Study reveals strict parenting and restrictions can change DNA, lead to depression in teens

Children growing up with restrictions can face modification in DNA  
Teenagers with strict patents show signs of depression | (Pic: Pixabay)
Teenagers with strict patents show signs of depression | (Pic: Pixabay)

A recent study revealed that strict parenting and a child who grows up with restrictions can affect the way the body perceives the children’s DNA. These modifications are “hard-wired” into their DNA and this can increase the biological risk of depression in adolescence and later in life, stated a report on ANI.

In a work that was presented at the ECNP Congress, an independent scientific association dedicated to the science and treatment of disorders of the brain, in Vienna, Dr Evelien Van Assche said, “We discovered that perceived harsh parenting, with physical punishment and psychological manipulation, can introduce an additional set of instructions on how a gene is read to become hard-wired into DNA. We have some indications that these changes themselves can predispose the growing child to depression. This does not happen to the same extent if the children have had a supportive upbringing,” the report on ANI stated.

Twenty-one teenagers were chosen by the researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, who said that their parents were good (for example, they were supportive and gave their kids freedom) and then compared to 23 teenagers who said their parents were tough (for example, manipulative behaviour, physical punishment, excessive strictness). Teenagers from ages 12 to 16, of which 11 of them were boys, indicated that the groups were comparable in terms of age and the distribution of boys to girls. Many adolescents who had strict parents showed early subclinical indicators of depression, stated the report.

The range of methylation (a chemical reaction in the body in which a small molecule called a methyl group gets added to DNA, proteins or other molecules) was then evaluated at more than 4,50,000 locations in each subject's DNA. In this process, the researchers discovered that methylation was much higher in subjects who reported having had a difficult upbringing. Methylation may cause a gene to generate more or less of an enzyme than it would otherwise. Studies have linked various types and cases of depression with increased methylation. 

According to Dr Evelien Van Assche, "We based our strategy on earlier work with identical twins. Two independent groups found that the twin diagnosed with major depression also had a higher range of DNA methylation for the majority of these hundreds of thousands of data points, as compared to the healthy twin," as reported by ANI. Dr Van Assche (now working at the University of Munster, Germany) continued, "The DNA remains the same, but these additional chemical groups affect how the instructions from the DNA are read. Those who reported harsher parenting showed a tendency towards depression, and we believe that this tendency has been baked into their DNA through increased variation in methylation. We are now seeing if we can close the loop by linking it to a later diagnosis of depression and perhaps use this increased methylation variation as a marker, to give advance warning of who might be at greater risk of developing depression as a result of their upbringing."

Commenting on this study, Professor Christiaan Vinkers, Department of Psychiatry, Amsterdam University Medical Centre, said, "This is significant work to understand how adverse childhood experiences have life-long consequences for both mental and physical health. There is a lot to gain if we can understand who is at risk, but also why there are different effects of parenting strict parenting,” as reported by ANI.

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