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Aging is a natural part of life. What is not natural, however, is your kids aging before their time. According to a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, children who have been exposed to violence show signs of premature aging in their DNA.
Researchers from Duke University's department of psychology and neuroscience used data from the Environmental Risk Study, which tracked more than 2,000 children born between 1994 and 1995 in England and Wales. Lead author Idan Shalev and his colleagues tried to find out whether premature aging had something to do with how children who were exposed to violence later experienced negative effects on their health and behavior.
He and other researchers took DNA samples from 236 children at age five and age 10 and studied their telomeres, the repetitive DNA sequence capping chromosomes at each end. As time passes and cells divide, the telomeres become shorter, and once the telomeres reach a certain length, the cells die.
Upon analysis of the kids’ DNA, researchers discovered that children who were exposed to one or more types of violence showed more damage to their telomeres than children who had less traumatic experiences. According to Shalev, exposure to violence may be considered a form of stress. It causes increased oxidation and inflammation, which, in turn, ages cells faster. Even after considering other factors like poverty or obesity, the results remained the same.
While it’s not always possible to keep your kids from witnessing or experiencing violence, it’s still important that you limit their exposure as much as possible. Always be supportive, and remind your kids that you love them.
(Photo by starlights_ via Flickr Creative Commons; used for illustrative purposes only)