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Psychological stress during childhood and adolescence and its association with inflammation across the lifespan: A critical review and meta-analysis.
Psychological Bulletin  (IF23.027),  Pub Date : 2022-05-13, DOI: 10.1037/bul0000351
Jessica J. Chiang, Phoebe H. Lam, Edith Chen, Gregory E. Miller

Psychological stress during childhood and adolescence increases risk of health problems across the lifecourse, and inflammation is implicated as an underlying mechanism. To evaluate the viability of this hypothesis, we used meta-analysis to quantify the association between childhood/adolescent stress and inflammation over the lifecourse. Furthermore, we addressed three unresolved conceptual questions: (a) Does the strength of this association change over the lifecourse? (b) Are different types of childhood/adolescent stressors differentially associated with inflammation? (c) And which components of the inflammatory response are involved? A systematic search identified 187 articles reporting 922 associations. Meta-analyses were conducted using a three-level multilevel approach and controlled for study quality, conversion confidence, and whether effect sizes were unadjusted or adjusted (n = 662, 72%). Results indicated a small but reliable overall adjusted association ( r ^ = .04). The magnitude of the association strengthened across the lifecourse—effect sizes were smallest in studies that measured inflammation in childhood ( r ^ = .02) and became progressively larger in studies of adolescence ( r ^ = .04) and adulthood ( r ^ = .05), suggesting the impact of early stress strengthens with time. By contrast, effect sizes did not vary by adversity type (socioeconomic disadvantage, maltreatment, other interpersonal stressors, and cumulative exposure across stressors), or component of inflammation (circulating biomarkers of low-grade inflammation vs. cytokine responses to microbial stimuli). Implications and future directions are discussed.