New research discovers stressful events during childhood play a major role in the later development of significant health conditions.
German researchers found dramatic life events such as the death of a family member, serious illnesses of a family member or the separation of parents, are suspected of increasing the risk of allergies for the children affected.
Even apparently harmless events, for example moving to a new house, are suspected of increasing the risk of allergies for the children affected.
The immune system obviously plays a mediator role between stress on the one hand and allergies on the other. Since these mechanisms had hardly been understood before, researchers attempted to identify stress-related factors showing an influence on the immune system, in the context of an epidemiological study (LISA).
At the same time as the blood tests, researchers together with colleagues from the Institute for Social Medicine at the University of Lübeck also analyzed the most diverse social factors in the children’s environment, in order to find out which factors are causing stress-related regulation deficiencies of the immune system.
With children, whose parents had separated over the last year, researchers found increased blood concentrations of the neuropeptide VIP (vasoactive intestinal polypeptide) as well as an increased concentration of immune markers, which are related to the occurrence of allergic reactions.
By comparison, serious diseases or the death of close relatives led to no remarkable changes. Likewise, the unemployment of parents was not associated with increased concentrations of the stress-related peptides in the children’s blood.
As tragic as these events are, they are obviously however of less significance for the stress reactions of children than for example a separation or the divorce of parents, UFZ researchers have concluded.
As was already shown in an earlier publication from the same study, increased concentrations of the stress peptide VIP can also be proven in the blood of children after moving house (similar to the separation of parents).
Preceding investigations in LISA showed that there is a relationship between an increased concentration of the neuropeptide VIP and allergic sensitisations among six-year old children. Even if the results were to be interpreted carefully, because of the comparatively small number of children affected, they nevertheless provide valuable indications as to what exactly happens to the body through stress.
The investigations are based on data from 6-year old children from the LISA study. LISA stands for “Lifestyle – Immune System – Allergy” and investigates the influences of life-styles on the immune system development in early childhood and the emergence of allergies.