Abuse, Lack of Parental Warmth in Childhood Linked to Multiple Health Risks in Adulthood

Posted on September 28, 2013

Findings suggest that parental warmth and affection protect one against the harmful effects of toxic childhood stress.

The effects of childhood abuse and lack of parental affection can last a lifetime, taking a toll both emotionally and physically.

There are many reports assessing the psychological damage resulting from childhood abuse, and the effects on physical health have also been well documented. For instance, this “toxic” stress has been linked to elevated cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and other physical conditions posing a significant health risk. The research into the physical effects of abuse, however, has focused on separate, individual systems.

A new UCLA-led study for the first time examines the effects of abuse and lack of parental affection across the body’s entire regulatory system, and finds a strong biological link for how negative early life experiences affect physical health. The study is published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our findings suggest that there may be a way to reduce the impact abuse has, at least in terms of physical health,” said Judith E. Carroll, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, and the study’s lead author. “If the child has love from parental figures they may be more protected from the impact of abuse on adult biological risk for health problems than those who don’t have that loving adult in their life.”

To determine the study subjects’ childhood stress the researchers used a well-validated self-report scale called the Risky Families Questionnaire.

They found a significant link between reports of childhood abuse and multisystem health risks But those who reported higher amounts of parental warmth and affection in their childhood had lower multisystem health risks The researchers also found a significant interaction of abuse and warmth, so that individuals reporting low levels of love and affection and high levels of abuse in childhood had the highest multisystem risk in adulthood.

The authors note that the findings are based on a cross-sectional analysis and do not prove causation. It used information provided by the participants, so there may be some recall bias. Also, the analysis may not have captured other factors affecting regulatory systems, such as poor nutrition or environmental pollution.

But the findings suggest that parental warmth and affection protect one against the harmful effects of toxic childhood stress. Also, the lingering effects of childhood abuse can be linked to age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Among other things, this could have an effect on long-term health care costs.


Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Child Development, Parenting

Source material from University of California, Los Angeles


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