Childhood abuse can not only damage a child and cause all manner of physical and mental problems, but these effects are also very long lasting, because of biological changes abuse can cause in genes.
The study from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the USA, found that children who had suffered abuse showed signs of different gene activation, which could lead to abnormal emotional control and even physical illnesses later in life.
The alterations that the scientists found could occur because of abuse are thought to make people prone to depression and anxiety, as well as increase the risks of heart disease, and cancer.
Seth Pollack studied 56 children for the research, a portion of whom had been physically abused, and this portion was found to have low activation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene.
This means that the system that generates cortisol, the stress hormone, isn’t able to shut down properly in the body. Too much cortisol can cause immune system deficiency, long term stress and overwhelming emotional states.
Furthermore, brain scans suggested that children aged 12 had smaller amygdalas (the section of the brain that deals with emotions) and a smaller hippocampus (the section that deals with memory) than those who hadn’t suffered.
Even more worrying, tests found that some abused girls can begin to release oxytocin instead of cortisol when stressed. Oxytocin is often called the love hormone, and helps develop relationships.
This could explain why a lot of abused girls end up in difficult situations later in life, as they become attached to the wrong people. “They’re opening themselves up instead of protecting themselves” Pollak summed up.