Monday, February 23, 2009


Child abuse link to future health

Children who suffer abuse have an increased risk of physical ill health in adulthood, results suggest.

Researchers at King's College London followed 1,000 people in New Zealand from birth to the age of 32.

A third of those who were maltreated had high levels of inflammation - an early indicator of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Preventing abuse in childhood could help to reduce the burden of illness in adults, experts said.

Participants in the study, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were monitored as children and were also asked to recall any maltreatment they had suffered as children at the age of 26.

“ What we have observed is the long-term effect of stress from a phase when children are particularly vulnerable ”
Dr Andrea Danese, study leader

The researchers took into account many other factors which could account for poor health, including stress, depression, poor status attainment as well as smoking, diet and physical activity.

They took blood samples to measure levels of C-reactive protein, fibrinogen and white blood cells - substances which are known to be associated with inflammation in the body.

Adult survivors of childhood maltreatment who appeared to be healthy were twice as likely to show clinically relevant levels of inflammation compared to those who had not been maltreated.

Inflammation is known to predict the development of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

C-reactive protein in particular has been recommended by the American Heart Association as a screening tool to help assess a person's risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Public health

Study leader Dr Andrea Danese, a psychiatrist at King's College London, said that public health interventions to prevent maltreatment in childhood could help reduce illness in adults.

"We know already that adults who were maltreated in childhood have worse health than other people, but we had no idea how that could be explained so what we're adding here is one of the possible explanations."

Dr Danese explained that stress or fright can lead to inflammation, but if physical harm does not occur the body needs to switch it off quickly or it will cause damage.

Previous research has shown that early-life stress can reduce levels of a hormone - glucocorticoid - that normally works to switch off the inflammatory response.

Dr Danese hypothesised that in maltreated children low levels of glucocorticoids may lead to persistently high levels of inflammation.

"What we have observed is the long-term effect of stress from a phase when children are particularly vulnerable.

"Whether this is reversible is a question we are unable to answer."

Professor Brent Taylor, professor of child health at University College London, said the findings added biological plausibility to what experts already knew.

"It makes sense. We have known for a long time that a bad environment and poor quality parenting is associated with reduced life expectancy as well as other health problems.

"It perhaps suggests there should be more focused attention on preventing maltreatment in childhood."
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/01/16 00:05:20 GMT



Mary Beth said...

I had not seen this report. Thx for posting it, Colin.

Anonymous said...

Colin thank you for this information. It is very timely and nice to know that science is actually looking at the long term effects of childhood stress and taking it seriously. I am a survivor of this abuse and it's nice to know the scientific community is looking at these issues. It's one thing to try to treat the psychological issues associated with our childhood traumas as adults, but I think most of us know how effective that can be. The track record, in my experience, has not been good. I know many who are in this situation and I know I am constantly being told, "Don't stress out over *whatever*, it's not a big deal!" The truth is, I live in a constant state of stress and have poor health---stress is most likely a big contributing factor. I have sometimes wondered what it must feel like to be in a relaxed state---when I stop to think about it, and I never really have until today, I live in constant readiness to react---to whatever might be out there, and be prepared to protect myself. What an intereting insight, and I'm guessing it reflects having to constantly be on alert as a child.

Even if help and a solution is not found in our generation, maybe by the time the next generation is facing this it will be there. For us, at least for me, it helps to know my way of reacting to seemingly minor things at an unrealistic high stress level might have a basis in altered genes. It doesn't mean I don't have to continue to work to try to keep my stress levels in check, but it *does* help to know it's not a defect in my personality that I can choose to make disappear. It's just something I need to be aware of and learn to work with.

This is an exciting breakthrough and I hope they continue to study it and find a way to help those of us that suffer. How wonderful it would be to get through a day without spending it stressing over something!

Thanks again, I will be sharing this with my siblings, it will be good news for them as well!

Iris said...

Now, why this would be a surprise to anyone is a mystery to me. It makes perfect sense. And, there are enough people out there who believe talking and reading to a baby (even in the womb) and having them listen to classical music will have an impact on them that I'm hoping as many will take this information to heart, as well.