A study from Columbia University has found a link between childhood trauma and an increase in gastrointestinal symptoms in children that can have an impact on the brain and behavior as they grow older.
A study by Columbia University published in the journal Development and Psychopathology has linked traumas in the early part of life with intestinal bacteria. “Our findings indicate that gastrointestinal symptoms in young children can be a warning signal for future emotional health problems,” said Nim Tottenham, a professor of psychology at Columbia and lead author of the study.
Scientists have long noticed the strong connection between the intestine and the brain. Previous research has shown that a history of trauma or abuse has been reported in up to half of adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with 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 is rarely studied in childhood,” said study lead author Bridget Callaghan, postdoctoral researcher. in the psychology department of Columbia. In addition, previous studies in animals have shown that the changes induced by adversity in the intestinal microbiome, the community of bacteria in the body that regulates everything from digestion to the function of the immune system, influence the neurological development.
“Our study is one of the first to relate the disruption of the gastrointestinal microbiome of a child triggered by the adversity of early life to brain activity in regions associated with emotional health,” Callaghan said.
Researchers focused on the development of children who suffered extreme psychosocial deprivation due to institutional care prior to international adoption. It is known that separating a child from a parent is a powerful predictor of mental health problems in humans. This experience, when modeled in rodents, induces fear and anxiety, hinders neurological development and alters microbial communities throughout life.
The researchers relied on data from 115 children adopted from orphanages or foster homes at approximately 2 years of age, and from 229 children raised by a biological caregiver. Children with previous care disorders showed higher levels of symptoms that included stomach pain, constipation, vomiting and nausea.
From this sample of adoptees, the researchers selected eight participants, from 7 to 13 years old, from the group exposed to adversity and another eight who had been in the group raised by their biological parents. Tottenham and Callaghan collected behavioral information, stool samples and brain images of all the children. Using the method of gene sequencing to identify the microbes present in the stool samples, they examined the abundance and diversity of bacteria in the fecal matter of each participant.
Children with a history of early care interruptions had intestinal microbiomes clearly different from those raised with biological caregivers from birth. Brain scans of all children also showed that patterns of brain activity correlated with certain bacteria. For example, children raised by parents had a greater diversity of intestinal microbiomes, which is linked to the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is known to help regulate emotions.
“Studies in animals tell us that dietary interventions and probiotics can manipulate the gut microbiome and improve the effects of adversity on the central nervous system, especially during the first years of life when the developing brain and microbiome are more plastic. “Says Callaghan. “It is possible that this type of research helps us to know if and how to intervene better in human beings, and when.”
For the time being, more research is needed to delve into this link. The study is a starting point that points out that the changes associated with adversity in the intestinal microbiome are related to brain function and the processing of emotions.