A study conducted in New Zealand, involving 1,037 children, assessed these young people according to :
- the degree to which they had suffered maltreatment as children
- which socio-economic group they belonged
- the extent to which they had suffered social isolation
Thirty years after this assessment had been made, the same individuals were assessed again, in a follow-up study, in order to determine to what degree their health had been negatively impacted by the above three factors (i.e. childhood maltreatment, socio-economic group in childhood and extent of social isolation in childhood).
RESULTS OF THE STUDY :
It was found that those individuals who had experienced both significant social isolation and maltreatment as children, and, additionally, had grown up in poverty, were at double the average risk of :
CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND THE INFLAMMATORY IMMUNE SYSTEM :
A meta-analysis conducted by Baumeister et al. (2015) found a significant association between childhood trauma and inflammation and the researchers concluded that there now exists strong evidence that individuals who suffer traumatic events during childhood are at greatly elevated risk of developing a dysregulated inflammatory immune system which, in turn, leads to an increased risk of developing both psychiatric and physical disorders in later life.
Indeed, it is now becoming increasingly recognized that the dysregulation of the immune system as a result of childhood trauma may be implicated in the later development of not just depression and obesity (as identified by the New Zealand study referred to at the beginning of this article) but it may also be the biological mechanism responsible for mediating the association between childhood trauma and the later development of many other physical and psychiatric conditions such as psychosis, anxiety, PTSD, complex PTSD, borderline personality disorder, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lung disease and metabolic syndrome and potentially, substantially reduce an individual’s life expectancy.
CHILDHOOD TRAUMA LEADING TO INFLAMMATION BRAIN:
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 microglial 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 microglial cells destroy are involved in reasoning and impulse control. Therefore, of course, it follows that, due to the adverse action of microglial cells caused by chronic stress, the individual’s ability to control his/her impulses, and to reason, will be impaired.
These rogue microglial 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 researchers intended, the microglial 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 microglial cells into their brains, the rats’ observable stressed behavior 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).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).