Parents' Divorce Triples the Risk of Stroke in Men

Men with divorced parents are three times more likely to suffer a stroke than men with married parents, according to a new study.

The latest findings, published in the International Journal of Stroke, show that while adult men whose parents had divorced before they turned 18 had triple the risk of stroke compared to men whose parents did not divorce; women from divorced families did not have a higher risk of stroke than women from intact families.

"It is particularly perplexing in light of the fact we excluded from our study individuals who had been exposed to any form of family violence or parental addictions. We had anticipated that the association between the childhood experience of parental divorce and stroke may have been due to other factors such as riskier health behaviors or lower socioeconomic status among men whose parents had divorced," co-author Angela Dalton of the University of Toronto said in a statement.

Even after taking into account other known risk factors like depression, anxiety, riskier health behaviors, lower socioeconomic status, age, race and social support, parental divorce was still associated with a threefold risk of stroke among males, according to researchers.

Researchers are unsure as to why the chances of having a stroke are tripled in men coming from broken families, but they suspect that the link might have something to do with the stress hormone cortisol.

Previous studies found that compared to women, men experienced more heightened cortisol reactions to stress. Scientists found that adverse childhood events associated with changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), through which cortisol is produced in men but not women.

"This theory proposes that early adversities may affect health across the lifespan by influencing the normal development of the (HPA) axis. Exposure to early life stress may lead to irregularities in the HPA axis and heighten stress sensitivity into adulthood," the study authors wrote.

Another explanation could be that losing a father could be bad for health. Researchers said that while divorced men in younger generations have more contact with their children, it has not always been the case.  

"Our hypothesis is that it may be the way sons react to the loss of their fathers . . . Men often had very minimal contact with their children after that," Fuller-Thomson said, according to Metro News.

"Dads may be very good for your long-term health," she added.

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