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06 June 2017

Divorce may weaken kids' immunity

More and more children come from 'broken homes', and a divorce can raise a child's risk of catching colds in adulthood.

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Even though parents do what they can to shield their children against the trauma of divorce, kids often feel as if their world is falling apart.

According to a Health24 article, marital problems can create serious instability in the family and feelings of insecurity in the child.

Adding to the problem of instability in South Africa, fewer people are getting married than 10 years ago, female divorcées are getting older and men are more likely to remarry multiple times.

An unfriendly divorce can raise a child's risk of catching colds in adulthood, a new study suggests.

Poor health and chronic illness

"Early life stressful experiences do something to our physiology and inflammatory processes that increase risk for poorer health and chronic illness," explained researcher Michael Murphy of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This work is a step forward in our understanding of how family stress during childhood may influence a child's susceptibility to disease 20–40 years later," Murphy said in a university news release. He's a psychology postdoctoral research associate.

Common cold virus

The study found that children whose parents separate and don't speak are at increased risk for colds as adults.

Previous research has shown that adults who experience the split of parents during childhood are at increased risk for poorer health. The authors of this new study believe their work may help explain why that's so.

The study included more than 200 healthy adults exposed to a common cold virus. Those whose parents lived apart and didn't talk to each other during the participant's childhood were more than three times more likely to develop a cold than those whose parents remained together.

No cause-and-effect relationship

While the study only found an association and not a cause-and-effect link, one reason suggested by the researchers for the increased risk of a cold was heightened inflammation in response to viral infection.

Meanwhile, the researchers found that adults whose parents separated during childhood but remained in contact were not at increased risk of catching a cold.

"Our results target the immune system as an important carrier of the long-term negative impact of early family conflict," said Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon.

"They also suggest that all divorces are not equal," Cohen said.

Continued communication between parents and support system for the children buffers the harmful effects that separation has on the health of the children, he added.

Read more:

Sleepovers with dad a good thing after divorce

Divorce can increase psychosomatic symptoms in teens

Divorce harder for kids from wealthy homes

 
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