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How Trauma Is Passed On Through Your Genes

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

We know that sometimes traumas from your past can linger and affect your present, but did you know that traumas from someone else’s past can do the same thing? Surprisingly, this is actually possible through a phenomenon called epigenetics. In this episode of the podcast, Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen discuss epigenetics, in particular the story of Tana’s grandmother, whose trauma has manifested for generations.

For more information on Tana’s new book, “The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child”, visit relentlesscourage.com

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Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome back. We’re into week two of the relentless courage of a scared child, part of a six-week series we’re doing, not only talking about the book, but talking about the lessons and how you can overcome anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief. There’s more in this book that any child should have to endure. I am often amazed that you, when I first met you, downplayed the level of chaos [crosstalk [00:01:28].

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Do you know I actually learned, one thing I learned is that’s the sign of resilience. Not one of the signs, it’s a trait of resilient people, is that they minimize their trauma and that’s how they survive.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And you did, and you thrived, and I adored you. I want to read a testimonial from Carrie Flynn. I just want to thank Dr. Amen for helping me. You’re welcome. I listen to him on YouTube and started cutting out dairy, gluten, and corn. My happiness factor has much, much improved. I’m going to start reintroducing one food at a time to determine the culprit. At least I know the cause of my B minus mood level was related to food sensitivity.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). See?

Daniel Amen, MD:

If I want to cheat now, and then I’ll know what to expect. You are a very good doctor and you have helped me a lot. Thank you very much.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s awesome.

Daniel Amen, MD:

I’m so happy. I’m working on a new book the year after next called Happy: The Neuroscience of Feeling Good, and that testimonial just made me happy.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yep. That’s awesome.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Food actually was very important for you, because I think it’s part of what kept you sick when you were [crosstalk [00:02:53].

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, no question. I know it did now, because like I said, I went on that journey to heal myself and I was both… Well, I was all of the above; disturbed, angry, thrilled to finally have an answer, and just confused. Why still, when you go to certain doctors in Western medicine, they’re like, “Food doesn’t matter. Nutrition”… I’m a nurse, and where I went to school, it did matter more, but I’m just mind blown at how that’s still the conversation that happens. It matters.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So if you want to overcome anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief, get your food right. Tana’s got a great cookbook, Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook. It just reminds me of what I know about you when you were young, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Often left alone, often with processed food, and it’s one of the ways you soothed the anxiety that you felt.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I love what we teach about healing people in four circles; the biological, what’s going on physically, the psychological, what’s happening in your mind, how you think, the social, and the spiritual. I never really thought of myself as a depressed kid until I started to… You asked me, you told me when we were dating, “Tell me some good childhood memories,” and I couldn’t come up with one. Now funny, now that I’ve healed and now that I’ve done so much work on this, and even as I was writing my book, I love the idea of writing your story because so much comes to light. Now I actually have a lot of good memories, but I couldn’t think of one, and as I was telling you about my childhood, you’re like, “Well, you were depressed.” And I was like, “How is the kid depressed? No, I wasn’t,” and I was. I was depressed and I was terrified, but all of those circles were suffering. The biology was clearly suffering. Physically, I was not healthy. Psychology, my family was not evolved. They weren’t psychologically savvy.

Daniel Amen, MD:

They believed every stupid thing they thought.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And just the drama and the chaos, just on a daily basis. There was the social, which I was totally alone. I was a latch-key kid and scared that my mom wasn’t coming home, and then there was the spiritual, which really didn’t exist in my life at that time.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The purpose of your life, your family’s life was survival. It really wasn’t anything beyond that.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

No.

Daniel Amen, MD:

How old were you when your grandmother came to live with you?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

She came to live with us permanent… She would be in and out, in and out. She came from Lebanon, and she didn’t speak English very well, and she was always sick. She had diabetes. She would come and go when I was really young, but then she came to live with us permanently when I was 11, because she had gone legally blind. Her diabetes was out of control. She was morbidly obese. She’d become a hoarder, and she became a hoarder because she never dealt with her trauma. Besides her son being murdered, when she was in… She never got over that, but when she was a young child, and back then it was Greater Syria, she went through World War I. It was just before World War I. It was The Great Famine.

So she went through that, and she remembers having to run when the Turks would come riding through. She took off and she ran into the mountains, and she got separated from her family, and she was lost for three days up in the mountains. Her hair was frozen and matted to her head when they found her. She was hypothermic. She was terrified of all the animals, and so that, she never really recovered. As a result of all of the things she had dealt with, she became this hoarder. She was morbidly obese. She would cry every time she turned the news on. Now, looking back, I understand it’s PTSD, but I didn’t know that back then. She was just kind of scary. I loved her, but she was kind of scary, and she wouldn’t come out of her room, really. She came to live with us when I was 11 so I could give her insulin shots, so I could watch her.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Well, and a very important point with your grandmother’s story is this thing called epigenetics, that what happens to us turns on or off certain genes that make illness more or less likely in our children and our grandchildren. Trauma, especially trauma that’s not processed and dealt with, gets written in your genetic code-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

You’re convinced.

