A research survey involving over 13,000 Canadians found an association between being a child of divorce and an increased risk of stroke. The researchers pointed out they are not saying divorce causes stroke in children. They were trying to figure out why, after controlling for various factors, they found a higher risk of stroke for that group.
They also said they were observing strokes in people who today are between sixty and eighty years old, so divorce of their parents would have happened decades ago when the emotional and cultural impact was different. So today the impact of stroke on children of divorce might be less.
Their speculation is that there could be a physical impact of divorce on children. Dr. Kirk Garrat said, “So what’s worth looking at is not the socially charged issue of divorce itself, but rather what is the unique social trauma that might come along with divorce that perhaps alters something physiologically in children of divorce. And that could prove to give some direction to studies of stress, and how stress can cause real physical harm.” (Source: Businessweek.com)
The Adverse Childhood Experiences study conducted with about 19,000 consenting adults in San Diego, California found a relationship between stressful family experiences in childhood and chronic illness in adulthood. A strong relationship was seen between the number of adverse experiences and self-reports of cigarette smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide attempts, sexual promiscuity, and sexually transmitted diseases. The more adverse experiences a child had, the more likely it was they would have cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, skeletal fractures, liver disease, and general poor health.
It isn’t clear if the Canadian researchers were aware of the study in the United States which was published in 1998. (The Time article about the study says the link between divorce and stroke is new, but not according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences research.)
A problem with the Canadian study is they they could not account for some of the potential causes of stroke such as heredity. The children of parents who divorce undoubtedly would be influenced by the genetics of their parents, so not being able to account for such an important aspect of their physiology clearly is a hole, and one that is acknowledged, “There are several potential mediators we could not investigate in this study,” she says, “including diet, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, family history of stroke, childhood socioeconomic status.” (Source: Time.com)
The American study seems to give a nod to a possible connection between lifestyle choices and being a child of divorce. In other words, drinking alcohol, smoking, sedentariness, and overeating as a way of self-medicating for emotional pain, anxiety or depression would increase the risk of stroke. The Canadian researchers, to their credit, did say their study is just a first step toward trying to investigate a possible connection between stroke and a childhood situation that is generally stressful.
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