Research on the brain carried out by McCarthy suggests that if a child is subjected to significant, chronic stress, particularly when the cause of this stress is unpredictable (eg due to a hostile, abusive, unstable parent prone to random explosions of terrifying rage), s/he may develop brain inflammation.
This is a recent finding – until not long ago, the prevailing wisdom was that brain inflammation could only be caused by physical damage to the brain, not psychological damage. However, this theory has now been discredited.
It now appears that when a child is exposed to the type of chronic stress described above, the action of vital cells in his/her brain (called microgrial cells) is disrupted, leading them to go haywire and run amock; it is thought that when their action is disrupted in this manner they start to destroy other neurons (brain cells) that, prior to their destruction, were beneficial to the brain.
Research suggests that the main neurons that the microgrial cells destroy are involved in reasoning and impulse control. Therefore, of course, it follows that, due to the adverse action of microgrial cells caused by chronic stress, the individual’s ability to control his/her impulses, and to reason, will be impaired.
These rogue microgrial cells are also believed to reduce the volume of both grey and white matter in the brain, leading to anxiety, depression and even psychosis.
And, as if this weren’t bad enough, they also seem to inhibit regeneration of neurons (brain cells) in the part of the brain known as the hippocampus; this, too, is liable to contribute yet further to mental illness.
Related Animal Study Provides Hope:
A related research study involved rats being exposed to chronic stress. This resulted, as the researches intended, the microgrial cells in the rats’ brains being damaged (as too, we have seen from the above, occurs in humans).
This resulted in the rats behaving in a highly stressed manner.
However, when the researchers reintroduced healthy microgrial cells into their brains, the rats’ observable stressed behaviour was ameliorated.
This finding provides hope that, in the future, we may be able to extrapolate from this experiment and relieve human stress related problems, where applicable, in a similar manner.
Also, meditation, properly done, has been scientifically proved to reduce inflammation.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc, PGDE(FAHE).