Cold or unsupportive parenting styles may have several negative health implications for children, even into their adult years, according to a new study by researchers at Loma Linda University Health in California.
The findings reveal that the telomeres — protective caps on the ends of the strands of DNA — of participants who considered their mothers’ parenting style as “cold” were on average 25% smaller compared to those who reported having a mother whose parenting style they considered “warm.”
The link between cold parenting and telomere length was strongest among people with lower education and those who were overweight/obese.
Previous studies have shown that early-life stress is linked to shorter telomeres, a measurable biomarker of accelerated cellular aging and increased disease risk later in life.
“Telomeres have been called a genetic clock, but we now know that as early life stress increases, telomeres shorten and the risk of a host of diseases increases, as well as premature death,” said Raymond Knutsen, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Public Health.
“We know that each time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten, which shortens its lifespan.”
Furthermore, mutations in genes maintaining telomeres cause a group of rare diseases resembling premature aging. “However, we know that some cells in the body produce an enzyme called telomerase, which can rebuild these telomeres,” Knutsen said.
The study used data from 200 participants who were enrolled in two group studies of Seventh-day Adventist men and women: the Adventist Health Study-1 (AHS-1) with 34,000 Californians in 1976 and the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2) with 96,000 subjects from the United States and Canada in 2002-2007.
The research took a closer look at the impact parenting style has on telomere succession. “The way someone is raised seems to tell a story that is intertwined with their genetics,” Knutsen said.
The researchers also looked at the impact education and body mass index (BMI) may have on the link between cold parenting and telomere length.
“The association with parenting style was greatest among those with less education and those who stayed overweight/obese or put on weight during follow-up, suggesting both higher education and normal BMI may provide some resilience against cold parenting and cellular aging,” the study stated.
The study, titled “Cold parenting is associated with cellular aging in offspring: A retrospective study,” is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.