Report - Childhood trauma can cut your life short, according to new research that shows how adversity during childhood can shave a decade or more off your life.
"Our latest research shows that those reporting multiple adversities could shorten their lifespan by 7 to 15 years," Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a health psychologist at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, told a Saturday sesson of the American Psychological Association meeting here.
Kiecolt-Glaser and her research partner Ronald Glaser and co-authors found that "childhood adversity can lead to inflammation and cell aging much earlier than for those who haven't experienced these events." Such adverse events include losing a parent, being abused or witnessing parental marital strife.
"What we have is clear evidence that adverse childhood experience may have lasting measurable consequences, even later in life," she says.
Using a community sample of 58 caregivers for a spouse or parent with Alzheimer's disease or dementia and a control group of 74 demographically similar people who had no caregiving responsibilities, researchers analyzed participants' depression levels and occurrence of childhood trauma to see how negative emotions and stressful experiences affect known biochemical markers of stress.
The researchers measured several blood inflammatory markers, including telomeres, which are the ends of strands of DNA. Shorter telomeres have been linked with aging, age-related diseases and death.
Participants completed questionnaires on depression and responded to questions about past child abuse or neglect; a parent's death during childhood; witnessing severe marital problems; growing up with a family member suffering from mental illness or alcohol abuse; or lacking a close relationship with at least one adult during childhood.
"We found that childhood adversity was associated with shorter telomeres and increased levels of inflammation even after controlling for age, caregiving status, gender, body mass index, exercise and sleep," Kiecolt-Glaser says. "Inflammation over time can lead to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers."
In the sample, 32% of participants reported some form of abuse — physical, emotional or sexual — during childhood; 68% reported no such abuse. Just under half (44%) reported no childhood adversities; 33% reported one, and 24% reported multiple adversities.
Participants with cancer or diabetes and those who had surgery recently were excluded from the study, as were those taking anti-inflammatory drugs.
Kiecolt-Glaser says the study found that childhood abuse and caregiving were also associated with higher levels of depression, which she says suggests that psychological factors may influence the incidence and progression of a variety of age-related diseases.
"Interventions that diminish stress or depression or inflammation may enhance health and have a positive impact on immune and endocrine regulation," Kiecolt-Glaser says. Psychological treatment, exercise, yoga and meditation can lessen these negative emotions, which she says may diminish the inflammation.
"In terms of the whole inflammation literature, I'm very much impressed by the data in terms of exercise and how powerful it is. Of all the things that people can do for themselves, exercise is perhaps one of the best interventions," she says.