COVID-19 stress and newborn brains

Life & Health

Chronic, prolonged stress can cause serious health problems, like anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, obesity. And the list goes on … but could long-term stress, like what we are experiencing right now during this pandemic, impact the health of our next generation?

There’s no doubt. Months and months of this, may be wearing us down.

Now, there’s new evidence to suggest that stress can have a lasting impact on future babies.

Tracy Bale, PhD, an epigenetic researcher at University of Maryland School of Medicine explained to Ivanhoe, “So, we set out to do a chronic stress experience on dad and then look at the timing after that stress resolved. Did he pass on effect of his offspring?”

Researchers wanted to know if stress alters sperm, they first tested the theory in mice. After male mice were given a stress hormone, researchers noted changes in their reproductive cells. Then sperm from the stressed mice was used to fertilize an egg. The resulting baby mice showed big changes in early brain development. Bale then recruited male college student volunteers.

Bale elaborated, “If we could look at and measure the stress in their environments over final exams, et cetera, at that time, could we detect changes in their sperm compared to their previous month or their next month?”

Researchers say they did detect changes in human sperm that were similar to those in the stressed-out mice. While Bale and her colleagues didn’t measure the impact of stress reduction on the male students, she says lifestyle habits that are good for the mind, may be good for reproductive health.

Whatever the activity, there’s one more reason for men to reduce stress right now. Your kids may thank you for it in the future.

While the study showed that the babies’ brains developed differently if the father was chronically stressed, researchers say they still don’t know whether the offspring could run the risk for mental health issues, or if experiencing the stress and then managing it will help promote resilience. Bale and her colleagues did not specifically study men who were under stress during the coronavirus pandemic.

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