Original Article

Journal of Human Hypertension (2013) 27, 90–94; doi:10.1038/jhh.2012.6; published online 16 February 2012

Early life stress and blood pressure levels in late adulthood

H Alastalo1,2, K Räikkönen3, A-K Pesonen3,4, C Osmond5, D J P Barker6,7, K Heinonen3, E Kajantie1,4 and J G Eriksson1,8,9,10,11

  1. 1Department of Chronic Disease Prevention, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2Department of Public Health, Hjelt Institute, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  4. 4Hospital for Children and Adolescents, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
  5. 5MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  6. 6Chair of Fetal Programming, College of Science, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  7. 7Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR, USA
  8. 8Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  9. 9Unit of General Practice, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
  10. 10Folkhälsan Research Center, Helsinki, Finland
  11. 11Vaasa Central Hospital, Vaasa, Finland

Correspondence: Professor JG Eriksson, Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Helsinki, PO Box 20, FIN-00014, Helsinki, Finland. E-mail: johan.eriksson@helsinki.fi

Received 22 August 2011; Revised 16 January 2012; Accepted 23 January 2012
Advance online publication 16 February 2012

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Abstract

Severe stress experienced in early life may have long-term consequences on adult physiological functions. We studied the long-term effects of separation on blood pressure levels in non-obese subjects who were separated temporarily in childhood from their parents during World War II (WWII). The original clinical study cohort consists of people born during 1934–1944 in Helsinki, Finland. This substudy includes 1361 non-obese subjects (body mass index <30kgm−2). Of these, 192 (14.1%) had been evacuated abroad during WWII. The remaining subjects served as controls. Blood pressure levels and use of blood pressure medication were studied. The separated subjects had significantly higher systolic blood pressure values than the non-separated (148.6+21.5 vs 142.2+19.6mmHg, P<0.0001) in adult life. Those subjects separated in early childhood had markedly higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure values in adult life compared with the non-separated (154.6 vs 142.5mmHg; 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.6–14.7; P<0.005 and 90.8 vs 87.7mmHg; 95% CI 1.0–7.3; P<0.02, respectively). Systolic blood pressure was also higher in the group separated for a duration of <1 year (151.7 vs 142.2mmHg; 95% CI 0.0–12.4; P<0.05) compared with the non-separated. Besides being separated, age at separation and duration of separation also influenced blood pressure levels in adult life. This could be due to early hormonal and metabolic programming, during plastic periods in early life, influencing blood pressure levels in adult life.

Keywords:

early life stress; systolic blood pressure; diastolic blood pressure; programming

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