A new study discovers an increased risk for coronary artery disease and diabetes among middle-aged women who were physically abused as a child.
In this group, women were found to have double the risk for high blood pressure, have high blood sugar, poor cholesterol levels, and a larger waistline than other women their age.
The symptoms suggest a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome which, according to previous research, places them at an increased risk of developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Researchers determined that the relationship between physical abuse and the cluster of symptoms that constitute metabolic syndrome persisted beyond traditional risk factors.
This finding implicates childhood physical abuse as a factor toward development of the compromised cardiovascular health status in women.
Researchers say this is the first study to show that a history of childhood physical abuse is related to the development of metabolic syndrome in women at mid-life, according to the authors.
“Our research shows us that childhood abuse can have long-lasting consequences, even decades later, on women’s health and is related to more health problems down the road,” said study co-author Aimee Midei, MS, from the University of Pittsburgh.
Researchers followed 342 women, 113 black and the remainder white, from the Pittsburgh area. Study participants were between the ages of 42 and 52 when the study began.
Each completed a childhood trauma questionnaire that assessed past physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Approximately 34 percent of the participants reported experiencing some type of childhood abuse.
Metabolic syndrome was identified by measuring the women’s waist circumference, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and fasting glucose levels annually during the seven-year study.
Other traditional risk factors for metabolic syndrome were also assessed, such as smoking, physical activity, menopause, alcohol use, depressive symptoms and childhood and adult socioeconomic status. At baseline, 60 women were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and 59 more were identified over the course of the study.
Researchers discovered a strong link between physical abuse and metabolic syndrome, even after controlling for ethnicity, age, menopause and other traditional risk factors.
Interestingly, sexual abuse and emotional abuse were unrelated to metabolic syndrome, in the current study.
A more detailed examination of the finding revealed that physical abuse was particularly associated with larger waist circumference and fasting glucose, both of which are precursors to Type 2 diabetes.
“It’s possible that women with histories of physical abuse engage in unhealthy eating behaviors or have poor stress regulation,” said Midei.
“It appears that psychology plays a role in physical health even when we’re talking about traumatic incidents that happened when these women were children.”
The study is found online in the journal Health Psychology.