LOMA LINDA, Calif. — People who were raised by emotionally-closed or unsupportive mothers are more prone to premature aging and disease later in life, a new study finds.
Researchers from Loma Linda University say that individuals who describe their mothers’ parenting style as “cold” have shorter telomeres — the protective caps at the end of DNA strands which are likened to shoelace string ends — than those who described their mothers as “warm.”
“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,” says lead author Dr. Raymond Knutsen, an associate professor for the university’s School of Public Health, in a statement. “We know that each time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten, which shortens its lifespan.”
For the study, Knutsen and his team pulled data on 199 individuals who took part in two studies of Seventh-day Adventist men and women in the U.S. and Canada between 2002 and 2007. Using measurements of participants’ telomeres and surveys about their upbringing, researchers found those who reported having cold mothers had telomeres about 25% shorter on average. People who had higher education levels or maintained a healthy weight were less likely to be affected.
“The way someone is raised seems to tell a story that is intertwined with their genetics,” says Knutsen said.
A father’s parenting style had a much smaller effect, not significant enough to impact telomere length, the authors say.
The study is published in the journal Biological Psychology.