A new study published in the journal Science shows that individuals exposed to adverse childhood experiences are biologically older than their peers. Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Adverse childhood experiences refer to traumatic events that may occur before adulthood. These experiences include a variety of abuse and neglect, witnessing partner violence, death or serious illness of a parent, divorce or separation of a parent, and mental illness of a family member. On the other hand, biological aging refers to the damage and loss of function of cells, tissues and organs.
Previous studies have shown that people exposed to adverse childhood experiences are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases and have shorter life spans. The authors of the new study were interested in whether accelerated biological aging could help explain the link between adverse childhood experiences and poorer health outcomes later in life.
“This work is part of a team effort led by Dr. Dawn Bowdish at McMaster University,” said co-author Chris Vershoor, a research scientist at Health Sciences North. Institute and Adjunct Professor at McMaster University and Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
“I’m interested in the health and immunity of the elderly, especially how they relate to a person’s biology. This study provided a unique opportunity to measure how different childhood adversities affect a person’s ‘biological age’ 30 to 60 years later.
The researchers analyzed data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Adult Development and Aging, which included 50,000 Canadians aged 45-85.
The study focused on 23,354 participants who completed a 90-minute interview and participated in physical and clinical assessments. The researchers examined several biomarkers related to the biological aging process, including albumin, creatinine, glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C), C-reactive protein, lymphocyte percentage, mean cell size, red blood cell distribution width and white blood cell count.
The average age of the participants was 59, and most (63%) reported having at least one adverse childhood experience. Participants who reported adverse childhood experiences tended to be biologically older than those who did not. The researchers also found that the relationship between negative childhood experiences and biological age was stronger for more severe types of problems, such as physical and sexual abuse.
The findings suggest that “injuries in early life can take many forms and lead to health consequences for many years,” Verschoor told PsyPost. “Our study shows that these consequences manifest as disturbances in several biological systems, which can be measured with biomarkers in the blood.”
But the researchers noted that almost all observed effect sizes were relatively small. Adverse childhood experiences were associated with education level and smoking status, which in turn was associated with biological age. The authors of the study say that future research using longitudinal data will help us better understand the factors that link adverse childhood experiences to biological age.
“Our study does not show whether the biological changes we found were caused by early life events or as a consequence of other events or risk behaviors in our lives,” Verschoor explained.
“As noted, this was a team effort and would not have been possible without the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging and the Participation of Senior Associates,” he added. “Especially Dr. Oksana Mian, his postdoctoral fellow who did a lot of the work, Dr. Dan Belsky of Columbia University, and Dr. Andrea Gonzalez of McMaster University.”
The study “Associations between exposure to adverse childhood experiences and biological aging: evidence from the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging.“Written by Oksana Mian, Daniel W. Belsky, Alan A. Cohen, Laura N. Anderson, Andrea Gonzalez, Jinhui Ma, Deborah M. Slobod, Dawn ME Bowdishg, and Chris P. They are Vershore.