(NaturalNews) A study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that children growing up in extremely stressful, traumatic or violent environments develop lasting changes in parts of their DNA that have been associated with mental illness, diabetes and heart disease (1).
Specifically, telomeres, which are repetitive sequences of DNA that act to protect chromosomes, are the part of the DNA that is affected. Lengths of telomeres shorten each time a cell replicates, stopping upon reaching a certain limit. Shorter-length telomeres are linked to diseases and conditions such as the ones previously mentioned, and researchers have concluded that people living lives filled with excessive, traumatic stress have shortened telomeres.
Study details and implications
As part of the study, researchers at the Tulane University School of Medicine assessed the home environments of children aged 5-15, factored in their sociodemographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and then analyzed their telomere lengths. It was shown that children exposed to violent situations and disruptions in the family environment (such as members who served time in prison) had shorter telomere lengths.
"Family-level stressors, such as witnessing a family member get hurt, created an environment that affected the DNA within the cells of the children," (1) said lead study author Dr. Stacy Drury. "The greater the number of exposures these kids had in life, the shorter their telomeres were."
This is not the first time a study has shown that children who grow up in a disruptive family environment grow up with more chronic stress, another condition associated with shorter telomere lengths (2). Another recent study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, discovered that the telomeres of children who had challenging, harsh home lives were 19% shorter than children who did not have those disadvantages (2).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that many short- and long-term behaviors which can have a serious impact on health tend to be demonstrated by those who grew up in home environments filled with physical and emotional abuse, neglect and overall dysfunction (3). Those behaviors include illicit drug use, engaging in sexual behaviors with multiple partners, suicide attempts and alcohol abuse.
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