Potential clients have yet another reason to get massage therapy: Parental stress can have long-lasting effects on kids’ health. Massage has been found to reduce stress, relieve depression and improve mood.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Child & Family Research Institute have shown that parental stress during their children’s early years can leave an imprint on their sons’ or daughters’ genes—an imprint that lasts into adolescence and may affect how these genes are expressed later in life.
The study, published online in the journal Child Development, focused on epigenetics, the expression of genes as opposed to the underlying sequence of DNA, according to a university press release.
“A central component of epigenetics is methylation, in which a chemical group attaches to parts of the DNA – a process that acts like a dimmer on gene function in response to social and physical environments,” the press release noted.
For this study, methylation patterns were measured in DNA collected from more than 100 adolescents, then compared with data obtained in 1990 and 1991—when these same children were infants and toddlers, and their parents were asked to report on their stress levels, including depression, family-expressed anger, parenting stress and financial stress.
Comparing DNA methylation to stress, the team found that higher stress levels reported by mothers during their child’s first year correlated with methylation levels on 139 DNA sites in adolescents, according to the press release. They also discovered 31 sites that correlated with fathers’ higher reported stress during their child’s pre-school years (three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years old).
“This literally illustrates a mechanism by which experiences ‘get under the skin’ to stay with us for a long time,” said Michael S. Kobor, a university associate professor of medical genetics.
The team also found that fathers’ stress level is more strongly associated with DNA methylation in daughters, while mothers’ stress level has an effect on both boys and girls.