Receiving consistent warmth from a caregiver during childhood protects heart health later in life, according to a new study.

Previous research has established that childhood experience with abuse, neglect, and substance use in the home can worsen a person’s heart health throughout their life.

The findings of the new study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, are the first to frame adversity and protective factors across a large group when it comes to cardiovascular health over time, the researchers say.

Given that cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in the United States, with Black adults more than twice as likely to die from CVD than white adults, the study cohort included individuals identifying as Black and white.

“We know that mitigating risk factors for cardiovascular disease must begin in childhood,” says lead author Robin Ortiz, professor in the pediatrics and population health department at New York University Langone.

“At the same time, our findings show that adversity in early childhood does not equal destiny. While adverse childhood family environments were associated with lower odds of cardiovascular health in adulthood, our findings suggest that supportive and, importantly, stable caregiving may have a stronger influence on later heart health than early adversity.”

The team of researchers analyzed a sample of more than 2,000 enrollees in the CARDIA study, a long-term study of cardiovascular disease risk beginning in young adulthood which has been following more than 5,000 Black and white adults for over 35 years to help researchers understand which early life factors raise the risk of CVD later in life.

The investigators analyzed data from this group at baseline, at which time the cohort averaged 25 years of age, and data that followed up at seven and 20 year intervals. Using scales measuring adversity in childhood including child abuse and caregiver warmth, they found that each additional unit score of overall family environment adversity and then child abuse specifically, was associated with a 3.6% and 12.8% lower odds of ideal cardiovascular health (CVH), respectively, while each additional unit score of caregiver warmth, specifically, was associated with 11.7% higher odds of cardiovascular health. CVH score was rated according to a scale of seven health metrics defined by the American Heart Association, including diet, smoking, physical activity, weight, lipids, blood pressure, and fasting glucose.

Read the full article about caregiving by Sasha Walek at Futurity.