MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - A new UW-Madison study shows that young girls exposed to high stress levels have a better chance of suffering anxiety or depression as teenagers.
Previous studies showed a similar link – but the Madison study is the first to document actual changes in girls’ brains.
The UW recruited 57 young adults to take part in the study before they gave birth. That was back in 1990.
The original goal was to see how working women cope with the challenges of being mothers. The researchers looked at things like emotional and economic pressures facing those young mothers.
But as time went on, researcher Cory Burghy said his colleagues took a closer look at the kids, and how they handled the stresses of home life.
The mothers had stress exams, while the kids had their cortisol levels tested. The brains of those with high cortisol levels at age four-and-a-half took MRI exams when they were at 18 – and those results, plus interviews, turned up higher than normal levels of depression and anxiety in the girls.
But boys who grew up in similar households did not suffer the same conditions.
Next, UW scientists want to see if childhood stress really causes young brains to be rewired – and what can be done to fix that.