Now another reason why divorcing parents should minimize fighting – it’s bad for your kids’ health. No, not just their emotional health – we knew that – but stress affects your kids’ immune systems too and could create increases in asthma and eczema.
According to a story by Jane Collingwood at PsychCentral, research in Germany at Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research discovered that stressful events during childhood are increasingly suspected of playing a role in the later development of asthma, allergic skin disorders, and allergic “sensitizations.”
The researchers took blood samples from 234 6-year-old children participating in the ongoing LISA (Life style-Immune System-Allergy) study. The blood was tested to measure levels of a stress-related neuropeptide called VIP and immune markers, such as the cytokine IL-4, related to allergic reactions.
Children with separated or divorced parents showed particularly high VIP levels and immune markers, as did those who had moved. However, severe disease, parental unemployment or death of a family member led to “no remarkable changes.”
As lead researcher Gunda Herberth told Collingwood, “As tragic as these events are, they are obviously of less significance for the stress reactions of children than for example a separation or the divorce of parents.”
The study is in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.
The link between stress and the immune system has always been suspected — common sense — but science is only now beginning to tease out risk factors.
Another study supports these recent findings. Parental stress can raise the risk of wheezing among children with no family history of asthma.
A team from the University of Southern California, who gathered information on 2,888 children, found the effect was particularly evident among boys. The experts say their results, which highlight “the influence of psychosocial factors on asthma, such as stress and social environment,” deserve increased attention.
The German researchers also discovered links with the skin disease eczema. They set out to investigate the various lifestyle factors that are associated with the risk of eczema. Some previous studies suggest that stress increases the risk, but few have investigated early stressful life events and eczema in children. The German team also associated the risk of eczema among children who have lived through divorce.
The researchers asked parents of children in the LISA study group for information on the children’s life events, and whether they had suffered from eczema. Overall, one in five of the children had developed eczema by age four.
Analysis showed that divorce or separation of parents was associated with a “significantly increased incidence of eczema for the subsequent two years of life.” The findings appear in the journal Allergy.
It should be said that children may avoid some of these risks by receiving psychological support. A team from University College, London, analyzed eight studies testing a range of approaches such as aromatherapy, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and stress management programs for children.
Their study found that reducing psychological stress helped reduce the severity of eczema symptoms.
That conclusion is fairly obvious. If parents act responsibly, and co-parent with respect, their children can be quite adaptive. Many studies show that children of divorce ease into adulthood without serious scars if their parents created supportive, loving environments without putting their child in the middle of their disagreements.
This doesn’t mean that there are not tears, frustrations and lifestyle changes while navigating divorce. But parents must muster the strength to be the adults in the family and try to shield their children from arguments. Their innocence must be protected.
It is good not only for their mental health — but now their physical health as well.
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