Exposing baby girls to stress in their first year of life may increase the chances that they may suffer from depression and anxiety by the time they turn 18 years old, a new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience reveals.
Researchers at Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior analyzed 57 children, of which 28 were girls, who had been part of a longer study at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The researchers found that girls who had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol by the time they were 4 years old also had weaker brain connections and lived in families that had higher general levels of stress.
"We wanted to understand how stress early in life impacts patterns of brain development which might lead to anxiety and depression. Young girls who, as pre-schoolers [three to five-years-old], had heightened cortisol levels, go on to show lower brain connectivity in important neural pathways for emotion regulation - and that predicts symptoms of anxiety during adolescence", lead researcher Dr Cory Burghy said.