The long-term association of adverse childhood experiences with C-reactive protein and hair cortisol: Cumulative risk versus dimensions of adversity

Eleonora Iob, Rebecca Lacey, Andrew Steptoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) may lead to stress-induced upregulation of inflammatory and neuroendocrine processes. However, it remains unclear whether such effects persist into later life, and which dimensions of ACEs might have the strongest impact on these biological mechanisms. Therefore, this study investigated the effects of ACEs on C-reactive protein (CRP) and hair cortisol in a large sample of older adults, distinguishing between cumulative exposure and dimensions of ACEs.

METHODS: We utilised data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. ACEs were assessed through retrospective reports at wave 3(2006/07). CRP (N = 4198) was measured at waves 4(2008/09) and 6(2012/13), and hair cortisol (N = 3357) at wave 6. The effects of ACEs cumulative exposure were examined using linear and ordinal logistic regression analysis. ACEs dimensions (i.e. threat, household dysfunction, low parental bonding, and loss of an attachment figure) were identified using explorative and confirmatory factor analysis with cross-validation. All analyses were adjusted for relevant confounders.

RESULTS: Participants with three or more ACEs had higher CRP levels at wave 4 and an elevated risk of high CRP concentrations across waves 4 and 6 compared with those who did not experience any ACEs. The four ACEs dimensions were all positively associated with both CRP outcomes and had similar effect sizes. In contrast, neither the cumulative score nor the dimensions of ACEs were significantly related to hair cortisol. However, there was a positive, yet small, interaction effect between ACEs and age on hair cortisol.

CONCLUSION: Older adults who retrospectively reported three or more ACEs had chronically elevated CRP levels and exhibited a slightly steeper increase in hair cortisol with age. Different dimensions of ACEs had similar associations with the biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)318-328
Number of pages11
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Volume87
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

Keywords

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • Aged
  • C-Reactive Protein/analysis
  • Child
  • Hair/chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone/analysis
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Retrospective Studies

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