Children From Violent Homes Have It In Their DNA

 How's this for a scary prognosis?  Family violence leaves genetic traces.

Newswise.com reports that a new Tulane University School of Medicine study finds that the more fractured families are by domestic violence or trauma, the more likely that children will bear the scars down to their DNA.

Researchers discovered that children in homes affected by domestic violence, suicide or the incarceration of a family member have significantly shorter telomeres, which is a cellular marker of aging, than those in stable households. 

Those with shorter telomeres die younger.

Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes that keep them from shrinking when cells replicate. Shorter telomeres are linked to higher risks for heart disease, obesity, cognitive decline, diabetes, mental illness and poor health outcomes in adulthood.

“Family-level stressors, such as witnessing a family member get hurt, created an environment that affected the DNA within the cells of the children,” the Web site quotes lead author Dr. Stacy Drury, director of the Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Laboratory at Tulane. “The greater the number of exposures these kids had in life, the shorter their telomeres were – and this was after controlling for many other factors, including socioeconomic status, maternal education, parental age and the child’s age.”

Interestingly -- or tragically -- traumatic family events were more detrimental to young girls as they were more likely to have shortened telomeres. There was also a surprising protective effect for boys: mothers who had achieved a higher level of education had a positive association with telomere length, but only in boys under 10.

It seems pretty obvious that witnessing violence in your home can harm you.  I grew up in a household where the belt (and wooden spoon!) was used frequently.  I swore I would never hit my son and except for two awful occasions, never have.  Did the violence in my house enter my DNA?  Most likely yes -- but mostly in a way that I never repeat it.





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