Abused children, damaged DNA

Children who grow up in a violent or severely disadvantaged environment show changes in their genetic makeup (DNA) that increase the risk of various diseases. Our health depends on our genetic heritage, but also, and extremely importantly, on the environment to which we expose our genes, an environment that epigenetically modulates the probability that these genes are expressed or repressed. Chronic diseases and premature aging are the result of this interaction.

Some children have the misfortune to grow up in a disadvantaged emotional and social environment that hinders their development. Compared to those who live within a stable family nucleus, children who have to face major hardships in the first years of their life are much more at risk of dropping out of school, of juvenile delinquency and of having a level of life below average once they reach adulthood.

“Abused children, damaged DNA”

At the same time, a large number of studies have clearly shown that these difficult family contexts are also associated with a significant decrease in the state of health of these people as well as a marked reduction in their life expectancy.

A difficult childhood creates a climate of stress and instability that goes completely against the physical and intellectual needs of children, which can have serious consequences on their future life, both from a socio-economic point of view and from a social point of view. health.

Stress decreases telomere size in children

The stress experienced by children can become particularly high when they have to face difficult events such as extreme poverty, domestic violence, drug addiction or the suicide of a parent.

We then speak of toxic stress, far too intense to be adequately managed by our biological systems, and which has disastrous consequences for the physical and psychological well-being of children.

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According to two studies published in the scientific literature, such a level of stress would even have negative repercussions on the telomeres, structures located at the ends of our chromosomes and which serve to protect the DNA.

For example, a team of scientists observed that 9-year-old boys who live in a very difficult family environment have 19% shorter telomeres than those who are lucky enough to grow up in a privileged environment.

A similar association was also observed in children aged 5 to 15 who had to deal with a violent family environment, this negative impact being particularly pronounced for young girls.

Since the gradual loss of telomeres is a key factor in the aging of our body and the appearance of various diseases, the presence of short telomeres in these children reflects the extent to which the stress they experience can have negative repercussions on their health. future.

A non-definitive process

The rapidity with which children’s genetic material can be altered in response to a harsh environment indicates that prompt intervention is essential to reduce the damage caused by these stressful conditions.

The most recent discoveries on telomeres fortunately show that the process of telomere reduction is not irremediable and that they can lengthen in an emotional, health and nutritional environment conducive to finally join the average curve of individuals who have lived in stable and healthy universe.


Shonkoff JPEGA et al. (2012) The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics; 129: e232–e246.

Mitchell C et al. Social disadvantage, genetic sensitivity, and children’s telomere length. Proc Natl Acad Sci US A. 2014; 111:5944-9.

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Drury SS et al. The association of telomere length with family violence and disruption. Pediatrics; 134: e128-37.

* The information and services available on pressesante.com in no way replace the consultation of competent health professionals. [HighProtein-Foods.com]

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