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Child Abuse Disrupts Hormones and Ups Risk of Obesity, Diabetes

Update Date: Mar 20, 2014 03:53 PM EDT
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Child abuse does more than impair mental health. New research reveals that childhood abuse or neglect increases the risk of obesity, diabetes or other metabolic disorders in adulthood.

The latest findings show that stress in childhood can lead to long-term hormone impairment, which increases the risk of excess belly fat in adulthood.

In the study, researchers recorded levels of the weight-regulating hormones leptin, adiponectin and irisin in the blood of adults who suffered physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect in childhood.

Researchers explain that leptin, which has been linked to body-mass index and fat mass, is responsible for regulating appetite. Irisin is responsible for energy metabolism, and adiponectin helps lower inflammation in the body. Previous studies reveal that obese people have lower levels of adiponectin.

The latest findings revealed that adults who endured childhood abuse showed dysregulation of these hormones.

"This study helps illuminate why people who have dealt with childhood adversity face a higher risk of developing excess belly fat and related health conditions," researchers Christos S. Mantzoros, MD, DSc, PhD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the VA Boston Healthcare System, said in a news release. "The data suggest that childhood adversity places stress on the endocrine system, leading to impairment of important hormones that can contribute to abdominal obesity well into adulthood."

The latest study involved 95 adults between the ages of 35 and 65. Researchers interviewed participants, asked participants to fill out questionnaires and analyzed hormone levels in participants' blood samples.

Researchers found that people who suffered the most abuse tended to have high levels of leptin, irisin and the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein in their blood. Researchers said previous studies have linked all these markers to obesity.

The findings also revealed that people who suffered the most abuse tended to have lower levels of adiponectin, which is another risk factor for obesity.

Researchers said the findings held true even after adjusting for differences in diet, exercise and demographic factors among the participants.

"What we are seeing is a direct correlation between childhood adversity and hormone impairment, over and above the impact abuse or neglect may have on lifestyle factors such as diet and education," Mantzoros said. "Understanding these mechanisms could help health care providers develop new and better interventions to address this population's elevated risk of abdominal obesity and cardiometabolic risk later in life."

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

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