January 15, 2007
Abused Children Have More Inflammation As Adults

Children who were physically or sexually abused show higher levels of inflammation indicators in blood as adults.

Researchers at King's College London followed 1,000 people in New Zealand from birth to the age of 32.

A third of those who were maltreated had high levels of inflammation - an early indicator of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.


They took blood samples to measure levels of C-reactive protein, fibrinogen and white blood cells - substances which are known to be associated with inflammation in the body.

Adult survivors of childhood maltreatment who appeared to be healthy were twice as likely to show clinically relevant levels of inflammation compared to those who had not been maltreated.

So you get abused as a kid. Bad enough. But then you go on to suffer more diseases when you get older. The suffering lasts a lifetime. How incredibly cruel.

Twenty years hence will cheap in-school testing of kids for elevated inflammation response get used to spot kids who might be getting abused at home?

Abused kids are already known to get more heart disease and other illnesses which could be caused by sustained inflammation response.

The findings could explain why children who are abused show a higher incidence of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes as adults, the researchers say. Until now, it has not been clear exactly how early stress could cause these future health problems, says Andrea Danese, a psychiatrist at King's College London in the UK.

What is the mechanism? Do the various endocrine organs become more prone to turn on the inflammatory responses? Or does brain development in the abused alter in a way that makes the brain send out stress chemicals in potentially stressful situations? I'm going to guess that the latter mechanism is at least partially responsible because abuse of children makes them more prone to violence when they get older - especially if they have the right version of the gene for the mono-amine oxidase A enzyme.

This brings up another thought: Could people who have higher levels of stress-related inflammation indicators get trained by biofeedback or other means to reduce their inflammatory response? It might not be that easy. During childhood development cells throughout the body might have gotten their epigenetic state altered to make them more prone to inflammation response.

More generally: We need better ways to dampen down inflammation responses. We have lots of responses that have ceased to be adaptive in the modern environment. Ever been in an argument at work where you felt the "fight or flight" urge? That response is a maladaptive vestige of our evolutionary history. You might some day find youself in a situation where the adrenaline rush could help you survive. But in most cases the response just makes you age more rapidly.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 January 15 09:54 PM  Brain Development

anon said at January 16, 2007 12:52 PM:

As someone who was abused as a child I believe the higher inflammation is simply due to higher adult (sustained) stress levels and, I am sure, a higher incidence of mal-treated children developing unhealthy lifestyle or eating habits.

I was fortunate to find a very supportive wife who helped me work on reducing my stress levels and unhealthy lifestyle habits.

I also continue to employ meditation as a tool for reducing my stress/inflammation levels.

This all is to say, that intuitively, I do not believe that it is an irreversable metabolic imbalance caused by the trama during the sensitive chikdhood development period - but rather a stress induced psychological phenomena.

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