The Stress-Genes Connection

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • We are getting to know more about the relationship between stress and genes and the more we learn the more nature (our genetic make up) seems to play a significant role.

     

    When University of California researchers undertook an analysis of Armenian families’ DNA following the 1998 earthquake, they found that people with two specific gene variants were far more likely to have suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Armen Goenjian, who led the research, concluded that these particular variants have the effect of producing less serotonin. This in turn predisposed the family members to PTSD after any exposure to violence or disaster.

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    More recently, Timothy Judge, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, claimed that work stress, job satisfaction and stress-related health problems are strongly associated with our genetic makeup.

     

    Judge reviewed evidence from 600 identical twins and fraternal twins who were variously raised together or apart. He discovered that being raised in the same environment had little effect on personality, stress or health. Shared genes, Judge declares, turn out to be about four times as important as shared environment.

     

    So, what might the implications of such studies be? The ‘twins’ study suggests that pointing the finger at a stressful work environment isn’t actually going to help with stress and neither is simply switching jobs. Unless this person starts from the basis of appreciating their predisposition to stress they are unlikely to find relief. It could mean that certain types of work will be less stressful than others but of course this doesn’t mean they have to tolerate stressful work environments where these have a capacity to change.

     

    The Armenian families’ study perhaps points to the need for a screening or diagnostic tool that could help to identify people at risk of developing PTSD. According to the research the gene variants known as TPH1 and TPH2 are implicated. Dr. Goenjian, a research professor in psychiatry, makes a case for soldiers or other professions at higher risk of developing PSTD to be screened. Such a process may sound appealing but we have to remember that the gene variant only accounted for a proportion of PTSD symptoms in sufferers. At present it is generally recognized that a past history of trauma or a psychological profile indicating neuroticism are good and much less costly assessment tools. There is also some debate over the usefulness or otherwise of SSRIs used for prolonging the effects of serotonin in the brain in cases of PTSD.

     

    Sources:

     

    BBC News:, H. (2012, 04 02). Gene clue to post-traumatic stress disorder risk. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17560680

     

    University of Notre Dame (2012, September 14). Feeling stressed by your job? Don’t blame your employer, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/09/120914191647.htm

Published On: September 20, 2012