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Childhood trauma can trigger early biological ageing

Researchers in the United States (US) said traumatic experiences in childhood could accelerate biological signs of ageing. These are the findings of a new study published in the journal ‘Psychological Bulletin’. According to the researchers, early puberty, rapid cellular ageing, and structural brain changes could all be linked specifically to violent childhood trauma, but not chronic poverty or neglect.

The study highlighted that these accelerations to biological ageing could result in profoundly negative physical and mental health consequences as children reach adulthood. Alongside the obvious psychiatric repercussions, these accelerated physiological mechanisms could heighten one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Consequently, the research has a number of compelling implications for clinicians managing children who have suffered violence or trauma.

Natalie Colich who is first author of the study from the University of Washington, also suggested these early biological markers of trauma could help doctors identify children suffering from abuse, and allow preventive measures to be employed early in development to promote healthier outcomes in adulthood.

“If you have a kid who comes into a pediatrician’s office and is showing precocious pubertal onset, you can first start to [ask] questions about the experiences this child had in early childhood and also know that this child is probably at risk for mental and physical health problems down the road,” said Colich.

The research analysed over 80 detailed studies and three biological ageing markers were investigated: cellular ageing, structural brain development, and onset of puberty. According to Senior author Katie McLaughlin, from Harvard University in the US, “The question we were really interested in is whether all negative experiences early in life are the same in terms of how they might impact the ageing process, and one of the most interesting findings of the paper is that the answer is a very clear ‘no’.

Negative early life experiences were divided into two groups: those involving abuse or violence, and experiences associated with neglect, deprivation or poverty. However, across all three biological markers studied, signs of accelerated or abnormal ageing were only detected in those subjects experiencing violence or abuse, the ‘New Atlas’ reported.

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