Physician Resources Home arrow Medical News arrow Childhood maltreatment undermines physical health
Childhood maltreatment undermines physical health
Written by Medical News Feed   
It's well known that early life experiences can affect a child's cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development. A recent study funded by NIMH takes this link one step further showing that negative childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect, can affect a person's physical health as well. Published in the February 24, 2009, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study suggests a history of child abuse or neglect can lower a person's overall immunity and ability to manage stress, and that this effect may be long-lasting.



Seth D. Pollak, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, and colleagues compared immune function among 155 teens, ages 9–14, categorized into three groups:

  • "Early adversity," teens who spent the early part of their lives in orphanages or other institutions but were adopted from 3.5-13 years prior to the study
  • "Current adversity," teens who had been physically abused at home and continued living with their biological families
  • Matched controls who were neither adopted nor experienced abuse.

The researchers collected saliva samples from the teens over four days, checking for antibodies to the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Many people have HSV, known for causing cold sores, but properly functioning immune systems keep the virus under control. Past studies on HSV have shown that stressful life events increase the level of HSV antibodies, which can be measured in a person's blood or saliva.

Results of the Studies

Both groups of teens who had faced adversity early in life had higher than normal levels of HSV antibodies. This result suggests that childhood maltreatment reduces immune function, an effect that can linger long after the adverse experience has ended.


According to the researchers, their findings emphasize the importance of having supportive and functional family relationships during childhood. Negative experiences early in life can have long-lasting effects on physical health, in addition to the known mental health consequences.

What's Next

Future studies should explore other early life factors that may affect adult physical health. Such research can help inform efforts to screen and treat populations at risk for poor health outcomes, or possibly even prevent certain illnesses.


Shirtcliff EA, Coe CL, Pollak SD. Early childhood stress is associated with elevated antibody levels to herpes simplex virus type 1. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Feb 24;106(8):2963-7. PMID: 19188604

Discuss this article on the forums. (0 posts)

< Prev   Next >

Common Diseases

Swine Flu - Updates and information on H1N1 2009 (AKA Swine Influenza) pandemic.

Ankylosing spondylitis - Current protocols for diagnosis and treatment options.

Wegener granulomatosis - Autoimmune etiology and clinical course.

Diabetes - disease and management information, including diagnosis, typical treatment plans and diabetes supplies.


Medical Careers

The US medical jobs market has stayed hot for health care providers. Whether you believe that a provider shortage is in the offing or that the ratio of physicians-to-patients is too high, physician jobs and nursing jobs abound.

A wide variety of medical jobs can be found in the netdoc health care job listings. Particular strengths include permanent and locum tenens physician jobs, nursing jobs across the US, and radiology positions.

Other resources include physician salary information, medical career guidance, and the ability to post physician jobs.


When hiring your medical practice office manager, what was the most important consideration?
Copyright 2005 - 2019 Medical Resource Group, LLC. All rights reserved.