Early childhood stress is associated with elevated herpes antibodies

Reading in the area of early childhood stress brought me to this article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:

It is well known that children need solicitous parenting and a nurturing rearing environment to ensure their normal behavioral development. Early adversity often negatively impacts emotional and mental well-being, but it is less clearly established how much the maturation and regulation of physiological systems is also compromised. The following research investigated the effect of 2 different types of adverse childhood experiences, early deprivation through institutionalization and physical abuse, on a previously unexplored outcome: the containment of herpes simplex virus (HSV). The presence of HSV-specific antibody in salivary specimens was determined in 155 adolescents, including 41 postinstitutionalized, 34 physically-abused, and 80 demographically-similar control youth. Across 4 school and home days, HSV antibody was higher in both postinstitutionalized and physically-abused adolescents when compared with control participants. Because the prevalence of HSV infection was similar across the groups, the elevated antibody was likely indicative of viral recrudescence from latency. Total secretory Ig-A secretion was associated with HSV, but did not account for the group differences in HSV-specific antibody. These findings are likely caused by a failure of cellular immune processes to limit viral reactivation, indicating a persistent effect of early rearing on immune functioning. The fact that antibody profiles were still altered years after adoption into a more benevolent setting with supportive families suggests these results were not caused by contemporaneous factors, but rather reflect a lingering influence of earlier life experiences.

Here we have an indication that early stressors leave a mark so to speak on immune functioning. Those promoting the pathogen theory of sexual orientation might wonder if this finding provides any support. Not sure, but I doubt it, in light of the recent finding that physical abuse and neglect do not relate to adult sexual orientation. For men, but not women, sexual abuse did associate with adult sexual orientation. Abuse compromises the immune system with durable consequences. Physically abused and neglected children have compromised immune systems but are not more likely to report homosexual behavior. Seems like this would be a group more likely to demonstrate homosexuality since anything attacked by the immune system would have an easier time of it.

16 thoughts on “Early childhood stress is associated with elevated herpes antibodies”

  1. Warren, I have not looked into neuro-emotional technique in several years. Clearly, it is in the holistic realm of quackery to the thinking of some. My husband calls the doctor who performed that little demo on me “Dr. Chicken Bones.” LOL. He also does other interesting things to his patients.
    One of my daughters received some cranio-sacral therapy for a back injury when she was a young teenager. It involves a therapist manipulating the body to take advantage of its electro-magnetic field — the hands are supposed to “close the circuit” and facilitate healing. I got interested in such stuff when I read Candace Pert’s “Molecules of Emotion.” She speaks of the body’s innate “intelligence” and the information feedback loop, which I suppose could account for any relevance in the neuro-emotional thing.
    I don’t think these theories or practices are any less controversial than things I have been subjected to in psychiatrist’s offices and that go on every day in traditional medicine. I also find orthomolecular medicine and its applications to mental health to be quite interesting. The pharmaceutical companies have a lock on psychiatry. Small wonder many people would be ignorant of alternative therapies.

  2. carole – thanks for the link – haven’t been able to look at it but I will.
    The UCLA study is ongoing and will be enlightening as will be the Sanders study which is (as I understand it) in press somewhere. Won’t be long…

  3. 4-5% is the effect size which is an estimate of how much variation between two groups is explained by the abuse. There is much unaccounted for in explaining why one person goes one way and another the other way. There is much overlap between the two groups and abuse does not help much make the discrimination. So we are not talking about an increase in probability.

  4. Warren

    For a man, however, it is less clear. While the new study found a significant association, the effect size was about 4-5% – moderate but not to the degree that I would say sexual abuse was a necessary condition for the outcome of SSA.

    Abuse/neglect lowers the immune system of children and assuming that SSA can be triggered by a common childhood infection I would say that a 4% to 5% increase sounds about right. I don’t know if anybody has ever looked into it but I wonder if boys from broken homes show a tiny uptick in the numbers who have SSA. It would probably be less than abused/neglected kids but it might show up too.

    Another good one might be to see if there was a slight increase in SSA among men who suffered chronic illness is an infant or toddler. Premature babies might be the perfect test.

  5. Warren,
    Perhaps you’ve already read this, but if not I thought I’d give the link. It’s an article that examines the possible roots of suicide–suicide victims have an abnormal distribution of GABA receptors as compared with non-depressed people who died of other causes. The researchers argue that their gene expression was epigenetic and they offer the hypothesis that these people had early life experiences that led to the methylation, thus the problems with protein synthesis. (I do wonder how they know this since these people were not examined when they were born. In other words, how do we know these genes were not methylated much earlier?)
    The article also refers to another link I gave weeks ago, the McGill university study about how the genes of suicide victims who suffered abuse in childhood were more likely to be methylated than the genes of those who were were not abused and have not committed suicide. (Unfortunately, in that study nothing was said about the genes of those who were abused in childhood and who hadn’t commited suicide.)
    This also reminds me of the current SSA UCLA study that is examining if there is a link between SSA and methylation of genes.

