University of British Columbia researchers Gregory Miller and Michael Kobor performed genome-wide profiling in 103 healthy adults age 25-40, who were either experienced low or high early-life socioeconomic circumstances related to income, education and occupation during the first five years of life.
The two groups were similar in socioeconomic status at the time the genome assessment was performed and also had similar lifestyle practices like smoking and drinking habits.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that among subjects who were poor when young, there was evidence genes involved with inflammation were selectively "switched-on" at some point.
"It seems to be the case that if people are raised in a low socioeconomic family, their immune cells are constantly vigilant for threats from the environment," Miller said in a statement.
The researchers said they believe this is because the cells of low-income individuals were not effectively responding to the stress hormone cortisol that usually controls inflammation.
"The study suggests that experiences get under the skin," Kobor said.