Study: Early stress in girls may be the source of later anxiety

13 Nov

Prolonged stress can have adverse effects on humans. Moi wrote about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study in Study: Some of the effects of adverse stress do not go away:

Sarah D. Sparks writes in the Education Week article, Research Traces Impacts of Childhood Adversity:

Research from Dr. Shonkoff’s center and from other experts finds that positive stress—the kind that comes from telling a toddler he can’t have a cookie or a teenager that she’s about to take a pop quiz—causes a brief rise in heart rate and stress hormones. A jolt can focus a student’s attention and is generally considered healthy.

Similarly, a child can tolerate stress that is severe but may be relatively short-term—from the death of a loved one, for example—as long as he or she has support….

Toxic’ Recipe

By contrast, so-called “toxic stress” is severe, sustained, and not buffered by supportive relationships.

The same brain flexibility, called plasticity, that makes children open to learning in their early years also makes them particularly vulnerable to damage from the toxic stressors that often accompany poverty: high mobility and homelessness; hunger and food instability; parents who are in jail or absent; domestic violence; drug abuse; and other problems, according to Pat Levitt, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Southern California and the director of the Keck School of Medicine Center on the Developing Child in Los Angeles…. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/11/07/11poverty_ep.h32.html?tkn=QLYF5qldyT3U0BI0xqtD5885mihZIxwbX4qZ&cmp=clp-edweek

Here is information about the Adverse Child Experiences Study. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides access to the peer-reviewed publications resulting from The ACE Study. http://acestudy.org/

https://drwilda.com/2012/11/09/study-some-of-the-effects-of-adverse-stress-do-not-go-away/

Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior published a study which looks at the effects of stress on girls.

Science Daily is reporting in the article, Early Stress May Sensitize Girls’ Brains for Later Anxiety:

High levels of family stress in infancy are linked to differences in everyday brain function and anxiety in teenage girls, according to new results of a long-running population study by University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists.

The study highlights evidence for a developmental pathway through which early life stress may drive these changes. Here, babies who lived in homes with stressed mothers were more likely to grow into preschoolers with higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In addition, these girls with higher cortisol also showed less communication between brain areas associated with emotion regulation 14 years later. Last, both high cortisol and differences in brain activity predicted higher levels of adolescent anxiety at age 18.

The young men in the study did not show any of these patterns.

“We wanted to understand how stress early in life impacts patterns of brain development which might lead to anxiety and depression,” says first author Dr. Cory Burghy of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior. “Young girls who, as preschoolers, had heightened cortisol levels, go on to show lower brain connectivity in important neural pathways for emotion regulation — and that predicts symptoms of anxiety during adolescence….”

The current paper has its roots back in 1990 and 1991, when 570 children and their families enrolled in the Wisconsin Study of Families and Work (WSFW). All of the children were born in either Madison or Milwaukee. Dr. Marilyn Essex, a UW professor of psychiatry and co-director of the WSFW, said the initial goal was to study the effects of maternity leave, day care and other factors on family stress. Over the years, the study has resulted in important findings on the social, psychological, and biological risk factors for child and adolescent mental health problems. Subjects are now 21 and 22 years old, and many continue to participate.

For the current study, Burghy and Birn used fcMRI to scan the brains of 57 subjects — 28 female and 29 male — to map the strength of connections between the amygdala, an area of the brain known for its sensitivity to negative emotion and threat, and the prefrontal cortex, often associated with helping to process and regulate negative emotion. Then, they looked back at earlier results and found that girls with weaker connections had, as infants, lived in homes where their mothers had reported higher general levels of stress — which could include symptoms of depression, parenting frustration, marital conflict, feeling overwhelmed in their role as a parent, and/or financial stress. As four-year-olds, these girls also showed higher levels of cortisol late in the day, measured in saliva, which is thought to demonstrate the stress the children experienced over the course of that day. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121111152930.htm#.UKEogDfvMTo.email

Citation:

Nature Neuroscience | Article

Developmental pathways to amygdala-prefrontal function and internalizing symptoms in adolescence

Nature Neuroscience
(2012)
doi:10.1038/nn.3257
Received
23 July 2012
Accepted
11 October 2012
Published online
11 November 2012
Abstract

Early life stress (ELS) and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis predict later psychopathology. Animal studies and cross-sectional human studies suggest that this process might operate through amygdala–ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) circuitry implicated in the regulation of emotion. Here we prospectively investigated the roles of ELS and childhood basal cortisol amounts in the development of adolescent resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC), assessed by functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI), in the amygdala-PFC circuit. In females only, greater ELS predicted increased childhood cortisol levels, which predicted decreased amygdala-vmPFC rs-FC 14 years later. For females, adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity was inversely correlated with concurrent anxiety symptoms but positively associated with depressive symptoms, suggesting differing pathways from childhood cortisol levels function through adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity to anxiety and depression. These data highlight that, for females, the effects of ELS and early HPA-axis function may be detected much later in the intrinsic processing of emotion-related brain circuits.

