 and mostly sell for $800 to $1,800. Some people spend $10,000 to $12,000 for deluxe mattress-and-bed sets. So retailers have a strong incentive to promote adjustable beds.

“There used to be literally just one adjustable bed on the floor, and it was way in the back, and the sales assistant wasn’t even sure if it worked,” said Jay Thompson, head of the adjustable-bed business at Leggett & PlattInc., which makes bed bases and furniture parts. Now retailers feature them prominently.

Michigan-based Art Van PureSleep, which has 38 stores across the Midwest, puts adjustable bases under all the beds displayed on its shop floors. David Van Elslander, its president, said about 30% of mattresses the chain sells are sold with an adjustable base, up from less than 10% a few years ago.


At Select Comfort, which makes upscale bedding sold through its Sleep Number stores, average revenue per mattress sold was $3,671 last year, up from $2,424 in 2010. That is largely because more people are choosing pricier flexible bases, said Chief Executive Shelly Ibach.

Minneapolis-based Select Comfort started in 1987 as a maker of beds marketed via infomercials to older people with back pain. Now, with 467 stores across the U.S., it also targets people age 30 to 54 with household incomes over $75,000. This year it introduced children’s beds, starting at about $800, or $1,100 for those with a head-lifting function.

The mattress is becoming the recliner for the bedroom

—Jerry Epperson, a partner at Mann, Armistead & Epperson

Some Select Comfort television ads tout an anti-snore function: If your bedmate is snoring, you can press a button and elevate his or her head by six or seven degrees. That tends to “interrupt” mild snoring, said Ms. Ibach, and is more polite than an elbow to the ribs. “We like to say we save marriages,” she said.

Elevating the head could help relieve mild sleep apnea or snoring in some cases, though it is far from a cure-all, said Dr. Amy Atkeson, assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. Lying with the head elevated can increase pressure on the tail bone and would be uncomfortable for some people.

One downside is that adjustable beds, with moving parts and electronics, have more potential for glitches than traditional ones. Patricia Gillingham, a retired nurse who lives in Green Valley, Ariz., said she used the remote control to try to flatten out her Tempur-Pedic adjustable bed last year. Rather than going flat, the head and foot both kept rising into a U shape.

“I ended up with a bed that was reminiscent of a taco shell,” she said. A furniture store employee later came out and showed her how to reboot the controls under the bed. As she gets older, she said, “there’s going to come a time when I’m not going to be able to crawl under the bed and reboot the stupid thing.”

A spokesman for Tempur Sealy International Inc., maker of Tempur-Pedic beds, said problems with them are infrequent. He added: “When they do occur, we work hard to correct them as quickly as possible.”

People in the industry say sales growth for adjustables is bound to slow from the recent torrid pace but should stay strong. David Jaffe, president of privately owned Mantua Mfg. Co. in Walton Hills, Ohio, said sales of Rize-brand adjustable beds by his company in the U.S. have more than doubled for each of the past several years and will do so again this year. “We don’t feel like we’ve even scratched the surface” of potential demand, he said.

One challenge is persuading people to pay several thousand dollars for a mattress and adjustable base when they could buy a premium mattress and standard base for around $1,000, or less during sale periods. Martin Rawls-Meehan, chief executive Ascion LLC of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which makes Reverie adjustable beds and mattresses, has his pitch honed: “Why is OK good enough? You’re talking about something you’re going to spend a third of your life on.”

Write to James R. Hagerty at