A disturbing new study finds that men with divorced parents have a significantly higher risk of suffering a stroke than men from intact families.
University of Toronto researchers found that adult men who had experienced parental divorce before they turned 18 are three times more likely to suffer a stroke than men whose parents did not divorce.
Women from divorced families did not have a higher risk of stroke than women from intact families.
The study will be published in the International Journal of Stroke.
“The strong association we found for males between parental divorce and stroke is extremely concerning,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Ph.D.
“It is particularly perplexing in light of the fact we excluded from our study individuals who had been exposed to any form of family violence or parental addictions. We had anticipated that the association between the childhood experience of parental divorce and stroke may have been due to other factors such as riskier health behaviors or lower socioeconomic status among men whose parents had divorced,” said University of Toronto recent graduate and co-author Angela Dalton.
“However, we controlled statistically for most of the known risk factors for stroke, including age, race, income and education, adult health behaviors (smoking, exercise, obesity, and alcohol use) social support, mental health status and health care coverage.
“Even after these adjustments, parental divorce was still associated with a threefold risk of stroke among males.”
The study is observation meaning that cause and effect cannot be determined. That is, researchers cannot prove that divorced parents influenced the higher risk of stroke among men.
Nevertheless, the study will undoubtedly lead to investigational studies to ascertain if a unique factor in men is related to stroke.
One possibility lies in the body’s regulation of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.
Fuller-Thomson said the elevated rate of stroke could be linked to a process known as biological embedding.
“It is possible that exposure to the stress of parental divorce may have biological implications that change the way these boys react to stress for the rest of their lives,” she said.
As with all scientific research, it is essential for many researchers to replicate findings from this study in prospective studies before it is safe to draw any conclusions about causality. Fuller-Thomson said that eventually, the results of this study could potentially affect current stroke education policy.
“If these findings are replicated in other studies,” she said, “then perhaps health professionals will include information on a patient’s parental divorce status to improve targeting of stroke prevention education.”
Internationally, stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases account for 10 percent of deaths, making stroke the second leading cause of death.
Source: University of Toronto