sad boy child victim
New research has found that individuals who suffer physical or sexual abuse in childhood age faster than their non-abused peers. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the researchers obtained participants aged 32-49 years and, using blood tests, found evidence to support the hypothesis that childhood trauma can shorten the lifespan.

Interested in the consequences of childhood trauma, Gloria Graf and colleagues sought to investigate if evidence of childhood abuse could be seen in the biomarkers of aging. Previous research has already discovered that individuals abused in childhood experience more health problems as they age. If this is so, Graf and colleagues hypothesized it could be due to faster biological aging. As biological age increases, so does vulnerability to disease.

To determine if those abused in childhood are aging faster than their non-abused peers, the researchers found 357 test subjects from a pool of individuals who had experienced court-documented childhood neglect and physical or sexual abuse. The study also included 200 control subjects who were matched with test subjects based on childhood economic and demographic similarities.

Two blood tests were used to assess the biological aging of both the experimental and control subjects. The first is known as the Klemera-Doubal method Biological Age (KDM BA). Results of a KDM BA test can identify at what age certain biological markers would be seen as typical. For example, a KDM BA result of 53 for someone who is 49 indicates the individual is aging faster than their years. The second test, PhenoAge, measures mortality risk, and those with high mortality risk should have high biological age.

The results of the KDM BA test indicated that those abused in childhood are more likely to have biological markers that indicate they are older than their actual age. Within the abused group, women aged faster than men, and minority sub-groups aged slower than Caucasians.

The PhenoAge test did not reveal statistically significant results. The researchers hypothesized this could be because of the age of the subjects. Regardless of abuse and faster aging, those in both groups were not yet old enough to demonstrate large differences in mortality risk.

Graf and colleagues report that these results are large enough to consider the necessity of follow-up care throughout the lifespan for victims of childhood abuse. If preventative care was provided to support physical and mental health long after childhood, it might be possible to decrease disease and increase length of life.

The researchers acknowledge the limitations of their work. First, science is still developing the standard methodology for identifying how fast or slow someone is aging. The methods chosen are well-researched and respected but are not yet considered 'standard.' Second, subjects in the experimental group are those who experienced abuse significant enough to make it into the judicial system. Those in the control group may have also experienced undocumented abuse. This unknown factor could have had consequences for their results.

Despite the acknowledged limitations, the researchers found their results meaningful, stating: "In sum, our results contribute support for the hypothesis that childhood maltreatment disrupts healthy aging processes."

The findings are also in line with other research, which has indicated that individuals exposed to adverse childhood experiences - such as neglect, witnessing intimate partner violence, and parental death — tend to be biologically older than their counterparts.

The study, "Biological aging in maltreated children followed up into middle adulthood", was authored by Gloria Graf, X. Li, D. Kwan, Daniel Belskey, and Cathy Widom.