No one would argue today that there’s such a thing as showing “too much love” to a child. But new research goes even further, saying that cuddling a baby actually alters that baby’s DNA.
The 2017 study carried out by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada suggests that babies who have more physical contact with care givers have an altered molecular process that affects the way their genes develop.
The researchers asked parents of 94 babies to keep a record of their cuddling and touching habits once their infants had reached five weeks old — as well as noting their baby’s sleeping and crying patterns. Four and a half years later, the scientists took DNA swabs from the children to determine their biochemical modification called DNA methylation, which alters gene performance and affects the genes’ expression.
The team was able to determine methylation differences in five DNA sites between babies who had higher levels of physical contact and those who had lower levels of contact. Two of these sites are found within genes relating to the immune system and the metabolic system.
According to a report by David Nield for Science Alert, DNA methylation “acts as a marker for normal biological development and the processes that go along with it,” as well as external factors such as the child’s environment. Interestingly, thanks to these markers, the study was able to see a difference between babies and their epigenetic age — the way in which blood and tissues biologically age — according to how much physical contact they’d had.
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