It goes without saying that violence has a negative impact on children—but a new study suggests that it can actually age their DNA by as much as seven to 10 years. Researchers examined children's telomeres—DNA sequences found at the ends of chromosomes that keep the chromosomes from unraveling—and found that they shortened more quickly in children who had been exposed to two or more types of violence, including witnessing domestic violence, being physically abused, or being bullied.
What else can shorten telomeres? Nature (they naturally shorten each time a cell divides; once the cell can't divide further, it dies), smoking, radiation, and stress, USA Today reports. As a result of prematurely shortened telomeres, children could grow up to experience heart attacks, memory loss, or other age-related conditions as many as seven to 10 years before their peers, scientists say. But there is a glimmer of hope: Improved nutrition, exercise, and less stress can, in rare cases, cause telomeres to grow.