Heart disease may have its origins quite early in life and may not have anything to do with lifestyle factors but rather with adverse childhood experiences. Researchers at the University of Toronto discovered that physical abuse during childhood can result in poor heart health later in life.
Previous studies have shown that childhood abuse leads to poor health outcomes in adulthood. This study found a strong link between child abuse and heart disease that persisted even after controlling for other adverse childhood experiences such as parental addictions or socioeconomic factors such as income and education level, lifestyle factors smoking, obesity and physical activity, and chronic conditions such as diabetes, self-reported stress hypertension and mood disorders.
According to Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson of the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Department of Family and Community Medicine:
“Individuals who reported they had been physically abused as children had 45 per cent higher odds of heart disease than their peers who had not been abused, despite the fact we had adjusted for most of the known risk factors for heart disease.”
Their results were based on a 2005 representative community survey conducted in two Canadian provinces of 13,000 respondents. The survey showed that 7% of the respondents had been physically abused as children and 4% had been diagnosed with heart disease.
The findings indicate a link between psychological and physical health but the mechanisms behind the link are not fully understood. According to co-author John Frank, director of Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy:
“Like many previous studies linking early life characteristics and experiences with late life serious disease, this study does not explain precisely how such links operate, biologically; further research will be required to understand that process.”
The results indicate a need for more intensive management of cardiovascular risk factors among those with a history of childhood abuse.