It has long been known that childhood abuse, neglect, or the loss of a par¬ent are associated with adult psychiatric disorders. Now, research¬ers are discovering how early experiences affect a person’s psychological and physical health. The June issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter reports that childhood trauma and loss can cause prolonged hypersensitivity to stress by upsetting the brain’s regulation of stress responses.
Researchers are looking for ways to prevent and reverse the harm. Rat pups from a genetically anx¬ious strain respond much better to stress as adults if they are adopted by unusually attentive foster mothers. In a strain of rats sensitive to alcohol, the risk of addiction is increased by early separation from their mothers. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibi¬tors (Prozac and others) may help, says the Harvard Mental Health Letter; other promising drugs include mifepristone (RU-486) and propranolol (Inderal). For post¬-traumatic stress disorder, psychological treatment can retrain the brain's response to traumatic memories.
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