Daniel Amen, MD:

– and then passed down to other people. So when the pandemic happened, Tana has actually been getting ready for a famine for three generations.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Not just a famine. I’m getting ready for any type of disaster. I’m obsessed.

Daniel Amen, MD:

From the Turks coming into Newport coast.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I am obsessed with disaster planning, with survival training. I do all this stuff, and he’s like, “Do I not take good care of you?” So when the pandemic hit, I went, “I told you so. You could either say thank you or I can say, ‘I told you so’.” I’ve been obsessed with disaster planning for decades.

Daniel Amen, MD:

It may have nothing to do with her, but with her grandmother’s.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But if you saw my setup, those of you who like to plan for disasters, if you saw my setup, you would have disaster planning envy. That’s all I’m going to say.

Daniel Amen, MD:

All right. As a child, almost drowned, often left alone, uncle’s murdered in a drug deal gone wrong, upper and lower GIs.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I was sick all the time, surgeries.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Latch-key kid when you’re nine, and I think this is really important.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Well, before I was nine, our house was broken into. I’ve often talked about how the pandemic didn’t bother me as much as the social unrest, because it triggered me. Our house was broken into frequently when I was young. It’s weird how often it was broken into. We think it was because of my uncle’s friends. They would come to steal stuff for drugs and whatever, and a couple of times they got caught, but it happened so often that it was a little odd. Either someone knew that it was just my mom and I, or it was someone who just knew they could come in, because they always knew when to come in.

But my mom shot a gun off in the house when I was really young, and then when I was nine, she took off running down the hall, chasing an intruder with a shotgun. I remember the sound of the shotgun racking, and I’m like, “She’s going to shoot him in the back.” I was convinced. My mom, she’s a little like this cross between Lucille Ball and the Tasmanian devil. She’s larger than life. She’s a survivor. She’s amazing, a little crazy, but it wasn’t perfect.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Actually, before we get to nine and the separation anxiety, I want to do that in the next podcast, what I want to encourage you to do is begin to write the story of your life.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Mm, I love that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And I want you to write, so get a piece of paper.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I have a journal. I created a digital journal for you to be able to do this, because it’s so important and it was so impactful for me. It’s one of the pre-order gifts that I helped with. I really wanted people to dig into this, and of course, the book is an example of how you can do that, so you can write it in a balanced way. And there are other tools that are part of the pre-order gift to help you do this, so that you can start to look at the people in your life who have been challenging for you through those four circles and begin to understand them better, and then write this down.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And if you write it every year, do you know? I mean, often the years early, you won’t know. But what good happened and what stressful happened, you begin to get a timeline, and it’s just so helpful to understand some of your automatic, stressful reactions, which may have nothing to do with the present, but you don’t want your life to be driven by the pain of your past. There’s a therapy I like called timeline therapy.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I love timeline therapy.

Daniel Amen, MD:

When I think of the timeline of my life, I see it from back to front.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

See, I see it in front of me.

Daniel Amen, MD:

My past is generally behind me and less infecting me, but yours, because you see it-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

You always say, “Why are you living in the past?” I’m like, “I’m not living in the past. What are you talking about?” Because it’s in front of me. I see it from left to right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

You see it from left to right, which means it’s always there.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I can access it any time.

Daniel Amen, MD:

In March of next year, I have a new book called Your Brain is Always Listening, and talking about the dragons from the past, we’ve been talking about some of the dragons, right? The ancestral dragons, your grandmother’s traumas.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I love that book.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Your trauma.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Your book goes so well with my book, and it was such a weird thing. We didn’t plan that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

No, and our new Public Television special, which is coming out at the end of February, we actually blend both of our books together. But we’re going to do a whole six-week series on my book coming up in January.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

You can get those tools at relentlesscourage.com, and it will help you begin to write the story of your life so you can look at it from an adult’s perspective. Because sometimes we carry strategies from when we were a kid, and we’ve never learned new strategies, and those strategies worked when you were four to help you survive.

Daniel Amen, MD:

In traumatic situations.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But they don’t work when you’re 40, right? So it’s going to help you begin to see that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Great. All right. Stay with us. You can pre-order the book and get free gifts at relentlesscourage.com. Our event, December 12th, free, on overcoming anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief. Tanaamen.com/event. Sign up. We already have hundreds of people signed up. We would just love you and your friends. Stay with us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And we are giving away a scan.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And we’re giving away a scan.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

An evaluation.

Daniel Amen, MD:

An evaluation. Stay with us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

If you’re enjoying the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe so you’ll always know when there’s a new episode. And while you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen:

If you’re considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code podcast 10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com or a 10% discount on all supplements at brainmdhealth.com. For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.