‘Childhood Stress’ Linked To Serious Cardiovascular Impairment In Adulthood

A new study conducted by Finland researchers has revealed that early childhood stress could lead to a hardening of arteries or Atherosclerosis in later adult life, a serious condition that can lead to heart attack, stroke, or even death.

Researchers employed data on over 300 children and teens aged between 12- to 18-years and calculated their levels of stress based upon a number of indicators. These included their financial circumstances, the emotional health of their family unit, parental behavior, and other traumatic events that may have a negative bearing on a child’s psychological, as well social, development. Based on a long-term follow-up assessment of the above indicators, they carefully studied these groups at the age of 40- to 46-years employing computed tomography to determine coronary artery calcification, a likely indicator of the precursors to cardiovascular related impairment.

Researchers revealed the following clinical observations in their concluding paper.

“In this longitudinal study, we observed an independent association between childhood psychosocial well-being and reduced coronary artery calcification in adulthood. A positive childhood psychosocial environment may decrease cardiovascular risk in adulthood and may represent a potentially modifiable risk determinant.”

While experts are aware of the long-term aspect of the observations involved in the study, they nonetheless attach a great deal of credence to their conclusions. According to University of Turku researcher Dr. Markus Juonala, who led the study, the fundamentals of such a study take into consideration the economic circumstances of the family unit in particular.

“I think that economic conditions are important here. Public health interventions should focus on how to intervene in better ways with people with higher stress and lower socio-economic status.”

Last year, a Duke University-led study demonstrated the impact of early childhood stress on the brain, suggesting that it massively influenced the adult brain’s response to rewards. Lead author Jamie Hanson, a post-doctoral researcher at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy and the Duke Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, linked early childhood stress with certain personality disorders and other mental illnesses in adulthood.

“We found that greater levels of cumulative stress during childhood and adolescence predicted lower reward-related ventral striatum activity in adulthood.”

Stress is the body’s response to circumstances that induce a negative emotional or physical change in behavior. A prolonged exposure to stress as opposed to everyday work-related stress can be highly detrimental to mental health in adults. However, experts believe that children’s response to stress is essentially driven by past experience and in children, stress can manifest itself through observable changes in behavior. Common changes include, but are not restricted to, irritability, withdrawal, anxiety, lack of enthusiasm, fear, sleeping and eating disorder among other behaviors.

According to an American Psychological Association survey, there is a discernible link between stress and obesity in children. For instance, children who are overweight are more likely to report having trouble falling asleep, having headaches, experiencing eating disorders, and exhibit symptoms of aggressive behavior. Similarly, overweight children in particular are more likely to report the most recent stress related parental behavior.

The survey also noted that children, regardless of weight or age, were remarkably sensitive to changes in parental behavior, mainly those triggered by stress, causing children to experience emotional turmoil as well as depression. It also disclosed that parents, in more cases than less, are not fully cognizant of the influence of their own stress-related behavior on the social and psychological development of their children.

Coronary artery disease is the single most common cause of death in North America. Coronary artery calcification is seen as a preliminary risk factor for adverse outcomes in all people in general and in patients with coronary artery disease in particular.

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