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Transgenerational effects of posttraumatic stress disorder in babies of mothers exposed to the World

09 May
Rachel Yehuda et al at Mt. Sinai Hospital find that infants born to women who were pregnant and directly affected by the World Trade Center attacks, showed low cortisol levels..
A recent Mt. Sinai Hospital study by posttraumatic stress researcher, Rachel Yehuda, found that infants born to pregnant women who were directly affected by the World Trade Center attacks, showed biological markers - low cortisol levels - indicating effects of PTSD.

Researchers measured the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of 38 women who were in or near the World Trade Center and pregnant at the time of the attack to determine if they had signs of PTSD. The infants born to women with low levels of cortisol had correspondingly low levels of the hormone, indicating that they also were vulnerable to PTSD.

Previous studies have shown corresponding low levels of cortisol in Holocaust survivors and their offspring, but researchers had attributed the association to "lifestyle factors," such as growing up with a parent who was depressed or anxious or hearing numerous stories about the Holocaust.

However, the infants of the women involved in the Sept. 11 attack were too young to understand or identify with their mother''s anxiety, suggesting that "mechanisms for transgenerational transmission of biological effects of trauma may have to do with very early parent-child attachments and possibly even in utero effects," according to Yehuda. The researchers concluded, "The data suggest that the effects of maternal PTSD related to cortisol can be observed very early in the life of the offspring and underscore the relevance of in utero contributors to putative biological risk for PTSD."

The research on PTSD is part of a larger study Mount Sinai Hospital is conducting with Columbia University''s Center for Children''s Health that is tracking 200 women who were pregnant and near the World Trade Center when it was attacked.

This finding could be one more piece of the puzzle, explaining why some people are more vulnerable to acquiring PTSD than others who experience the same traumatizing events.



Citation: Rachel Yehuda, Stephanie Mulherin Engel, Sarah R. Brand, Jonathan Seckl, Sue M. Marcus, and Gertrud S. Berkowitz. Transgenerational effects of posttraumatic stress disorder in babies of mothers exposed to the World Trade Center attacks during pregnancy Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2005, 10.1210/jc.2005-0550) (published online ahead of print on may 3)
Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award