A traumatic childhood It negatively impacts the mind, body, and soul, sometimes irreversibly. Scientists have shown that repeated adverse childhood experiences can cause profound changes in brain chemistry. They have also discovered that abusing or neglecting children also affects physical health.
The hormone that increases in traumatic childhood
That’s because too many negative occurrences lead to an increase in cortisol levels. When this becomes a chronic condition, it creates imbalances and disease in the mind and body.
Children’s brains are like sponges that soak up everything they see and hear in their environment. So if they witness frequent negative events, they can cause long-term damage to their psychological health. Children need a safe and relaxed environment in order to grow into strong and capable adults. They can suffer well into adulthood when they do not receive adequate support and love.
In fact, scientists have discovered that children experiencing trauma and violence they often show signs of premature aging. They age faster than children who grow up in healthy environments, according to research from the American Psychological Association (APA).
Early puberty, a sign of a traumatic childhood
Their study looked at three different biological aging markers: cellular aging, structural changes in the brain, and early puberty. After studying the data, they determined a link between the three signs and a traumatic childhood.
“Childhood exposure to adversity is a powerful predictor of health outcomes later in life, not just mental health outcomes like depression and anxiety, but also physical health outcomes like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer,” she said. Katie McLaughlin, Ph.D. , associate professor of psychology at Harvard University and lead author of the study, in a news release. “Our study suggests that experiencing violence can make the body age faster at a biological level, which may help explain that connection.”
The findings appeared in the Psychological Bulletin on August 3, 2020.
A study shows how a traumatic childhood can accelerate aging
Previous research found no clear connection between a traumatic childhood and premature aging. But those studies lumped several adverse experiences, such as abuse, poverty and neglect, into a single category. The researchers also measured biological aging differently than in the last study.
So, to achieve more precise results, McLaughlin and his colleagues separated the types of adversity into two categories. They looked at threat-related adversity, such as violence and abusive situations, and deprivation-related trauma, such as poverty and physical or emotional neglect.
Next, the research team completed a meta-analysis of nearly 80 studies, including more than 116,000 participants. They discovered shocking results: a traumatic childhood that primarily involved threat-related adversity, such as abuse or violenceled to early puberty and premature aging.
The children showed apparent signs of rapid aging on a biological level. Many had shortened telomeres, the small structures at the ends of our chromosomes that protect DNA.
As we age, our telomeres naturally shorten due to cell division. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet, can cause telomeres to wear down more quickly.
Chronic stress from a traumatic childhood accelerates aging
The chronic stress of a traumatic childhood or a demanding career can also cause accelerated aging. Interestingly, however, the children in the study who only experienced trauma related to deprivation, such as poverty or abandonment, showed no signs of premature aging.
The team conducted a second analysis of 25 studies with more than 3,253 participants that investigated how a traumatic childhood affects brain development. They found that childhood adversity reduced cortical thickness, a clear marker of premature aging. But again, different types of trauma led to cortical thinning in various regions of the brain.
Researchers found that trauma and violence caused decreases in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with social and emotional processing. Deprivation-related trauma most frequently led to thinning of the frontoparietal networks, both default and visual. All of these brain regions are involved in cognitive and sensory processing.
Early treatment of childhood trauma is key
Research shows that a traumatic childhood can cause lasting changes in brain chemistry and biological processes. But, according to McLaughlin, accelerated aging may have been advantageous for the survival of our species. Before modern times, we had to deal with numerous life-threatening situations, such as attacks by wild animals or competing tribes.
Living in such a violent world meant that puberty happened earlier, so we could prioritize reproduction over early death. Our brains developed faster to help us process and respond to immediate environmental threats, increasing our chances of survival. However, these evolutionary adaptations can cause serious physical and mental health problems in today’s world.
The latest study highlights the importance of Early treatment of a traumatic childhood to prevent long-term health problems. All research in the meta-analysis included accelerated aging in children and adolescents under 18 years of age.
Biological mechanisms in infant adversity decrease their radiant health
“The fact that we see such consistent evidence of faster aging at such a young age suggests that the biological mechanisms that contribute to health disparities are set in motion very early in life. This means that efforts to prevent these health disparities must also start during childhood,” McLaughlin said.
He added that there are many evidence-based treatments that can help reverse or delay the effects of childhood trauma.
“A critical next step is to determine whether these psychosocial interventions could also slow down this pattern of accelerated biological aging. If this is possible, we will be able to prevent many of the long-term health consequences of early life adversity,” says McLaughlin.
It is most effective to start individual and group therapy in childhood. However, adults can still greatly benefit from psychological treatment, medication, and lifestyle changes to process and overcome a traumatic childhood.
The first step is to forgive your parents or guardians for what happened and practice self-care and compassion. Having an honest conversation with your parents can also help you process painful emotions and perhaps repair the relationship.
Discussions about childhood trauma have become more common, especially among the younger generations. As the stigma surrounding trauma and mental illness decreases, people feel more comfortable talking about their experiences.
Research shows that talk therapy can help immensely in overcoming a traumatic childhood. However, a new study shows that early interventions for adverse childhood experiences they are most successful.