Traumatic Events in Childhood Linked to Shorter Telomeres

September 12, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

verbal abuse of a child

Telomeres are bits of DNA at the end of chromosomes that protect the DNA as it replicates. Shorter telomeres have been linked to aging and increases in multiple types of medical and psychiatric disorders. A 2016 article in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, reported that cumulative life adversity and particularly stressful or traumatic events in childhood, predict shorter telomere length.

The study by Eli Puterman and colleagues included 4,590 individuals from the US Health and Retirement Study who reported stressful events that had experienced. A single experience of adversity was not linked to short telomeres, but lifetime cumulative adversity predicted 6% greater odds of having shorter telomeres. This result was mainly explained by adversity that occurred in childhood. Each stressful or traumatic event in childhood increased the odds of short telomeres by 11%. These were mostly social or traumatic experiences rather than financial stresses.

Brain Volumes Affected by Type and Timing of Childhood Abuse

December 13, 2016 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

age when abused affects brain volume

Maltreatment during childhood has been linked to brain changes and mental illness. In a study by researcher Carl M. Anderson and colleagues that was presented at the 2016 meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, maltreatment at particular ages was statistically linked to deficits in the size of certain brain areas in young adulthood.

The brain areas under examination are critical for the regulation of emotion and behavior, and this research suggests that early experiences can stunt their development, perhaps through  altered production of synapses or via the synaptic pruning process that occurs during preadolescence. The details, summarized below, are perhaps less important than the overall finding that maltreatment in childhood affects brain volume, and this effect varies based on the timing and type of maltreatment. Abuse and neglect earlier in life affected the left side of the brain, while later maltreatment affected the right side.

Severity of physical abuse at age 3 affected the volume of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in women. Physical abuse at ages 3 and 8 in men affected left ventromedial prefrontal cortical volume, while later abuse at ages 7 and 12 predicted volume of the right side.

In women, dorsal anterior cingulate area on the left was predicted by physical abuse at age 5 and by emotional neglect at ages 7 and 11. Later emotional neglect at ages 15 and 16 and physical abuse by a peer at age 10 was associated with smaller right dorsal anterior cingulate. In men, smaller left dorsal anterior cingulate area was predicted by physical neglect at age 2 and emotional abuse by a peer and witnessing abuse of a sibling at ages 5 and 10, and right area by physical neglect at age 12.

Early Life Stress Affects Volume of the Hippocampus

December 12, 2016 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

early life stressors affect hippocampal volume

New research shows that there are crucial periods of early life in which a stressful event can reduce hippocampal volume in adolescence. In a study presented at the 2016 meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, Kathryn L. Humphreys and colleagues found that children who experienced a significant stressor before age 8 had smaller hippocampi in early adolescence than children who did not have a significant stressor early in life.

The severity of the stressors that occurred when children were between the ages of 0 and 2 predicted the volume of the hippocampus later in life. This was true to a lesser extent for stressful events that occurred between the ages of 3 and 5. No effect was seen for stressful events that took place between the ages of 6 and 8.

The period of sensitivity to stressful events between ages 0 and 2 and its effects on hippocampal volume could influence a variety of psychiatric outcomes in conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Crack Cocaine Use and Early Life Stressors Shorten Telomeres

August 8, 2016 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

crack cocaine can shorten telomeres

Telomeres are repeated DNA sequences that sit at the end of chromosomes and protect them during cell replication. Shorter telomeres are associated with aging and an increase in multiple medical and psychiatric disorders, while some healthy behaviors including exercising, eating healthy, meditating, and avoiding smoking can help maintain telomere length. Lithium treatment also increases telomere length.

Recent research by Mateus Levandowski and colleagues found that people who were dependent on crack cocaine had shorter telomeres than elderly women without psychiatric illnesses, particularly if the crack cocaine users had also experienced stress early in life, such as maltreatment or neglect.

Since short telomeres are associated with a variety of medical and psychiatric problems and premature aging, the combined effects of drug use and early life stressors are likely to have an adverse impact on people who have experienced both.