Children whose parents remain on good terms after breaking up are less likely to suffer serious illnesses when they grow up.
Researchers say children’s immune systems are damaged by the stress of a broken family and there are rising rates of asthma and heart disease seen in children who were caught in divorce.
Sadly though divorce should not make any difference, the study found children of amicable separations had no greater risk of catching a cold for instance than those whose parents remained together.
Divorce can trigger eating disorders including bulimia and anorexia and damage your immune system.
More than 100,000 people a year divorce in England and Wales, around half of whom have at least one child.
Michael Murphy, lead author of the US study, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, said: ‘Early-life stressful experiences do something to our physiology and inflammatory processes that increase risk for poorer health and chronic illness.
‘This work is a step forward in our understanding of how family stress during childhood may influence a child’s susceptibility to disease 20 to 40 years later.’
For the study, 201 healthy adults were put in a hotel and given nasal drops containing rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. They were then monitored for respiratory illness.
Of the group, 109 had parents who stayed together. Forty-one separated but stayed on speaking terms, and 51 were children whose parents never spoke again after separating. 149 participants showed signs of infection, and 60 developed a full blown cold.
Results revealed adults whose parents cut each other out of their lives were more than three times as likely to develop an illness. However those whose parents talked showed no increase in risk.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that extreme childhood stress changes the response to the impending illness.
It may also cause inflammation, asthma, cancer and heart disease – all previously reported at higher rates in children of separation.
The study says: ‘Parents who are not on speaking terms might be more prone to recruit the child to serve as an intermediary or attempt to get the child to take sides against the other parent.
‘These behaviours in turn are associated with increased distress and poorer adjustment among youth.’
Previous research showed adults who went through their parents acrimonious divorce were more likely to suffer depression, mental illness and bad adult relationships.