The Brain, Body and Behavioral Effects of Holocaust Trauma Probably Curses Generations

Take Aways:

  • Prior generation trauma experiences, especially mother’s, likely predispose later generation’s bodys to stress coping handicaps and PTSD
  • The same adaptations may lead to chronic adult illnesses
  • Trauma and PTSD can likely be passed thru the genes in families.

The good news is that medical science is starting to understand how trauma changes the body and brain.  The bad news is that it is intergenerational.

The role of fear in driving lifelong behavior is fairly well understood at the brain level.  Studies of childhood trauma show it permanently damages the brain causing the brain to be set in a permanent panic state of hyper-vigilance and “threat seeking.” For example, childhood trauma are some of the most highly correlated experiences with ALL adult diseases.  It is worse for women.

The study of childhood trauma has only recently been uncovered in the ACES studies in America.

Of course, this new science about intergenerational trauma, points to many lifetimes of problems just from current Middle Eastern violence and killing.

Anecdotally, we can all share experiences of Holocaust survivorship in our families or others.  Here is a little neurobiology to inform the discussion.  It appears that all childhood, and most adult, trauma creates a similar destructive cascade of effects in multiple body systems and a perhaps across generations.  The following article below is digest from the original:

Descendants of Holocaust Survivors Have Altered Stress Hormones

From the article “Parents’ traumatic experience may hamper their offspring’s ability to bounce back from trauma” Feb 12, 2015 |By Tori Rodriguez

The following was found:

  • descendants of people who survived the Holocaust have different stress hormone profiles than their peers,
  • perhaps predisposing them to anxiety disorders.
  • Survivors have lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that helps the body return to normal after trauma; those who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have even lower levels.

IT appears that the effects of certain experiences during childhood and adolescence are especially enduring in individuals and sometimes even across generations for Holocaust survivor descendents.

… descendants of the Holocaust survivors:

  • Like their parents, many have low levels of cortisol, particularly if their mothers had PTSD.
  • Yet unlike their parents, they have higher than normal levels of the cortisol-busting enzyme.

The authors of the studies theorize that this adaptation happened in utero… With low levels of cortisol and high levels of the enzyme that breaks it down, many descendants of Holocaust survivors would be ill adapted to survive starvation themselves.

In fact:

  • that stress hormone profile might make them more susceptible to PTSD;
  • previous studies have indeed suggested that the offspring of Holocaust survivors are more vulnerable to the effects of stress and are more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD.
  • These descendants may also be at risk for age-related metabolic syndromes, including obesity, hypertension and insulin resistance, particularly in an environment of plenty.

Rachel Yehuda’s Professional page
Original Scientific American article: “Descendants of Holocaust Survivors Have Altered Stress Hormones” 

About the Author
Elmer Rich is interested in evidence-based problem-solving in professional, business and policy work. With an M.S. in Lifespan Developmental Psychology from University of Chicago, he works as a professional marketer and communicator in B2B/technical topics in financial services.