New Study Suggests that Child Abuse changes Brain Chemistry

New brain research shows abused children have an altered brain chemistry that can permanently alter their lives. The new information suggests new advances for the treatment of psychological issues like stress and depression could be just around the corner. 

The study found in the Journal of the American Medical Association seemed to focus on females and how physical and sexual childhood abuse literally makes their brain function differently for the rest of their life. 

About the Study

Scientists asked female subjects to stand in front of an audience and solve mathematical problems. They were also asked to speak to the audience. These situations are known as high-stress situations by many people, but the victims of childhood abuse showed an increased level of a key hormone. 

A scientist employed at Emory University says the results of the study show that negative environments during childhood have lasting effects just as nurturing, positive environments do. 

Almost 50 women in the study were categorized by whether they were abused in childhood and by whether they deal with depression as adults. Women from each group and from control groups were all asked to speak to an audience that was deliberately unresponsive. They also had to perform math operations in front of the group. 

Blood tests were administered throughout the trial to look for changes in ACTH and Cortisol levels. Scientists used the levels of those two hormones to infer levels of CRF in the subjects. Test results showed that women who were victimized in their youth produced much more ACTH than their counterparts who suffered no abuse. 

The study chose to focus on women because females experience a higher incidence of depression than men. However, the results of the study should apply to both men and women. 

Possible Medical Advances

According to an AP story, the study accomplished more than documenting the lasting effects of childhood abuse. It furthers research that could help researchers develop anti-depressants that directly target brain hormones that result from stress. Such drugs could help abuse victims avoid debilitating symptoms of depression. 

Scientists say that by targeting the over-produced hormone uncovered in the study, drugs could help make vulnerable patients less susceptible to stress. 

Opposing Viewpoints

As is the case with most scientific studies, some scientists draw different conclusions from the same data. One researcher at the University of Georgia seems to think the study is too broad. Factors such as the identity of the abuser, the duration of abuse and the amount of suffering experienced by the victim during childhood was not considered in the study.

Earlier research shows that different children have different reactions to abuse depending on their personal makeup and the severity of their situation.