Ultimately, the researchers determined none of these variables explained the bottom-line finding: that children of divorce seem to bear an approximately 2.2 times higher risk for lifetime stroke.
"This needs to be replicated several times to make sure there really is this relationship," cautioned Fuller-Thomson. "But if this holds up, one possible explanation is that adverse child experiences may become physically embedded in the way you react to stresses later on in life, particularly in terms of dysfunctions in cortisol levels, which is what's involved in the fight-or-flight mechanism. It's possible. But that's just a hypothesis at this point," she added.
"But the other important thing to note is that even if divorce is proved to cause stroke, many of these people who we looked at who are having stroke are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s," she noted. "That means they experienced divorce in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, when the consequences and context for divorce were quite different. So we can't take their experience and project into the future, since it's very different to be a child of divorce today. So this is novel and interesting, but people really should not go into panic mode over it."
Meanwhile, Dr. Kirk Garratt, clinical director of interventional cardiovascular research at Lenox Hill Hospital within the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Systems in New York City, agreed that it is premature to draw any conclusions based on the finding.
"But it certainly stimulates a discussion, because we would want to understand what actual mechanisms underpin this, particularly since divorce itself is probably not a modifiable risk factor. Meaning, you're not going to tell people they can't divorce because they're going to give their child a stroke," he explained.
"So what's worth looking at is not the socially charged issue of divorce itself," Garratt said, "but rather what is the unique social trauma that might come a
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