A new study conducted by a team of researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine led by Jacob B. Pierce shows that having a challenging childhood can impact the risk of developing heart disease in the future.
Complex issues such as family dysfunction, mental and physical abuse, and neglect can raise the chances of having a number of health conditions ranging from diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, or high blood pressure to having higher levels of cortisol and LDL in the body.
More recently, research has also identified potential links between the health of the heart and traumatic events in childhood, concluding that complex childhood issues do put children at higher risk of heart disease in the future.
Now, the new study, whose findings appear in the American Heart Association’s journal known as the Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that childhood trauma has a clear association with an increase in chances of experiencing a cardiovascular event as an adult.
For instance, a person who has been neglected during his childhood period or has experienced child abuse is more likely to have a stroke or heart attack in middle age.
In accordance with the researchers in the new study, this may be due to the fact that extremely abusive childhoods enable a person to make poorer choices related to health or even neglect health and use harmful coping mechanisms when facing a stressful situation in the future.
At the moment, the majority of young adults also choose unhealthy coping mechanisms such as eating out of high-stress levels. Most of the time, the chosen foods are also unhealthy and ultra-processed with high levels of sugar.
Consequently, they have very high chances of developing health conditions such as obesity which then paves the way for heart disease and diabetes type 2.
In addition, an increasing number of young adults have also been noted to pick up the habit of smoking and drinking in order to deal with stress from school and work. Both of these activities are known to be contributing factors in the dangerous health conditions related to the heart.
To investigate further the association between troubled childhoods and a higher risk of heart disease, the researchers examined data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study which included data of a diverse group of young adults from different races, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds.
All of the participants were between the ages of eighteen to thirty. The study took place in four cities including Oakland, CA, Birmingham, AL, Minneapolis, MN, and Chicago, IL.
During the long study period, the researchers looked for factors influencing the physical and mental health of the participants. In addition, participants were also asked to fill questionnaires regarding various aspects of their life such as verbal and physical abuse, management at homes, and the presence of an abusive or alcoholic family member.
In a thirty-year follow-up of the study, it was discovered that participants who suffered from problems at home including childhood trauma, family dysfunction, and neglect were fifty times more likely to develop heart disease than those who did not. The results even applied to those who suffered from moderate abuse at home.
Moreover, it was also found that a number of factors including socioeconomic, demographic, psychological, and clinical further contributed to the risk of having heart disease.
According to the researchers, this shows the need for support and care during childhood. Early interventions can significantly help the child avoid health complications in the future.