According to a new study, childhood psychological stress can literally get under one’s skin and lead to chronic disease later in life. Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Stanford University conducted a study to determine what role parental maltreatment and socioeconomic disadvantage in childhood play on the development of chronic illness in adulthood. The researchers discovered that stressors in childhood literally get under the skin and lead to negative health conditions. The authors noted that the presence of chronic stress in childhood also has an adverse effect on social behaviors. They said, “Behaviorally, the model posits that early stress fosters vigilance for threat and mistrust of others, traits that make it difficult to form deep social ties. Early stress also impairs self-regulation, creating a proclivity for unhealthy behaviors, and alters patterns of endocrine and autonomic discharge.” Together, these reactions lead to increased inflammation. The authors added, “It suggests a cascade of events through which early stress ‘gets under the skin’ at the level of tissues and organs. These events culminate in mild but persistent inflammation, which in concert with the host’s genetic makeup give rise to adult chronic diseases.”
The researchers studied data from a childhood adversity model to come to their conclusions. The two major stressors, poverty and parenting, were interrelated and both contributed to the onset of chronic disease. The researchers said that parents in low socioeconomic conditions often have their own mental health issues and work longer hours, resulting in less attention paid to the children. In addition, the impoverished conditions cause conflict and stress between parents in the household, resulting in more chronic stress for the children. The researchers said, “Once data like these are in hand, we will be better positioned to construct detailed accounts of how childhood stress ‘gets under the skin’ and use this information to guide the development of interventions that ameliorate the deleterious health consequences of early stress.”
Miller, Gregory E., Edith Chen, and Karen J. Parker. “Psychological Stress in Childhood and Susceptibility to the Chronic Diseases of Aging: Moving toward a Model of Behavioral and Biological Mechanisms.” Psychological Bulletin (2011, July 25). Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024768.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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