How It's Possible to 'Inherit Stress', According to a Neurosurgeon

John Strugar, a neurosurgeon and associate professor at Yale University’s School of Medicine, has suggested that stress can be inherited from one generation to another, a phenomenon he calls “intergenerational stress waves.” In a social media post, Strugar explained how stress or trauma experienced by one generation can affect the brain development of subsequent generations.

According to Strugar, stress can impact the amygala, a key part of the brain involved in processing emotions, particularly fear and stress responses. When a person experiences stress, the amygala can become hyperactive, leading to heightened emotional responses and increased feelings of fear and anxiety.

Using a hypothetical scenario, Strugar illustrated how stress experienced by a grandmother during a difficult time, such as the London Blitzkrieg, could affect her grandchild’s brain development. The elevated glucocorticoids from the grandmother’s stress could cross the placenta and affect the mother’s developing brain, leading to a larger amygala in the child, which could result in a higher level of anxiety and stress.

This explanation aligns with research in the field of epigenetics, which studies how environmental factors can alter gene expression without changing the DNA sequence itself. A 2011 study published by Cell Press looked into how stress-induced changes in gene expression can be passed from one generation to the next.

Strugar’s insights into the brain’s response to stress are grounded in his extensive experience in neurosurgery, with over 30 years of experience and fellowship training in skull base surgery. His work has spanned intracranial and spine tumors, cervical and lumbar spine disorders, and brain injuries, with numerous publications and presentations to his name.

However, Strugar emphasized that the stress effect is all environmental and can be reversed. By reducing stress levels, an individual can help their amygala “calm down,” restructure, and minimize passing the stress wave onto the next generation. This perspective is echoed by molecular biologist Shunsuke Ishii, who highlighted the potential for intervention more than a decade earlier.

Strugar’s revelations and the supporting research underscore the importance of understanding and addressing stress not just as an individual concern but as a multi-generational issue. By recognizing the environmental roots of stress transmission, there comes the potential for reversing its effects and improving health outcomes for future generations. Some users have shared their own experiences of trying to mitigate the effects of stress, such as listening to classical music in utero or keeping toxic people out of their lives.

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