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Adverse Childhood Experiences Linked to Adult Chronic Disease

by Jaime A. Heidel
See all TBYIL articles by Jaime A. Heidel

(The Best Years in Life) Do you suffer from chronic illness? If so, you certainly have plenty of company. According to The National Institutes of Health, up to 23.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. The Institute of Medicine of The National Academies estimates up to 100 millions Americans struggle with some type of chronic pain condition. Oftentimes, the two overlap.

Whether you're following a conventional method of treatment, are going the alternative route, or use a combination of both, you may have found varying degrees of relief. But there's something going on that just doesn't seem to allow your condition to go into remission the way you want it to.

 No matter how "good" you are, the disease is still there, following you around like a shadow just waiting for you to let down your guard.

So what's the missing link?

It could be traumatic experiences from your childhood.

Maybe your childhood isn't something you really remember or even want to recall. Perhaps it was such a trying time for you, you're now living with anxiety, depression or PTSD. Or, on the other hand, your childhood was mostly drama-free but there was one incident (a death of a loved one, a house fire, etc.) that affected you deeply.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is an ongoing study that started 25 years ago. It measures the effect of traumatic childhood experiences on the immune system. According to the study, two-thirds of the world's population has an ACE score of at least 1. Those who score a 4 or higher on the scale are 86% more likely to develop a chronic disease in adulthood


Chronic Diseases Linked to Adverse Childhood Experiences

It is truly amazing how resilient children are. It seems no matter what struggles they endure during their formative years, their growing, neuroplastic brains are able to compensate for their surroundings and protect them from whatever onslaught they may have to face.

Unfortunately, these coping mechanisms can have negative affects into adulthood. The brain is re-wired for chronic stress, which, in turn, causes hormonal imbalance and immune abnormalities.

Compounding this is the strong likelihood that the child who endured will grow up to be the adult who is a workaholic, perfectionist, alcoholic, binge eater or drug addict. This creates a perfect storm for the development of chronic disease.

Even if there is no drug or alcohol abuse and the diet is relatively healthy, childhood trauma puts the body into a constant state of fight-or-flight, which is more than enough to trigger the immune system into attacking healthy tissue.

The most common health problems associated with adverse childhood experiences are:

1.      Autoimmune Disease

A research study published by Carnegie Mellon University proved that chronic psychological stress interferes with the body's ability to regulate its own natural inflammatory response. This means the development of conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, lupus, and thyroid disease could be caused, at least in part, by adverse childhood experiences.

2.      Food and Environmental Allergies 

When your immune system is in overdrive, everyday stimuli becomes suspect and intolerable to it. Pollen, pet dander, hay, and certain foods cause the immune system to go on the attack, resulting in strong reactions like gastrointestinal distress, rash outbreaks, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and, in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. It's as though the body is completely rejecting its own environment.

3.      Cardiovascular Disease

A study published by the Journal of Hypertension used the ACE study to research the connection between traumatic childhood events and cardiovascular disease. The study measured 221 healthy adolescents and adults for blood pressure, heart output of blood, and levels of endothelin-1, a protein responsible for constricting blood vessels, thus increasing blood pressure.

Endothelin-1 levels appeared to be affected most by childhood trauma. Participants who have experienced at least one traumatic event in childhood had endothelin-1 levels that were 18 percent higher than adults who reported no trauma. Those who endured two or more traumatic events had a 24 percent increase in this protein.

4.      Mental Illness

From the Journal of Psychiatry (Edgmont):

"Trauma appears to be a specific psychosocial variable that potentially heightens an individual’s emotional response to the external environment."

The development of a mental illness after trauma, therefore, has to do with the brain being re-wired. This is a real physiological response to extreme stress, not a sign of weakness or something someone can easily "get over". 

5.      Developmental Delays

Developmental delays are often attributed to children but the effects of them can last throughout adulthood and have a significant impact on social and professional life. Mild autism, Asperger's syndrome (now defunct in the medical books but still relevant for many), and traumatic brain injury can cause behavioral abnormalities that make function in everyday life a challenge.

Autobiographical Writing as a Healing Tool for Childhood Trauma

In her book, Dying to Live – Running Backwards Through Cancer, Lupus and Chronic Illness, author, Amy Susan Crohn offers a detailed account of her own adverse childhood experiences and how discovering the ACE study helped her to gain a unique perspective on her own chronic health conditions.

A quote from her book:

"If, in truth, the reason my tumor was centered in my heart was because my heart was so cut off from unconditional love that it put layers upon layers upon layers of armor on itself for protection, perhaps it was my time to implode."

This may sound like a spiritual statement but the science behind it is quickly beginning to catch up.  

Part of the healing process of the ACE study is autobiographical journaling. Writing about the traumatic experiences helps the writer delve deep within to find long-buried sources of pain and release them into the open.

Even if the journals never see the light of day, this technique, coupled with a healing diet and supplements, could help reverse the effects of this trauma and help the adult survivor finally experience a new level of recovery. 

More Options for Healing from Childhood Trauma in Your Adult Life

It can be very difficult to look back on events you would rather not think about. However, if you aren't willing to deal with them, they will deal with you. If you have a chronic condition, they already are. Those emotions need to find release somewhere and the pain and fatigue you feel is their only outlet.

Find time to journal, join a support group, even if it's just online to start, talk with a therapist and reconnect with your spiritual side. Once you do this, the natural treatments you're using now will work more in harmony with your body and the conventional ones causing all those side effects may no longer be necessary.

See also:

How to Build Self Confidence in Your Children

Teaching Children Gardening Boosts Their Development and Health

For more information:

About the author:

Jaime is a professional freelance writer with a passion for natural health and wellness. Her website, I Told You I Was Sick, was created to help those living with chronic pain and illness find natural ways to heal.




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