Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Adverse Childhood Experiences Found to Accelerate Aging

Individuals exposed to a greater number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)—for example, violence, abuse, and neglect early in life—may age more rapidly than those with fewer of these experiences early in life, suggests a report published Monday in JAMA Network Open.

The study, which involved data collected from more than 850 middle-aged adults at two time points, found that participants who reported four or more ACEs were likely to have molecular biomarkers that suggested they were older than their chronological ages.

Previous research has suggested that “ACEs may modulate epigenetic pathways associated with biological aging and subsequently health-related outcomes,” wrote Kyeezu Kim, Ph.D., of Northwestern University and colleagues. (Epigenetics is the study of how various factors may cause changes in the way genes are switched on and off without changing the actual DNA sequence.) To investigate the association between ACEs and epigenetic age acceleration over time, the researchers studied data collected as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study.

A total of 5,115 male and female participants aged 18 to 30 years who identified as Black or White were enrolled in the CARDIA Study between 1985 and 1986. Over the next 30 years, the participants received eight follow-up visits. At the 15-year follow-up visit, the participants filled out the Childhood Family Environment questionnaire, which asked them to estimate their experiences with negligence, violence, and more prior to age 18. The participants received blood tests at the 15-year follow-up and again at the 20-year follow-up. The researchers then used five epigenetic age calculators (which measure various chemicals and metabolites in blood samples) to measure the epigenetic age of the participants.

Kim and colleagues found that having four or more ACEs was positively associated with epigenetic age acceleration at the 15-year follow-up and the 20-year follow-up, after adjusting for age, sex, socioeconomic status in childhood and adulthood, physical activity, and more.

One epigenetic calculator called GrimAge, for example, revealed “that adults who retrospectively reported having experienced 4 or more ACEs were a mean of 1.52 years older on an epigenetic level than their peers who had experienced fewer than 4 ACEs after adjusting for demographic factors,” wrote Erin C. Dunn, Sc.D., M.P.H., of Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues in an accompanying editorial. “This suggests that imprints of childhood adversity may be detectable in the epigenome even decades later.”

For related information, see the American Journal of Psychiatry article “Adverse Childhood Experiences: Implications for Offspring Telomere Length and Psychopathology.”

(Image: iStock/digitalgenetics)


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