Children who experience violence age faster than their years. The DNA of ten year olds who have lived with violence shows wear and tear normally seen only in older people.
“This is the first time it has been shown that our telomeres can shorten at a faster rate even at a really young age, while kids are still experiencing stress,” explained Idan Shalev, a post-doctoral researcher in psychology and neuroscience at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy.
Telomeres are found on the tips of chromosomes and keep DNA from unraveling. Telomeres may be the master integrators connecting stress to biological age and disease.
Telomeres get shorter as a cell divides. This means there is a limited number of times a cell can divide before it unravels. Unhealthful activities like smoking, obesity, psychological disorders and stress have all been found to accelerate this cellular aging process. Telomeres then are excellent evidence of biological age if not chronological age.
In this new study, Shalev used data from the Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study which followed 1100 British families with twins from birth through age 18. Data included DNA samples taken at 5 and ten years old. Because of the detailed data taken on the families, researchers know which kids were exposed to domestic violence, bullying or other kinds of physical maltreatment.
They found that children with two or more episodes of violence had significantly more telomere loss than other children. “Research on human stress genomics keeps throwing up amazing new facts about how stress can influence the human genome and shape our lives,” said Avshalom Caspi of the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy.
Source: ScienceDaily, Molecular Psychiatry