Effects of Toxic Stress

Exposure to toxic stress can have detrimental long-term health consequences.1 Both experiences and genes impact brain development and functioning. Cumulative exposure of the developing brain to the stress response results in impairment in multiple brain structures and functions impacting brain circuits that support memory, emotional regulation and language. It is important to note that adversity does not need to be catastrophic to trigger biological responses, and the biological responses to adversity are relevant to all children. Children exposed to adverse childhood experiences are at high risk for developing several serious diseases that are the leading causes of death in adults, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, asthma, autoimmune disease, chronic lung disease, and depression.2,3, 4,5


1Franke, H. A. (2014). Toxic stress: Effects, prevention and treatment. Children, 1(3), 390-402.

2 Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., . . . Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258.

3Garner, A. S., Shonkoff, J. P., Siegel, B. S., Dobbins, M. I., Earls, M. F., McGuinn, L., . . . Wood, D. L. (2012). Early childhood adversity, toxic stress, and the role of the pediatrician: Translating developmental science into lifelong health. Pediatrics, 129(1), e224-e231. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-2662.

4Fagundes, C. P., Glaser, R., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2013). Stressful early life experiences and immune dysregulation across the lifespan. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 27, 8-12. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.06.014