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Childhood Abuse or Neglect Can Lead to Elevated Stress Response Later in Life

If an individual was abused or neglected during childhood, he or she may have an elevated inflammatory response to stress later in life, according to a new study. The research was led by Linda Carpenter, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University who also treats patients with mood disorders at Butler Hospital.

Carpenter said that previous research has found associations between inflammatory markers like cytokines or proteins that are released in the bloodstream (such as interleukin-6) and depression and anxiety disorders. This new study could help improve physicians’ understanding of how stressful childhoods can increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety later in life.

Carpenter said that animal models have provided some ideas as to how the stress response system can be altered for the rest of the animal’s life because of early environmental exposures—especially adverse ones. She added that this is one of several studies she and her colleagues are performing with mostly healthy adults, examining the effects of adverse early conditions and the later development of depression or other disorders.

She explained that a 2006 study by researchers at Emory University demonstrated that men who were abused or neglected as children who were suffering from depression as adults showed elevated inflammatory response to stress. In this study, Carpenter and her colleagues wanted to see if the same was true for those who had adverse childhoods but aren’t suffering from depression. They found that those who were abused or neglected as children do have elevated reactions to stress later in life.

For the study, 69 adults (from late teens to early 60s) underwent several tests to make sure they were psychiatrically healthy and not taking medications that could alter the results. They were then surveyed about their experiences in childhood, and 19 people said they experienced moderate to severe neglect or abuse.

The participants were also asked to take part in the Trier Social Stress Test, where they had to speak about their qualifications for their job and then count backward from 13 in front of “judges.” During this time, the researchers measured their vital signs and collected blood samples to test their biological reactions to stress.

Among those who reported neglect or abuse, the concentration of interleukin-6 in their blood were consistently elevated above those of the controls. As the individuals became less stressed several hours later, the concentrations decreased.

Carpenter added that further research is needed, but the hope is that a blood test would be developed that could assess a person’s risk for developing depression, anxiety, or other disorders, as well as treatment options.

Source: Science Daily, Childhood Adversity May Lead to Unhealthy Stress Response in Adult Life, October 7, 2010
 

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