Researchers have discovered that victims of childhood trauma and adversities — including parental loss, childhood abuse, neglect, and other forms of psychosocial stress — suffer damage that goes far beyond mere psychology. For the first time in history, scientists are able to confirm a connection between childhood trauma and biological changes at a cellular level. These changes include: shortening of telomeres (the “caps” on the tips of chromosomes which are depleted as we age), and alterations of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA convert molecules from food into energy, and are vital to cellular growth and signaling).

These two types of changes are both found in cases of advanced cellular aging and early death. “We are interested in these relationships because there is now clear evidence that stress exposure and psychiatric conditions are associated with inflammation and health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Identifying the changes that occur at a cellular level due to these psychosocial factors allows us to understand the causes of these poor health conditions and possibly the overall aging process.” said Audrey Tyrka, MD, PhD, Director of the Laboratory for Clinical and Translational Neuroscience at Butler Hospital and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University.

Science Daily adds: “Results of the study show childhood adversity and lifetime psychopathology were each associated with shorter telomeres and higher mtDNA content. These effects were seen in individuals with major depression, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders, as well as those with parental loss and childhood maltreatment. A history of substance disorders was also associated with significantly higher mtDNA copy numbers. These findings indicate that childhood stress and some psychiatric disorders are linked to important cellular changes that may represent advanced cellular aging. ‘Understanding this biology is necessary to move toward better treatment and prevention options for stress-related psychiatric and medical conditions, and may shed light on the aging process itself.’ said Dr. Tyrka, also the director of Research for Butler Hospital … Recent studies have examined the possible connection between mitochondria and psychiatric disorders, but the research is very limited, and no prior work has examined the relationship of mitochondrial DNA to psychosocial stress.”

The findings compliment another recent study which discovered that the first three years of a child’s life are critical to ensuring a healthy and happy life years and decades down the road. You can read more here: “Scientists Discover How Parents’ Behavior In First 3 Years Shapes Their Kids’ Lives For 3 Decades Later“. (Photo credit: © Phils Photography / Fotolia, via Science Daily).

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