Los Angeles: Kids, who suffer physical or emotional abuse, are more likely to undergo accelerated cellular aging as adults, according to new research from Butler Hospital and Brown University.
The findings link childhood psychological trauma and accelerated reduction in the size of telomeres, the “caps” on the end of chromosomes that promote cellular stability. Telomeres typically shorten with age.
The researchers measured DNA extracted from blood samples of 31 adults, and found accelerated shortening of telomeres in those who reported suffering maltreatment as children, compared to study participants who did not.
“It tells us something. It gives us a hint that early developmental experiences may have profound effects on biology that can influence cellular mechanisms at a very basic level,” said Dr. Audrey Tyrka, the study’s lead author.
The study is an extension of previous research that established psychological stress and trauma as risk factors for a number of medical and psychiatric illnesses.
Other work has linked some of these psychiatric and medical problems with shortened telomere length.
The current study now establishes a link between early psychosocial stress and shorter telomere length.
Researchers have also found that telomeres shorten at a higher rate when exposed to toxins, such as radiation or cigarette smoke.
The early data shows strong links between childhood stress and the accelerated shortening of telomeres.
“We don’t know what the full implications of this are yet. Shorter telomere lengths are linked to aging and certain diseases, so it is possible that this is a mechanism of risk for illness following childhood abuse. But the precise role of telomeres in this process remains to be determined,” said Tyrka.
Shorter telomere lengths have been linked to a variety of aging-related medical conditions including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
For the study, the scientists looked at 22 women and nine men between ages 18 and 64.