Childhood trauma (ACEs) and chronic illness

AntiRecognizing, understanding and reversing the ongoing patterns that develop from early developmental challenges or trauma may be crucial for resolving major health syndromes like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines and autoimmune disease.  
The ACE study: how Adverse Childhood Experiences can predispose us to later health challenges: seminal talk by Dr. Vincent Felitti: .   The ACE study is ongoing collaborative research between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA, and Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, CA. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides access to the peer-reviewed publications resulting from The ACE Study.

ANTIDOTES TO ACEs . . .  Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of The Autoimmune Epidemic – Bodies Gone Haywire in a World out of Balance and the Cutting Edge Science that Promises Hope, discovered this link for herself. She wrote The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life in 2013 describing the unseen link between early adverse experiences (Adverse Childhood Experiences – ACEs) and autoimmune disease. She explores the therapies that gave her ways out of the immune, neurological, behavioral and emotional binds she, like many of us, found herself in.

In 2015, her book Childhood Disrupted: How Your Body Becomes Your Biology and How you Can Heal, further explores these issues and the science behind the healing modalities she describes.    “As both a science journalist and someone struggling with serious health issues, Donna Jackson Nakazawa offers clarity, heart, and hope for recovery and well-being. Funny, fast-moving, honest, insightful, and always helpful, her story of her journey to wellness brings together mind and body, East and West, solid research and the upper reaches of human potential.”  –Rick Hanson, Ph.D., author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

• The Adverse Childhood Experiences score calculator:  ACE_Score_Calculator will let us know if extremely challenging or traumatic early difficulties may have disrupted the coordination of immune, endocrine, nervous, cardiovascular and digestive systems.  These can be improved, though it may take a longer course of treatment. Understanding this at the outset can provide appropriate expectations for the depth of work that may be involved. It is never to late to reclaim our inherent capacity for self-regulation and healing.

   • Not all of us have the kinds of major childhood disruptions that show up on the original ACE score calculator.  Dr. Felliti has acknowledged that his screening tool will only identify the “tip of the iceberg”. So I took each question from the ACE score calculator and reworded it in terms of early developmental  and attachment disruption.  Ace D-A score calculator – draft. This calculator helps identify the other face of Adverse Childhood Experiences: (D-Developmental, A- Attachment).       

Some childhood adverse experiences are major and obvious; they are included in the primary ACE score calculator. Other childhood experiences are less obvious and more subtle, often occurring before our memories can store them in conscious awareness. Nevertheless these experiences can also have a profound impact on our nervous system’s capacity to experience safety, and to self-regulate, settle and focus – to “rest and digest”. Therefore it is important we take these “less dramatic” childhood experiences into account as well.”

For a map of how the nervous system impacts the organs of the body, see the Visceral Motor System

Developmental trauma may well be one of the most important public health issues in the world today. It is roughly estimated that in the United States alone, it affects nearly 3,000,000 children yearly. Because the current diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) does not factor in developmental issues, and because developmental trauma is not a recognized diagnosis, children are often misdiagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder. Large populations of children who could benefit from treatment are missed, mislabeled, or treated incorrectly based on an inaccurate diagnosis. A recognized diagnosis of developmental PTSD would open avenues of funding for the research and development of appropriate treatment for this critical area of human suffering.” From Working with the Capacity for Connection in Healing Developmental Trauma by Aline LaPierre, PsyD and Laurence Heller, PhD.  The seemingly diverse questions here ( Understanding effects Developmental Trauma  ) highlight some of the many factors and symptoms that an individual with early trauma may experience.

Further resources and research on Adverse Childhood Experiences’ role in Adult Illness:  

      • Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease by Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley The first years of human life are more important than we ever realized. “In Scared Sick, Robin Karr-Morse connects psychology, neurobiology, endocrinology, immunology, and genetics to demonstrate how chronic fear in infancy and early childhood— when we are most helpless—lies at the root of common diseases in adulthood.”

The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease: The Hidden Epidemic, Ed. Ruth A. Lanius, et al.  Dr. Felitti’s chapter: “The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Medical Disease, Psychiatric Disorders, and Sexual Behavior: Implications for Healthcare”  is available at   Journal of the American Medical Association/JAMA book review:   “This important book highlights the association between early-life trauma and subsequent physical and mental illness and as such presents a key to the world’s optimal public health. . . The prevalence of early childhood trauma, based on the National Comorbidity Study—Replication, shows that nearly 40% of adults in the general population report having at least 1 event by age 13 years, with 20% of men and 25% of women reporting having directly experienced or witnessed violence. Propitiously, in addition to these risk factors, there is a brief mention of psychosocial protective factors. Part 1 also accentuates several longitudinal studies of clinical observations strengthening the epidemiologic research on later outcomes of early trauma.”

• Excellent talk, also referring to the ACE study, by Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection, Addiction, Attention Deficit Disorder and the Destruction of American Childhood