Researchers have found that children who have suffered violence or trauma appear to age faster, puberty earlier, and have greater signs of aging in their cells.
They say that these findings increase the workload and indicate that early adversity may be “bio-implanted” and may have an adverse effect on health later in life.
Dr. Katie McLaughlin, a co-author of the Harvard University study, said: “These findings also have obvious practical implications.”
McLaughlin and her colleagues wrote in the Psychological Bulletin how they analyzed 54 studies to study the effects of two adversities on the onset of puberty and markers of cellular aging.
In both cases, the results show that children who have experienced violence or trauma but are not deprived have accelerated aging compared to children who have not experienced violence or trauma.
The numbers vary in different studies, but repeated exposure to violence seems to be related to girls having menarche several months earlier than their peers. Although the research team believes this may be important, it should be pointed out that early adolescence is related to mental and physical health problems.
The research team said that in the context of cellular aging (measured by shortening of telomeres, caps at the ends of chromosomes, and accumulation of methyl groups on DNA), children who have suffered violence or trauma appear to be months or even years older than their age. They really are.
“we know [these measures] It is a very powerful predictor of health outcomes and even mortality later in life. “Mclaurin said. Adult research shows that faster biological aging at the cellular level is associated with an increased risk of cancer to cardiovascular disease.
The research team also studied another 25 studies on the effect of childhood adversity on the thinning of the cerebral cortex. As we age, the thinning of the cortex is related to the increase in processing efficiency.
McLaughlin said: “We see that growing up in a dangerous environment accelerates the process of processing social and emotional information in the brain and helps us identify and respond to threatening areas.” She said this may be beneficial in the short term. , But other work suggests that this change may be related to an increased risk of mental health problems.
Among children who have experienced deprivation, different areas of the brain, including children related to memory and decision-making abilities, have also seen accelerated thinning.
For all signs of aging, the effects of childhood adversity seem to be proportional to the scale or severity of the experience. The research team pointed out that for each measurement method of aging, only a small number of studies have been conducted, and the role of heritability in the research results needs further review.
McLaughlin said, however, it makes sense that different forms of adversity have different effects. She said: “The type of adaptation that may help children adapt to a dangerous environment is completely different from the type of adaptation that may be needed in a deprived environment.”
Andrea Danese, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at King’s College London, welcomed the research. “The results of the study indicate that a more detailed assessment of children’s experiences may help them understand the potential risks of their biological aging,” he said.
“In turn, this can guide further research to understand why age-related diseases (such as cardiovascular disease or some forms of diabetes) are more common in individuals who have experienced childhood adversity.”
But he also said that the differences are small, which means that they cannot be used to target individual children, and it is not clear why threatening experiences such as violence are associated with faster age.
He said: “The threat experience is related to several characteristics of children, families and communities. These characteristics can explain the observed differences and should be better understood.” “This will enable us to strengthen causal inferences and provide effective interventions. The development provides information to reduce the health burden associated with adverse childhood experiences.”