Stress has negative effects on the body.

According to the Mayo Clinic article, Stress symptoms: Effects on your body, feelings and behavior:

Common effects of stress …
… On your body … On your mood … On your behavior
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal

Source: American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” report, 2010

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-symptoms/SR00008_D

This study points to the need for quality prenatal care.

The March of Dimes discusses stress during pregnancy in the article, Emotional and life changes:

What types of stress can cause pregnancy problems?

Stress is not all bad. When you handle it right, a little stress can help you take on new challenges. Regular stress during pregnancy, such as work deadlines and sitting in traffic, probably don’t add to pregnancy problems.

However, serious types of stress during pregnancy may increase your chances of certain problems, like premature birth. Most women who have serious stress during pregnancy can have healthy babies. But be careful if you experience serious kinds of stress, like:

  • Negative life events. These are things like divorce, serious illness or death in the family, or losing a job or home. 
  • Catastrophic events. These are things like earthquakes, hurricanes or terrorist attacks. 
  • Long-lasting stress. This type of stress can be caused by having financial problems, being abused, having serious health problems or being depressed. Depression is medical condition where strong feelings of sadness last for long periods of time and prevent a person from leading a normal life. 
  • Racism. Some women may face stress from racism during their lives. This may help explain why African-American women in the United States are more likely to have premature and low-birthweight babies than women from other racial or ethnic groups. 
  • Pregnancy-related stress. Some women may feel serious stress about pregnancy. They may be worried about miscarriage, the health of their baby or about how they’ll cope with labor and birth or becoming a parent. If you feel this way, talk to your health care provider.

Does post-traumatic stress disorder affect pregnancy?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when you have problems after seeing or experiencing a terrible event, such as rape, abuse, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or the death of a loved one. People with PTSD may have:

  • Serious anxiety 
  • Flashbacks of the event 
  • Nightmares 
  • Physical responses (like a racing heartbeat or sweating) when reminded of the event

As many as 8 in 100 women (8 percent) may have PTSD during pregnancy. Women who have PTSD may be more likely than women without it to have a premature or low-birthweight baby. They also are more likely than other women to have risky health behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or taking street drugs. Doing these things can increase the chances of having pregnancy problems. If you think you may have PTSD, talk to your provider or a mental health professional.

How does stress cause pregnancy problems?
We don’t completely understand the effects of stress on pregnancy. But certain stress-related hormones may play a role in causing certain pregnancy complications. Serious or long-lasting stress may affect your immune system, which protects you from infection. This can increase the chances of getting an infection of the uterus. This type of infection can cause premature birth.

Stress also may affect how you respond to certain situations. Some women deal with stress by smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or taking street drugs, which can lead to pregnancy problems.

Can high levels of stress in pregnancy hurt your baby later in life?
Some studies show that high levels of stress in pregnancy may cause certain problems during childhood, like having trouble paying attention or being afraid. It’s possible that stress may also affect your baby’s brain development or immune system.

How can you reduce stress during pregnancy?
Here are some ways to reduce stress:

  • Figure out what’s making you stressed and talk to your partner, a friend or your health care provider about it. 
  • Know that the discomforts of pregnancy are only temporary. Ask your provider how to handle these discomforts. 
  • Stay healthy and fit. Eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep and exercise (with your provider’s OK).
  • Exercise can help reduce stress and also helps prevent common pregnancy discomforts. 
  • Cut back on activities you don’t need to do. 
  • Have a good support network, including your partner, family and friends. Ask your provider about resources in the community that may be able to help. 
  • Ask for help from people you trust. Accept help when they offer. For example, you may need help cleaning the house, or you may want someone to go with you to your prenatal visits. 
  • Try relaxation activities, like prenatal yoga or meditation. 
  • Take a childbirth education class so you know what to expect during pregnancy and when your baby arrives. Practice the breathing and relaxation techniques you learn in your class. 
  • If you’re working, plan ahead to help you and your employer get ready for your time away from work. 
  • If you think you may be depressed, talk to your provider right away. There are many ways to deal with depression. Getting treatment and counseling early may help.

Last reviewed January 2012 http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/lifechanges_indepth.html

See, The Importance of Quality Prenatal Care http://www.mdnews.com/news/2010_07/national_jul10_the-importance-of-quality-prenatal-care

Our goal as a society should be:

A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©

Resources:

The Effects of Stress on Your Body                                           http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/effects-of-stress-on-your-body

The Physical Effects of Long-Term Stress                              http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/the-physical-effects-of-long-term-stress/all/1/

Chronic Stress: The Body Connection                            http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=53737

Understanding Stress Symptoms, Signs, Causes, and Effects http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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