Exposure to stress during sensitive periods of development in childhood could alter the functioning of the various physiological systems and affect health in the long term. This has been revealed by a study conducted by the Inserm team led by Cyrille Delpierre, Inserm Research Fellow, and published in PNAS.
Adverse experiences in childhood may take the form of neglect, undernutrition, dysfunction at home, separation from parents or institutionalisation, or mental illness or alcohol use in the family, all of which generate stress for the child. Researchers from Inserm examined the data from 7,535 individuals born in Great Britain in 1958 and who had participated in the biomedical survey at 44 years of age, in order to explore the relationship between stress experienced during childhood and overall physiological wear and tear measured by an indicator known as allostatic load (AL).
Individuals who had experienced more than two traumatic or stressful psychosocial conditions in the family environment during their childhood had a higher AL at 44 years than those with no adverse experiences.
“Early psychosocial exposure may contribute to greater physiological wear and tear, especially via low socioeconomic status, high BMI, and the adoption of risk behaviours in adulthood,” explains Cyrille Delpierre, Inserm Research Fellow.
This wear and tear differs between men and women. In men, the increase observed in AL score was in most cases associated with risk behaviours (especially smoking), low level of education, and low wealth. In women, this wear and tear was also reflected by a high BMI.