Taylor, S.E. (2010)
Mechanisms Linking Early Life Stress to Adult Health Outcomes
Proc. Nat, Acad. Sci. USA 107, 8507-8512

  • In this paper, Shelly Taylor reviews a large number of studies on the long-term health effects of stress in early life.
  • One study showed that adults who had been brought up in harsh families responded to a fearful stimulus by trying to “block” it; those who had been brought up in supportive families showed greater initial brain activity under stress in a brain area involved in emotion and memory.
  • Another found that people from harsh families who also had two copies of one particular variant of a gene (the serotonin transporter gene) were much more likely to develop depression; family background had no effect on depression in people with other combinations of variants of that gene.
  • People who reported high levels of social support showed less marked responses to a slightly stressful task than those who did not.
  • A long-term study of heart disease risk factors in young adults showed that those from poorer and less supportive family backgrounds had higher blood pressure and higher levels of a protein used as a marker for cardio-vascular disease than others.
  • These studies all show a significant link between early-life stress and poor health outcomes in adult life.