Breaking Through the Connection Between Childhood Adversity, Telomeres and Cellular Aging
A new study released this week suggests a significant connection between childhood trauma and cellular aging. The length of chromosomal end-caps, called telomeres, are increasingly being found to be related to increased risk of disease and shorter lifespans and were found to be in this study most likely to be affected by the predominance of childhood emotional trauma. Telomeres have been likened to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces which help chromosomes from fraying, causing cells to wear and die more quickly. Research has shown a connection between shortened telomeres with heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer and decreased lifespan.
This study, reviewed the records of 4,598 participants from the US Health and Retirement Study. Researchers explored connections between:
- Childhood financial adverse experiences (i.e. father lost job, home relocation due to financial hardship)
- Childhood emotional/social adversity (i.e. physical abuse before 18 ys old, getting in trouble with police, having to repeat a year of school)
- Adult financial challenges (being unemployed, applying for Medicaid, receiving food stamps)
- Adult emotional adversity (i.e. death of a child or spouse, being wounded in combat, natural disaster, child or spouse with serious illness, partner addicted to drugs/alcohol).
A recent article, dated Oct. 3, 2016 on the study in Healthday News by reporter Dennis Thompson, offers insights from the primary researcher, Eli Puterman, PhD, reporting that the increased risk of faster cellular aging is “relative” — and not every person who suffers childhood traumas will wind up ill later in life. “This doesn’t mean that every single person has short telomeres,” he said. “It just means there’s an increased risk.”
While adult adversity did show a relationship with increased telomere shortening, “It was the childhood events that they suffered that were driving these effects,” according to Puterman.
The study analysis found that with every increasing adverse childhood event studied, (which did not include many of the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) study parameters, i.e. family member with mental illness, emotional or sexual abuse, family member incarcerated or dealing with addiction) there was an increased risk of shorter telomeres by 11 percent.
While the study does not prove that childhood adverse experiences directly shorten the telomeres, the association between the two is strongly correlated. The study did not prove that childhood stress causes shorter telomeres, only that there seems to be an association.
The authors complete their study abstract with the following, ” This study suggests that the shadow of childhood adversity may reach far into later adulthood in part through cellular aging.”
So the question for us in the world of stress reduction, specifically in the world of using EFT and Energy Psychology methods is, if a person reduces their stress load related to childhood trauma, altering their physiology, reducing their cortisol production, will that have an effect on telomere length?
The study reports “Childhood events may embed epigenetically and alter gene expression almost permanently.”
I am aware of at least one researcher Peta Stapleton, PhD at Bond University in Australia who will be doing research employing some of these investigative methods. She has been authorized to investigate the impact of EFT for chronic pain patients and separately for overweight/obese adults on neural brain changes (fMRI). In addition, in 2017, she will measure telomere length for both sets of participants pre and post EFT treatment, and at 6- and 12-months followup points. At the same time her team, along with Garret Yount, PhD will test RNA epigenetic changes after EFT through blood tests and likely add blood cortisol testing. This is the kind of testing that will turn heads in the scientific and academic communities if they reveal significant changes.
Some important question that may arise is how long does it take for EFT or similar measures to have a protective effect as measured by telomere lengths? Is it possible to reduce the pace of telomere shortening even decades after the original traumas?
These questions and this kind of research seems to be the next step in understanding and validating the positive changes being found clinically by EFT practitioners worldwide.
Craig Weiner, DC
- Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Oct 3. pii: 201525602. [Epub ahead of print] Lifespan adversity and later adulthood telomere length in the nationally representative US Health and Retirement Study. Puterman E1, Gemmill A2, Karasek D3, Weir D4, Adler NE5, Prather AA5, Epel ES6.
- Link to Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27698131
- Link to Full Text: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/09/28/1525602113.full.pdf
- Healthday News, Can Childhood Traumas Make You Old Before Your Time? Oct. 3, 2016, Dennis Thompson https://consumer.healthday.com/senior-citizen-information-31/misc-aging-news-10/childhood-traumas-may-speed-aging-study-finds-715457.html