USA Today: Violence ages children's DNA, shortens their chromosomes
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Conventional wisdom says that hardship can make us old before our time.
In fact, a new study suggests that violence leaves long-term scars on children's bodies — not just in bruises on the skin, but also altering their DNA, causing changes that are equivalent to seven to 10 years of premature aging.
Scientists measured this cellular aging by studying the ends of children's chromosomes, called telomeres, according to Idan Shalev, lead author of a study in today's Molecular Psychiatry.
Telomeres are special DNA sequences that act like the plastic tips on shoelaces, which prevent the DNA in chromosomes from unraveling. They get shorter each time a cell divides, until a cell can't divide anymore and it dies.
Several factors have been found to shorten telomeres, including smoking, radiation and psychological stresses such as early life maltreatment and taking care of a chronically ill person.
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