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Supportive relationships may reverse health effects of childhood abuse

  Having supportive relationships in mid-life can counteract some adverse health risks - including premature death - caused by childhood abuse, a study has found. “This is one of the first studies to provide evidence suggesting that experiences long after exposure to abuse can mitigate the mortality risks associated with early abuse,” said Jessica Chiang, postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University in the US. Given the serious health consequences of childhood abuse later in life, such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers, researchers wanted to examine whether there’s anything that can be done to compensate or reverse these effects.“Many of the diseases associated with childhood abuse typically emerge in middle and later stages of adulthood -decades after the abuse actually occurred,” said Chiang, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
“We were curious as to whether social support during this ‘incubation’ period or interim could offset health risks associated with much earlier experiences of abuse,” she said. Using a sample of more than 6,000 adults in the US, the researchers examined whether adults self-reported social support decreased mortality risk associated with self-reported exposure to three types of childhood abuse: severe physical abuse, modest physical abuse and emotional abuse.Social support was associated with a lower mortality risk, which the researchers expected given prior research.
“The magnitude of the reduction in mortality risk associated with mid-life social support differed between the individuals who reported childhood abuse and those who reported minimal or no childhood abuse,” Chiang said.
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