Violence Prematurely Ages Children, Study Claims

Melissa Stusinski

A recent study has claimed that violence will prematurely age children. The study, which was published in Tuesday in Molecular Psychiatry, suggests that violence can age children prematurely, as much as seven to ten years.

The study's conclusions are based on scientific measures of tolomeres in their text subjects. Tolomeres are specialized DNA sequences, which act much like the burned tips of cords, or the plastic ends of shoelaces.

Essentially, they provide a cap on the DNA strain, preventing the chromosomes from unraveling.

These tolomeres get shorter each time a cell divides, until the cell is no longer able to divide. At that point, it dies.

The study interviewed mothers of 236 children at ages 5, 7, and 10, and asked if the kids had been exposed to domestic violence between the mom and her partner, abuse by an adult, or bullying. Researchers also measured the children's tolomeres at ages 5 and 10.

The scientists gathered the tolomeres through cheek swabs. Along with violence, other factors can shorten these DNA end caps, such as smoking, radiation, and psychological stresses. The authors define these stresses as early life maltreatment and taking care of the chronically ill.

The study found that tolomeres shortened in children who experienced at least two types of violence. Idan Shalev, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, believes that this pattern needs to change.

Shalev believes that if the pattern does not change, children who have shorter tolomeres can be expected to develop diseases associated with aging, such as heart attacks and memory loss, about seven to ten years earlier than those who have not experienced violence.

Nathan Fox, a professor of human development at the University of Maryland, and co-author of an earlier study about child development, states that:

"We know that toxic stress is bad for you. This paper provides a mechanism by which this type of stress gets 'under the skin' and into the genes."

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