In debates over the relative roles of nature and nurture in human behavior, debaters frequently forget that nature and nurture act directly on one another. This means separating nature from nurture is not always easy, and is sometimes even impossible. Over the past several years, for example, mounting evidence suggests that trauma can alter DNA. These changes affect behavior and can lead to symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD), depression, and other mental health difficulties.
According to a new study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, therapy doesn’t just help trauma survivors recover; it may actually reverse trauma-related genetic changes.
Trauma, DNA Breakage, and Therapy
Previous research has found that trauma survivors face an increased risk for diseases such as cancer. This may be because stress undermines DNA repair and leads to DNA breakage. To study the effects of trauma on DNA breakage, researchers compared 34 people with PTSD to 31 people without PTSD. In the non-PTSD group, 11 participants had experienced trauma, but these participants did not develop PTSD. The group with PTSD had a higher rate of DNA breakage than the control group, suggesting that symptoms of PTSD might be due to changes in DNA.
In a second study, researchers evaluated 38 people with PTSD, randomly assigning them to either undergo narrative exposure therapy or wait for therapy on a wait list. Researchers followed up with participants twice—four months and one year after completing therapy. The group that underwent therapy saw a reduction in PTSD symptoms, in addition to an improvement in DNA breakage. These results suggest that therapy can fix or prevent DNA damage, and that at least some symptoms of PTSD might be due to changes in DNA.
Whether you’re struggling with PTSD or another condition, therapy can help. This study is one of many that show the effectiveness of therapy. For help finding a therapist in your area, click here.
Traumatic stress may affect DNA, but psychotherapy may heal it. (2014, October 27). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/284410.php
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