  6. Mary, I think the best we will ever be able to do in discovering the etiology of something as complex as same-sex attraction is to clear out alleyways of possible causes — a process of elimination. Some of those will prove to be empty or blind alleys, and some will have suspicious connections lurking in them. Sexual abuse is one of those. Temperament, familial dynamics and events, cultural influences, and biological roots all probably have a say, I think. And what I think is probably just s valid as what anyone else thinks as proving this stuff may be downright impossible.
    How many people respect the hidden mystery in all this? I rather like that we are unfathomable creatures in some senses. It drives us toward our God and Creator, as it should. We are all subject to the fallen nature of this world. That’s why, in the long run, we cannot find our way through the maze of humanness on our own. And we are not highly measurable to empiricists. I like that, too.
    Will we ever come to realize that we are chasing our tails in seeking to know our deepest inner mysteries? Isn’t it, after all, as King Solomon pointed out long ago, a futile chasing after the wind? Can it make us happy? Vanity is needing to know what can’t be known.

  7. Sexual abuse can be profoundly distressing or it can be ignored and discounted as being a bad experience that a person is glad is over. The event is always wrong and morally reprehensible but does have differential effects. I would never deny a woman’s sense that abuse shaped her current experience of sexuality. For a man, however, it is less clear. While the new study found a significant association, the effect size was about 4-5% – moderate but not to the degree that I would say sexual abuse was a necessary condition for the outcome of SSA. Shaping for those who experienced it for sure but one may be SSA without experiencing it.
    And that is really what we are looking for in science is a general parsimonious account for an outcome. At this point, we don’t have it.
    Debbie – I can’t find any evidence in favor of Neuro Emotional Technique. It sounds like muscle memory and Richard Cohen with a different method. According to this website, it is one of many unsupported approaches that probably relies on placebo. Honestly, there is nothing that seems plausible in the descriptions I’ve read. Nor have there been any controlled studies.

  8. Debbie,
    I agree with you that sexual abuse in women can have a huge impact on their sexuality. I, too, was sexaully abused as a child and experienced SSA. Although 50 % seems easily dismissed ( we know that 50% of girls are not being molested) While it is my opinion that sexual abuse does not cause SSA – in some children it may depending on tempermant and other factros. What some people are not looking at is that not only do we have SSA going on but there may also be an aversion to male sexuality once molested and we are saying no to that rather than saying yes to SSA (SSA may be just a default in some) .

  9. Several observations:
    The study you cited seems to have addressed the impact of sexual abuse more than physical abuse or neglect as a possible precursor to SSAs. Warren, your summary didn’t mention that. I thought I was reading something different at first. When you state “abuse and neglect do not relate to adult sexual orientation,” don’t you need a qualifier as that might cause confusion over what kind of abuse you are referring to?
    Is it possible the SSA impact of childhood sexual abuse on girls is harder to measure than in boys, given the fluidity of female sexuality? Anecdotal evidence (survey results) indicates a pretty high correlation, yet we seem to be always getting more studies on men. Is that because science is male-dominated or women are too complex? LOL.
    In my women’s recovery group, 50 percent were sexually abused as children. That may be a random thing as the sample is small, but it makes sense to me as I know how being molested as a child impacted my own life. I also believe parenting and family dynamics, along with individual temperament, make a difference. I say this because I have carefully considered my own life history while observing that of my adult daughters thus far.
    Have you ever heard of neuro-emotional technique? It’s a holistic means of locating the body’s “memory” of traumatic events that leave a detectable physiological footprint hiding. I had a practitioner demonstrate it on me once. I was skeptical, but he put me through a little body strength test, while walking me backward through the years of my life. When he got to the age of 8, my strength suddenly and dramatically left me. That’s when I was molested, though he knew nothing of my history. Intriguing, to say the least. FWIW, I have a very strong immune system. Always have had. Never missed a day of school in 12 years.
    You probably know about Candace Pert’s and other researchers’ work with stress and neuropeptides and the immune system correlations. It’s always fascinated me because of my past battle with major depression and SSA. I am aware of some prenatal events (pathogenic and emotional) in my mother’s life before my brothers and I were born, as well as extreme stressors when we were young. I think there was a definite impact. One brother had schizoaffective disorder, too.
    Another thing worth noting: With all this pathogen theory research and its impact on mental illness development, will same-sex attraction have to be put back into the DSM at some point? I predict that would never happen as political correctness (extreme confirmation bias) has permanently overshadowed the scientific method. Yet, look at where this may be leading. Makes the debate more interesting.
    I have come to believe that reparative work is valid for some, but perhaps not for others. There is always a danger in making any one method king.

