Early adversity (EA) in life is associated with increased gastrointestinal (GI) problems in children that may affect brain development and behaviour, new research suggests.

Investigators conducted two studies that drew on data from a study of almost 350 children between ages 3 and 18, comparing those who were adopted from orphanages or foster care on, or before, age 2 to those raised by a biological caregiver.

Study 1 showed children who had experienced previous caregiving disruptions displayed higher levels of GI symptoms, including stomach aches, constipation, vomiting, and nausea, and that these symptoms were associated with concurrent and future anxiety and mediated the adversity-anxiety association.

Study 2 focused on a subsample of children who provided stool samples and also underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain while completing a task evoking fear.

EA was associated with changes in the diversity of microbial communities and bacterial levels were correlated with activation of the prefrontal cortex activation, a region of the brain that helps regulate emotions.

“We found that children who had been exposed to caregiving adversity in their early lives had higher levels of GI symptoms than their non-adversity-exposed peers and, importantly, those GI symptoms were also associated with higher levels of anxiety in each year of the study,” lead author Bridget Callaghan, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Sackler institute of Psychobiology, Columbia University, New York City, told Medscape Medical News.

“We also found that the connection between the brain and gut — and the bacteria that live in the gut — might be particularly important to consider when trying to understand emotional functioning following adverse experiences,” she said.

SOURCE: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/911652

REFERENCE: Callaghan et al: Mind and gut: Associations between mood and gastrointestinal distress in children exposed to adversity; https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/development-and-psychopathology/article/mind-and-gut-associations-between-mood-and-gastrointestinal-distress-in-children-exposed-to-adversity/D29E390A71A1E74CAD6955177CDFAE44