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Violence can lead to premature aging in children

A new study from Duke University (North Carolina), showed that children who suffer chronic exposure to violence may show DNA modifications and cellular changes equivalent to 7-10 years of premature biological aging.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, studied the aging process through the study of telomeres, the portion of the DNA at the ends of chromosomes which become shorter with each cell division. Telomeres normally get shorter as we age.

Previous studies have shown that adults who experienced situations of violence while they were children had shorter telomeres than those with a non-violent childhood, but scientists had been unable to determine whether telomeres had shortened under the stress during childhood or because of later health problems.

The present study evaluated 236 British children born between 1994 and 1995. According to interviews with mothers of the children when they turned ten, 17% of the children had suffered domestic violence, 24% frequent bullying, and 27% had been physically abused by an adult.

To compare the impact of these events on their telomeres, the researchers took DNA samples from the cheeks of children at the time they were 5 years old and then at 10 years of age. After comparing the telomere lengths, the researchers found that children with a history of suffering two or more different types of violence had significantly more wearing (shortening) of the telomeres compared with children without a violent past.

The researcher Idan Shalev, study coordinator, concluded that children who have experienced violence are biologically older than their years, that the stress caused by cellular aging is not reversible, and that they have a higher risk of premature death. According to Shalev, a healthy diet, physical activity and meditation are factors that can stop the shortening of telomeres, possibly even allowing them to grow longer.

Professor Terrie Moffitt, co-author of the study, said that with these results showing serious long term effects of violence, even at the cellular level, much more needs to be done to protect children from bullying as well as from family abuse. She implies that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and that some of the billions of dollars spent on diseases of aging such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia could be better invested in protecting children from harm.

Although the researchers could not, in this study, define the cellular processes in which cumulative stress causes telomere shortening, they hypothesized that inflammation—an immune system response to stress—may play a role. More research needs to be done, and clearly, more work to decrease violence in the lives of children, as well in adults, who may well face the same telomere effects.

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Violence can lead to premature aging in children was last modified: April 30th, 2012 by

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)