Childhood trauma is strongly linked to a wide range of adverse outcomes, with consequences that last well into adulthood. Various studies attempt to explain the mechanism these traumas manifest later in life. According to a new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, epigenetic traces of childhood trauma can be used as biomarkers to predict the risk of depression, nicotine dependence, alcohol use disorder, and other health issues in people nearly 17 years later. These findings can potentially assist psychiatrists in identifying children who require the most treatment and intervention following traumatic events.
Changes in DNA
In psychology, there is a belief that children react differently to traumatic childhood experiences. Even if exposed to the same childhood traumatic event, some adults may suffer more severe consequences than others. Human biological makeup can sometimes respond to trauma, and researchers developed a novel tool for predicting long-term health risks by looking at DNA responses associated with trauma.
To determine whether a child’s trauma increases their health risks later in life, the researchers looked at epigenetics, which is the process by which adverse experiences cause molecular changes to one’s DNA. These modifications may aid in capturing the personal impact of trauma on a child.
Epigenetic changes are molecular changes that can affect how a gene expresses itself without changing the DNA sequence. DNA methylation is a well-studied epigenetic change in which a methyl group is added to a DNA molecule.
DNA methylation changes can occur at various points in our lives depending on certain factors such as our development, age, diet, health habits, and other life circumstances such as trauma. To better understand the epigenetic impact of childhood traumas, the researchers examined the biological characteristics of study participants.
Adult depression, externalizing problems, nicotine dependence, alcohol use disorder, severe medical conditions, social issues, and poverty were all significantly predicted by trauma-related methylation risk scores (MRS). The novel DNA methylation approach shows better predictive power. It allows for the identification of the body’s response to trauma.
Childhood traumas manifest in various forms in the adult stages. The inability to understand body changes that differentiate varying responses has hindered personalized therapeutic interventions. The findings from these studies allow for identifying children with special needs for therapy following trauma. The research also helps in cases where standard diagnostic tools fail to access a child’s trauma, such as sexual abuse or neglect. An important clinical application of this study is using methylation biomarkers to potentially identify people most at risk of experiencing trauma-related health Issues. This finding can help tailor treatment and support systems to help them with the best recovery approach.
The menace of childhood trauma manifesting later in life poses potential adverse effects on quality of life. The present therapeutic responses to childhood trauma have not considered different individualized biological changes of children to the same traumatic incidents. The current study shows a novel way of predicting the long-term effects of these incidents and developing targeted therapeutic measures.