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Domestic Violence Leaves its Imprint on Children's DNA: Study

Jun 20, 2014 08:04 AM EDT

Witnessing violence at home is known to cause severe mental trauma in children. A new study suggests that domestic abuse could even scar children's DNA.

Around one in ten children in the U.S suffers from domestic violence, with a majority of these children being six years old or less. Research has shown that a majority of children living in these homes have high chances of being abused or neglected.

Researchers at the Tulane University School of Medicine found that children who lived in homes affected by domestic violence, suicide or incarceration of a family member, had shorter telomeres than their peers. Telomeres are the protective caps of chromosomes. Short telomeres are associated with poor physical health and decrease in lifespan.

The study was based on genetic samples of 80 children between the age group of 5-15 years. These children lived in New Orleans. Researchers also interviewed participants' parents about their home environment.

Researchers found that girls were more affected by adverse events than boys. Another surprising finding was that mothers' education was an important protective factor against genetic changes caused by domestic violence.

"Family-level stressors, such as witnessing a family member get hurt, created an environment that affected the DNA within the cells of the children," said lead author Dr. Stacy Drury, director of the Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Laboratory at Tulane, according to a news release. "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."

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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