For years now, psychologists have been pleading with us to heed warnings about the malleability of the child brain--what both working and stay-at-home parents do around babies and toddlers can have a lifelong effect, altering the brain development of the children. Within this, psychologists adamantly have voiced the importance of getting our stress under control so kids develop better emotional regulation. But new research suggests that men should address their stress even sooner, as it might influence a child's ability to cope long before birth.
The long chain reaction
In the new study led by neuroscientist Tracy Bale, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that higher levels of stress hormones (glucocorticoids) in mice altered proteins around DNA in cells in the lining of tubules in the epididymis. This then sets off a rather complicated chain of other alterations:
- The cells make more microRNA molecules than normal. These molecules play a role in regulating gene expression.
- The microRNA molecules are released in tiny vesicles that also contain molecules that encourage sperm to mature.
- Sperm encounter and interact with the vesicles.
- MicroRNAs carried by the sperm affect genetic material in the egg.
- The modified genetic material results in offspring whose brains aren't as capable of reacting to stress appropriately.
The researchers note that that this is a single-generation phenomenon, meaning that the changes in the proteins around the DNA aren't passed on over and over again. But additional research already has demonstrated that too few or too many microRNAs also might alter brain development in ways that tie to conditions like anxiety, schizophrenia or psychosis. The study thus adds further weight to both the importance of microRNAs and the idea that controlling our environment might be critical for large-scale mental health.
Why professionals should pay the most attention
While this study is relevant to just about anybody who wants kids, it's a particularly big deal to professionals who want to start families. Working individuals regularly encounter a heavy dose of stressful situations, be it nosy coworkers, demanding bosses or impossible deadlines. Entrepreneurs arguably are even more prone to stress, often burning the candle at both ends to get businesses off the ground or ensure company stability. It suggests that a working man taking care of himself goes beyond the benefit of higher conception odds and directly influences the mental stability of the next generation. That next generation is the one we have to trust with the companies we've built, who we'll depend on to open additional businesses according to need.
So future dads, here's your homework. Embrace a good work ethic and make choices that can make you more comfortable. But know where to draw the line. Don't sacrifice yourself in an effort to have it all and get "ready" for a family. Parenthood will throw you for a loop regardless of whether you have one dollar or millions, anyway, trust me. From the biological perspective, you'll do better for your youngsters to ditch what makes your blood boil and keeps you up at night. Find healthy ways to keep perspective and stay calm right now, even if that means switching jobs or ducking into another room for silence once in a while. It's not all in the mother's hands. Your kids already need you, too.