New research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology has highlighted the consequences of early life adversity on biological aging for pre-teens and adolescents. The study indicates that exposure to stressful life events during adolescence, coupled with delayed sexual maturity, can lead to accelerated biological aging over a 2-year period.
It is no secret that childhood abuse or neglect can have serious long-term impacts on mental and physical health. However, this new research sheds light on the specific biological responses to such adversities, including early development, such as early menarche and hormonal fluctuations that can contribute to cardiometabolic risks and cognitive decline.
Lead author Jennifer Sumner believes that understanding how early life adversity contributes to these adverse health outcomes is crucial in developing targeted therapies to tackle these issues. The findings highlight the importance of early intervention in promoting healthier development and reducing the likelihood of negative health consequences in the future.
The study, which examined the association between stressful life events, epigenetic age acceleration, and adolescent mental health outcomes, included 171 adolescents aged 8-16 and their caregivers. The results showed that exposure to greater stressful experiences over time was linked to a higher rate of change in biological age, specifically epigenetic age per calendar year. Additionally, those who experienced higher stress showed increased rates of depressive symptoms and faster pubertal development among teenage girls.
Although the sample size was relatively small, these findings reveal a concerning link between stress and biological aging. Larger prepubescent youth populations will need to be studied to verify these results fully. Nevertheless, this research underscores the importance of developing interventions to reduce the harmful impacts of early life adversity on health outcomes and encourage healthier development.