Thursday, April 10, 2014

Early Childhood Stress and Adult Mental Illness - New Research

The title above is closely related to a project I have been working on for the past several weeks, whenever I have a little bit of free time. Nearly ALL mental illness can be traced to environmental stress and relational traumas. Finally, researchers are beginning to look into these relationships.

Below are pieces of four recent studies on the impact of chronic stress in children that have made it into the press. These articles are mostly looking at the physical health outcomes, but we know beyond a doubt that a whole spectrum of adverse childhood events leads to physical health issues as well as mental health issues.

As always, follow the links to read the whole article.

Chronic stress in early life causes anxiety, aggression in adulthood, neurobiologists find

Date: March 27, 2014
Source: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

In experiments to assess the impacts of social stress upon adolescent mice, both at the time they are experienced and during adulthood, a laboratory team conducted many different kinds of stress tests and means of measuring their impacts. The research indicates that a 'hostile environment in adolescence disturbs psychoemotional state and social behaviors of animals in adult life,' the team says.
Full Citation:
Irina L. Kovalenko, Anna G. Galyamina, Dmitry A. Smagin, Tatyana V. Michurina, Natalia N. Kudryavtseva, Grigori Enikolopov. Extended Effect of Chronic Social Defeat Stress in Childhood on Behaviors in Adulthood. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (3): e91762 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091762

The above article is open access.

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Stress alters children's genomes

Poverty and unstable family environments shorten chromosome-protecting telomeres in nine-year-olds.

Jyoti Madhusoodanan
07 April 2014

Telomeres (shown in red) protect the ends of chromosomes from fraying over time. Pasieka/Science Photo Library

Growing up in a stressful social environment leaves lasting marks on young chromosomes, a study of African American boys has revealed. Telomeres, repetitive DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes from fraying over time, are shorter in children from poor and unstable homes than in children from more nurturing families.

When researchers examined the DNA of 40 boys from major US cities at age 9, they found that the telomeres of children from harsh home environments were 19% shorter than those of children from advantaged backgrounds. The length of telomeres is often considered to be a biomarker of chronic stress.

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, brings researchers closer to understanding how social conditions in childhood can influence long-term health, says Elissa Epel, a health psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the research.
Full Citation:
Mitchell, C. et al. (2014). Social disadvantage, genetic sensitivity, and children’s telomere length. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA.

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This number was 25% a couple of decades ago, and now it is 40%? What is happening with parenting that so many children lack secure parental bonds?

Four in 10 infants lack strong parental attachments

Date: March 27, 2014
Source: Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

In a study of 14,000 US children, 40 percent lack strong emotional bonds -- what psychologists call 'secure attachment' -- with their parents that are crucial to success later in life, according to a new report. The researchers found that these children are more likely to face educational and behavioral problems.
Full Citation:
The above story is based on materials provided by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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This article is basically a review of the current research, although not an in-depth one, but it offers another glimpse into the ways environment impacts children - from Live Science.

The Truth About How Mom's Stress Affects Baby's Brain

By Stephanie Pappas, Senior Writer | February 24, 2014

A dancing robot is used to test babies' temperaments at the University of Denver lab of Elysia Poggi Davis. Credit: Stephanie Pappas for LiveScience

DENVER — My daughter is sitting in a high chair, watching a black-and-white robot almost as big as she is bust a move.

A Vegas floor show this is not, but for a 7-month-old, a dancing robot is either fascinating or terrifying. How my daughter (or any baby) responds to such a display can reveal the child's temperament. And that, among other things, is what brought us here to this cheerful neurodevelopment lab decorated with cartoons of zebras and giraffes.

Here at the University of Denver, psychologists are working to understand how the early environment affects a child's life course — but the environment that researchers Elysia Poggi Davis and Pilyoung Kim are interested in isn't just the home or the neighborhood, but also the womb.

Stress hormones (and medications that mimic them) may have long-lasting effects on infants, Davis and Kim have found. And exposure in the womb is where it all begins.
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