Pregnancy Stress May Last Throughout Life

We can all agree stress affects our health.  Whether the source of stress begins with an annoying boss or an overseas virus, we feel, think, and act differently under stress.  A measure of the distress comes from feeling out of control over our situation.  For babies during their mother’s pregnancy or in early life after birth, these infants stand out as the most vulnerable of society.  They have far more limited capacity to intellectually process what is occurring than adults.  Yale researchers wanted to evaluate how they might be affected during these critical life periods by stressors outside their control.

Prior studies revealed correlations between early life adverse events and future health into adulthood.  This study reported that mice who were fed glucocorticoids, a stress hormone, while in mom’s womb or soon after they were born, demonstrated lifelong decreases in immunity against bacteria and tumors.  One of the most important physiologically measured changes was the decreased activity of CD8 T cells which respond to invading pathogens.

Millenia of history remind us that cultures across time and geography have shielded expectant mothers.  This research adds another scientific proof to the importance of preventing babies from experiencing stress.  That stress, seemingly through stress hormones, rewires their immune system for lifelong dysfunction.  While we can work on ways to remediate the damage, prevention will go a lot further to avoid increased rates of illness as these individuals progress into adulthood.  Other studies listed in the additional resources provide further proof of this principle.

If we are to help not only individuals find healthier more abundant lives, but also encourage future generations’ health, we must begin preventive care as soon as we become aware of a pregnancy.  In a dangerous world where stress lurks around many of life’s corners, we treat the whole person from beginning to end.


Original Article:

Jun Young Hong, Jaechul Lim, Fernando Carvalho, Charles Annicelli, W.K. Eddie Ip, Ruslan Medzhitov. Long-Term Programming of CD8 T Cell Immunity by Perinatal Exposure to Glucocorticoids. Cell, 2020 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.02.018

Thanks to Science Daily:

Yale University. “The harmful effects of stress during pregnancy can last a lifetime.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2020. <>.


Additional References:

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Oct;97(10):3538-44. doi: 10.1210/jc.2012-1970. Epub 2012 Aug 6. Impact of antenatal synthetic glucocorticoid exposure on endocrine stress reactivity in term-born children. Alexander N, Rosenlöcher F, Stalder T, Linke J, Distler W, Morgner J, Kirschbaum C.

Barbazanges, A., Piazza, P. V., Le Moal, M., & Maccari, S. (1996). Maternal glucocorticoid secretion mediates long-term effects of prenatal stress. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 16(12), 3943–3949.

Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Nov;13(9):364-8.  Fetal programming of coronary heart disease.  Barker DJ.

Pediatrics. 2010 Aug;126(2):e401-9. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-3226. Epub 2010 Jul 19.  Maternal prenatal anxiety and stress predict infant illnesses and health complaints. Beijers R, Jansen J, Riksen-Walraven M, de Weerth C.

Endocr Rev. 2013 Dec;34(6):885-916. doi: 10.1210/er.2013-1012. Epub 2013 Aug 22.  Early-life glucocorticoid exposure: the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, placental function, and long-term disease risk. Braun T, Challis JR, Newnham JP, Sloboda DM.

Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.

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