Childhood abuse may increase cholesterol, diabetes risk in some adults

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Scientists from Emory University found that adults who reported experiencing abuse during childhood could have a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

The findings demonstrate how the negative and positive experiences we have in childhood can have long-term cardiovascular consequences in adulthood.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association and was conducted by Liliana Aguayo et al.

The risks for heart disease and stroke develop over a lifetime and can begin as early as childhood.

Previous research found that physical and psychological abuse, along with other negative childhood experiences, could increase the risks for obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

This new study looked at whether positive relationships during childhood could offset the higher cardiovascular risks associated with abuse.

In the study, the team used data from 5,115 adults who were 18 to 30 years old and living in Chicago; Minneapolis; Birmingham, Alabama; or Oakland, California, in the mid-1980s.

Roughly 30% of those in the study said they experienced occasional or frequent abuse and 20% said they were sometimes abused.

Among those who reported childhood abuse, the risk for Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol – but not for obesity and high blood pressure – increased. Yet it varied by gender and race.

The team found the risk of high cholesterol was 26% higher in white women and 35% higher in white men who reported low levels of childhood abuse compared to their peers who were not abused.

White men also were 81% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if they experienced occasional or frequent abuse.

However, positive engagement with family members appeared to offset the cardiovascular risks associated with childhood abuse.

Black men and white women who experienced abuse and lacked that engagement were 3.5 times more likely to develop high cholesterol. But that risk diminished as family engagement increased.

Black women who experienced childhood abuse did not see any corresponding increase in cholesterol risk.

The team says further research is needed to better understand the potential mechanisms linking childhood abuse to higher heart disease risk factors, and the race and sex differences that may also play a role.

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