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Stressful experiences in early childhood can have long-lasting impacts on children‘s health that can persist well beyond the resolution of the situation.
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A study revealed impaired immune function in adolescents who experienced either physical abuse or time in an orphanage as youngsters. Even though their environments had changed, physiologically they were still responding to stress. How the immune system develops is very much influenced by early environment.
The researchers looked for high levels of antibodies against the common and usually latent herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). While roughly two-thirds of Americans carry this virus, which causes cold sores and fever blisters, people with healthy immune systems are able to keep the virus in check and rarely if ever have symptoms. However, people with weakened immune systems can have trouble suppressing HSV-1 and produce antibodies against the activated virus.
Adolescents who had experienced physical abuse or stressful home environments as children had higher levels of HSV-1 antibodies, showing their immune systems were compromised.
Science Daily January 28, 2009
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences February 2, 2009
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- Childhood stress leads to long-term health problems (ctv.ca)
- Childhood Stress Compromises Immune System (nlm.nih.gov)