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Parental Divorce Affects Boys' Health Later In Life


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Adult men who had their parents divorced before they turned 18 are at a significantly higher risk of suffering a stroke when compared to men whose parents stayed married, claim scientists from the University of Toronto.

The new research found that boys whose parents divorced appear to be three times more likely to have a stroke later in life, but girls from divorced families are not at an increased risk of stroke when compared to those from intact families. The conclusion is based on data collected from about 10,000 men and women in the United States who took part in a national survey in 2010. Of the 4,047 male participants, 165 reported that they had suffered a stroke.

According to Angela Dalton, who co-authored the study, the scientists had anticipated that the connection between the childhood experience of parental divorce and suffering a stroke at a later time may have been due to other factors, including lower socioeconomic status and unhealthy lifestyle among males whose parents went through divorce. Researchers, therefore, analyzed the most of the known risk factors for stroke, such as smoking habits, alcohol consumption, exercise, obesity, age, race, income and levels of education, as well as mental health status and health insurance coverage. And even after all these adjustments and considerations, they came to the conclusion that parental divorce was still linked to a threefold risk of stroke among men.

The strong association between parental divorce and triple risk of stroke that has been found for men is very disturbing and concerning, said a principal author of the research, Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor of social work and department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto. Unfortunately, the scientists cannot provide exact explanations to such a phenomenon, but one possibility could be in the body's regulation of a hormone cortisol which is associated with stress.

Previous research on the matter revealed that when compared to women, men experienced much stronger cortisol reactions when under stress. The experts found that adverse childhood events were linked to changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), through which cortisol is produced in males but not females.

Dr. Fuller-Thomson explained that the increased risk of suffering stroke could be connected to a process known as biological embedding. The scientist assumes that exposure to stress associated with divorce in the family may have biological implications that alter the way the boys react to stressful situations for the rest of their lives. Another possibility could be that losing a father at a young age could be bad for a boy's health. Researchers explained that while divorced men in modern society have more contact with their kids, it has not always been the case.

According to Dr. Fuller-Thomson, eventually, the results of his research could potentially affect current stroke education policy. He said that it is very important if many other scientists and experts replicate findings from this study in other investigations, and then perhaps health professionals will include information on a patient's parental divorce status in order to 'improve targeting of stroke prevention education.'

The findings of the research are published in the International Journal of Stroke.

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