A Columbia University study has found that adversity early in life is associated with increased gastrointestinal symptoms in children that may have an impact on the brain and behavior as they grow to maturity. The study was published online March 28 in the journal Development and Psychopathology. “One common reason children show up at doctors’ offices is intestinal complaints;” said Nim Tottenham, a professor of psychology at Columbia and senior author on the study.
Emotional health problems
“Our findings indicate that gastrointestinal symptoms in young children could be a red flag to primary care physicians for future emotional health problems.” Scientists have long noted the strong connection between the gut and brain.Previous research has demonstrated that a history of trauma or abuse has been reported in up to half of adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), at a prevalence twice that of patients without IBS.
“The role of trauma in increasing vulnerability to both gastrointestinal and mental health symptoms is well established in adults but rarely studied in childhood;” said study lead author Bridget Callaghan; a post-doctoral research fellow in Columbia’s psychology department. In addition, she said, animal studies have demonstrated that adversity-induced changes in the gut microbiome the community of bacteria in the body that regulates everything from digestion to immune system function-influence neurological development; but no human studies have done so.
“Our study is among the first to link disruption of a child’s gastrointestinal microbiome triggered by early-life adversity with brain activity in regions associated with emotional health;” Callaghan said. The researchers focused on development in children who experienced extreme psychosocial deprivation due to institutional care before international adoption. Separation of a child from a parent is know to be a powerful predictor of mental health issues in humans.
That experience, when modeled in rodents, induces fear and anxiety; hinders neuro development and alters microbial communities across the lifespan. The researchers drew upon data from 115 children adopt from orphanages or foster care on or before approximately they were 2 years old; and from 229 children raised by a biological caregiver. The children with past care giving disruptions showed higher levels of symptoms that included stomach aches, constipation, vomiting and nausea.
From that sample of adoptees; the researchers then selected eight participants; ages 7 to 13; from the adversity expos group and another eight who’d been in the group raise by their biological parents. Tottenham and Callaghan collected behavioral information; stool samples and brain images from all the children. They used gene sequencing to identify the microbes present in the stool samples and examined the abundance and diversity of bacteria in each participant’s fecal matter.
The children with a history of early care giving disruptions had distinctly different gut microbiomes from those raised with biological caregivers from birth. Brain scans of all the children also shows that brain activity patterns were correlate with certain bacteria. For example; therefore the children raise by parents had increase gut microbiome diversity, which is link to the prefrontal cortex; a region of the brain know to help regulate emotions.