  10. Forgot to add this–if by “neglected” we are talking about kids whose needs for, say, food and medicine are not met, if we are talking about kids who lived in squalid conditions, then I’d guess that yes, they would show higher rates of all kinds of things, but how do we measure this w/out long-term studies?
    Secondly, symptoms of infection or the residual effects of an infection don’t show up for 20-40 years in many cases: cancers, ulcers, arterial disease, and a whole host of things.
    Stressful conditions for some are weathered by others, probably due to all kinds of factors. Wasn’t it on this very blog not that long ago that we read of how child abuse in the family all but destroyed the life of one sibling but not those of the others?

  11. Drowssap – Sexual abuse yes. However, one need not rely on a stress induced weakness in the immune system to get to a theory of why sexual abuse might influence sexual arousal. However, you are correct sexual abuse was associated for men but not statistically linked for women.
    Carole – it is not a strong hit for the theory but it seems that those kids who have high stress would be more vulnerable to whatever immunological compromise would theoretically be involved.

  12. Warren said this of neglected and/or abused children:

    Seems like this would be a group more likely to demonstrate homosexuality since anything attacked by the immune system would have an easier time of it.

    I am not sure I understand this point here, Warren.
    The originator of the germ theory of causation and those who agree it is more than a reasonable hypothesis think that cells responsible for directing attraction have been damaged by what is most likely a common pathogen that strikes just about all children, but which in a few % of the population, makes its way to another part of the body, as the polio virus does.
    They list all kinds of viruses and bacteria that all of us are exposed to, pathogens which cause illness in most of us as children, but from which we apparently recovered with no apparent lasting effects. I say “apparently recovered with no lasting effects” because they are finding out every day that common pathogens have indeed left behind effects in many–in the brain as well as in other parts of the body. Corona viruses, the Borna virus, etc.–have been implicated in chronic illnesses and many viruses have now been implicated in mental illness, from schiz to depression. They realize too that the common cold and all the rhinoviruses that have strike us, may themselves have left behind damage we are as yet unaware of.
    I think about my grandmother and all the women who’ve died of cervical cancer. Who would have thought cervical cancer was the result of a viral infection? Remember not that long ago that everyone, including your family physician, told you that cancer was “genetic”? They knew no better. First, they spoke erroneously of cancer as if it were one disease; second, they had no understanding of genetics (no one really did in those days); third, unless they were in the field of immunology or virology, they were not likely to have had much of an understanding of pathogens; fourth, while they, of course, attributed acute infections to pathogens, they had no awareness that chronic and indeed common afflictions were the result of chronic infections.
    While Ewald was not the only one to put forth the notion that we had overlooked the connection between chronic illness and infection, it was basically his writings which spread the idea to the point that researchers began studies looking for pathogenic causes. Now such findings abound.

  13. Warren
    My assumption is that if a pathogen triggers SSA it happens before the age of 3. Like pathological left-handedness that is triggered by meningitis the younger the kid is at infection the more likely a shift in orientation would occur. I would think the sample to study would be abused/neglected infants and toddlers. After that it might not matter.
    Side Note:
    Attention Chrohn’s Disease sufferers. Remember all that nonsense about genes, heredity and diet you’ve heard for years? It looks like Chrohn’s is triggered by a bacterial infection from cows.
    Pathogen That Causes Disease In Cattle Also Associated With Crohn’s Disease – Research Urgently Needed To Evaluate Potential Risks To Humans

    There is mounting evidence that the unknown trigger may be infectious in origin, with several bacteria currently under consideration.

    People with Crohn’s disease (CD) are seven-fold more likely to have in their gut tissues the bacterium that causes a digestive-tract disease in cattle called Johne’s disease.

  14. Warren
    Didn’t they find a connection for men in that study?

    Childhood physical abuse and neglect were not significantly associated with same-sex cohabitation or sexual partners. Individuals with documented histories of childhood sexual abuse were significantly more likely than controls to report ever having had same-sex sexual partners (OR = 2.81, 95% CI = 1.16-6.80, p = .05); however, only men with histories of childhood sexual abuse were significantly more likely than controls to report same-sex sexual partners (OR = 6.75, 95% CI = 1.53-29.86, p = .01). These prospective findings provide tentative evidence of a link between childhood sexual abuse and same-sex sexual partnerships among men, although further research is needed to explore this relationship and to examine potential underlying mechanisms.

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