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New Research Shows Early-Life Stress Can Contribute to Life-Long Psychological Conditions

Milwaukee, May 6, 2019 – Local scientist at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Cecilia Hillard, PhD, assisted other researchers in their quest to uncover what effects early-life stress might have throughout development into adulthood and beyond. Her and her fellow colleagues tested a model of early life adversity – a model largely utilized in research on children. For her research, Dr. Hillard observed male rats separated from their mothers for short periods of time, which found that they experienced early-life stress. The early-life stress had altered the development of their endocannabinoid system - an anti-stress system. When activated, the system works to reduce stress until one returns to a normal, calm state.

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Dr. Hillard explained that “research has found that the endocannabinoid system is too weak and is not as active as it should be in patients who suffer from psychiatric diseases such as anxiety and depression.” This explains that the rats with affected endocannabinoid systems are more likely to suffer from psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The study’s findings showed that early life adversity and neglect negatively impacted the hippocampus – a part of the endocannabinoid system – by lowering the responsiveness of the system. In turn, by doing so, one is more susceptible to psychiatric conditions.

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