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Scars from family violence hits the DNA of kids

Harold Mandel's picture
Child abuse

This is a very violent era with a frightening number of school murders, random public shootings and knifings elsewhere, and increasing regional bloody conflicts. There are also an alarming number of cases of family violence. When confronted with family violence kids generally have a harder time adjusting to an already tragically disturbed and dangerous world around them. In fact recent research shows family violence leaves a genetic imprint on kids.

There is an association between telomere length and family violence

Researchers have determined there is an association between telomere length and family violence and disruption reported the journal Pediatrics. Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes which protect the end of the chromosomes from deterioration. The researchers pursued this study in order to enhance an understanding of biological mechanisms which connect early adversity and negative health.

The researchers examined the association which exists between family interpersonal violence and disruption and telomere length in kids. Kids between the ages of 5 to 15 were recruited from the greater New Orleans area, and exposure to family disruption and violence was evaluated from caregiver report. A scientific test referred to as "monochrome multiplex quantitative real-time
polymerase chain reaction" was used to determine telomere length from buccal cell DNA. Buccal telomere length is designated as bTL. The researchers tested the association between bTL and exposure to adversity.

Telomere length was shorter in kids with higher exposure to family violence

The researchers observed cumulative exposure to interpersonal violence and family disruption was associated with bTL. While controlling for other sociodemographic factors, bTL was observed to be significantly shorter in kids with higher exposure to family violence and disruption. There was a particularly potent impact when family violence was witnessed.

The researchers concluded that bTL is a molecular biomarker of adversity which can be detected in childhood. The results of this study have demonstrated that telomeres are sensitive to adversity within a family. It has therefore been suggested by these findings that family ecology may be an important target for interventions to decrease the biological impact of adversity in the lives of kids.

Kids bear the scars of family violence in their DNA

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Family violence leaves a genetic imprint on kids reports Tulane University in a discussion of this research. A new Tulane University School of Medicine study has discovered that the more families are afflicted by domestic violence or trauma, the more likely it is that kids will bear the scars in their DNA. Telomores are a marker of aging. The researchers observed kids in homes which are affected by domestic violence, suicide or the incarceration of a family member have markedly shorter telomeres than those in stable households. Shorter telomeres have been found to be linked to higher risks for many health problems including:

1: Heart disease

2: Obesity

3: Cognitive decline

4: Diabetes

5: Mental illness

Dr. Stacy Drury, director of the Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Laboratory at Tulane, said family-level stressors, such as witnessing a family member who gets hurt, actually created an environment which affected the DNA within the cells of the kids. The telomeres were found to be shorter with increased number of exposures to family violence. Traumatic family events were found to be more detrimental to young girls in terms of telomere shortening.

Clearly this study suggests that the home environment is a significant intervention target to decrease the biological impact of adversity in the lives of young kids. The finding that the scars of family violence are so far reaching it can negatively alter a child's DNA should help alert everyone to the seriousness of this problem.

Clearly exposure to family violence could be considered a form of child abuse. Parents with any genuine feeling for their kids will simply avoid family violence for the sake of their children. Parents who lack any true feeling for their kids and who do not seem to care about exposing their kids to family violence need medical-legal intervention to protect not just each other but also the kids from being hurt too much.