Child Abuse can Permanently Alter Your Genes

by John McKiggan

Childhood abuse can permanently change the way your genes fight stress, leaving victims of childhood abuse more vulnerable to stressful events throughout their life.

Abuse Alters Gene Function

Researchers at Montreal’s McGill University have published a study which suggests that childhood abuse can have, not only long term psychological effects, but can physically alter the way abuse victim’s genes function.

The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that childhood abuse alters hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function, increasing the risk of suicide in survivors of childhood abuse.

Researchers compared the brains of suicide victims who had a history of childhood abuse with those who died from suicide (but no history of childhood abuse) and persons who died from natural death.

Abuse Inhibits Production of Anti-Stress Hormones

The study found that the abuse victims underlying DNA was not changed. However, the HPA genes effect was decreased, causing the brain to produce fewer calming hormones which made it more difficult for abuse victims to deal with subsequent stressful events.

Sexual abuse lawyers, and persons who work with survivors of childhood abuse have known for decades that child abuse is one of the highest risk factors for different types of psychiatric disorders.

However, this research appears to be one of the first indicators that childhood abuse can actually cause physical changes to the body which can have an impact on the survivor’s life which spans decades.

It is still early, but perhaps this research may lead to a cure for some of the lasting effects of childhood abuse.

Watch an interview with Patrick McGowan, head of McGill’s research team.

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