The Physical Impact of Trauma

Physical Impact of Trauma

Who hasn’t been freaked out by the latest research or study that presents various causes of cancer? Who hasn’t thought twice about using a cell phone, or microwave, or eating red meat after hearing stories on the news about how these habits tie directly to harmful health effects?

But what if I told you that scientists and researchers have found there is one single antecedent that has been tied to one of the largest pools of health risks and negative life factors imaginable? This one single factor can be tied to traumatic brain injuries, depression, anxiety, suicide, PTSD, miscarriages, HIV, STDs, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, alcohol/ drug abuse, and can even lower the chances for someone to complete high school, let alone attend college. It’s been tied to the leading causes of deaths in adults. It’s been called one of “the largest, most important public health studies you never heard of.” (1)

Adverse Child Experiences

Let’s travel back to the 1980’s and I’ll introduce you to Dr. Vincent Felitti. Dr. Felitti runs the Kaiser Permanente Department of Preventive Medicine, a San Diego clinic that focuses on a variety of health issues, including weight loss. Although many of his clients have found weight loss success, he finds that few of them are maintaining success. For example, one of his patients recently lost 276 pounds! But shortly after this impressive loss, she began quickly piling the weight back on. When Dr. Felitti, concerned, asked a multitude of questions, trying to find the cause of his patient’s backslide, she revealed that as she became healthier and slimmer, she began to attract unwanted sexual attention. As a result, she turned back to food to revert to her former, undesirable body and of course to an old comfort.

When Dr. Felitti continued to dig into this patient’s past, his patient revealed that she was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her grandfather. (2)

Perhaps this patient’s story alone would seem insignificant. However, as Dr Felitti continued to investigate potential barriers his other patients were encountering, he began to hear similar stories. In one instance, Dr. Felitti was interviewing a woman who had dropped out of his weight loss clinic. He asked her what her weight was when she first became sexually active. Her response? 40 pounds. How could this be? Because the woman revealed she was only four when her father began to sexually abuse her. (3) Dr. Felitti continued to hear similar stories. In fact, the amount of tales and revelations of sexual abuse were so prominent, he could no longer ignore its presence.

Dr Felitti would go on to team up with the Centers for Disease Control, including Dr. Adna. The two developed a 17-question survey that asked about adverse experiences prior to one’s 18th birthday. (4)

More than 17,000 people completed the questionnaires. The survey sample included mostly white, college educated, middle- and upper-class people with jobs and comprehensive health insurance which granted them access to quality healthcare. Dr. Felitti and Dr. Adna categorized the questions into ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) categories including abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction.  67% of the sample reported at least one ACE. 12% of the sample had at least 4! 

As the study began to shift its focus from primary obesity related difficulties to a broader range of health issues, Dr Adna reported shock to discover the direct link between childhood trauma and adult chronic health issues. He reported after reading story after story of childhood abuse, neglect, and traumatic experiences, he became so overwhelmed with emotion that he began to weep. As the data was further analyzed, it was found that two thirds of adults had experienced one or more TYPES of trauma. Of those two thirds, 87% of the group had experienced 2 or more TYPES of trauma. That’s a whole lot of complicated junk. Furthermore, the research showed that adults who had experienced these adverse childhood experiences had a higher risk of medical, mental, and social difficulties in adulthood. 

So, what does that have to do with YOU?  Well, have you ever wondered why you continue to have a myriad of health issues? Ever tried to work with doctors on the root cause of your fatigue? Ever tried to figure out why you just can’t seem to “get it together?” There is now an increasing body of evidence that tells us much of your physical, emotional, and social difficulties may stem from experiences from your earliest years. Your chronic issues may find their birthing place from an Adverse Childhood Experience. 

Your chronic issues may find their birthing place from an Adverse Childhood Experience. 

Why is it important to understand the ACE study? Because part of the treatment plan for your physical issues, may well end up being trauma therapy. If you have a history of childhood trauma and are experiencing medical, social, or mental barriers, science tells us it’s time to dig into our past for answers. Understanding our path and history may be the beginning of a new journey of understanding and healing.  

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