Thursday, July 25, 2013

ACE Study shows correlation between childhood trauma and adult diseases

The ACE Study: "The Bomb in the Brain
The ACE Study is gaining increasing recognition in the medical community and is shifting our understanding of childhood trauma and its effect on the body.

ACE – it stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The study focused on a half-dozen very specific sorts of adverse and abusive experiences, one of which was sexual abuse occurring before the age of 18.

This study, which was supported by the Center for Disease Control, involved 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patients. So the sample size was huge.

The study documented a strong correlation between specific sorts of traumatic events in childhood and a range of chronic diseases in adulthood – including cancer. Furthermore, the correlation was dose-related – meaning the more of these traumas you have, the stronger the correlation.

Not only was there a correlation with chronic diseases like cancer, but for people who had an ACE score of 4 or more – in other words people with significant sorts of abuse in childhood – their average life expectancy dropped by about 20 years.

I found this data chilling.

I had already known, of course, that there was a strong correlation between childhood sex abuse and suicide, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and mental health problems – but cancer? That took me totally by surprise.

People are still trying to figure out exactly why this correlation is there. The dominant theory is that it has something to do with cortisol production going totally out of whack in childhood, and that triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that being repeatedly sexually abused in childhood is what caused my cancers in adulthood. We all know that cancer is a multi-factorial disease. But I AM saying that medical science now supports the proposition that there is a powerful correlation between childhood sexual abuse and cancer.

So, if you’re a clergy abuse survivor, I urge you to consider the possibility that you may be at increased risk, not only for a range of psychological issues, but also for serious chronic diseases.

Our issues are in our tissues.

Though I found the ACE data to be a bit unnerving, I also believe that knowledge is empowering.

If we know that our past trauma histories render us more vulnerable, then we can at least attempt to better offset that enhanced risk through somatic trauma therapies and through other healthy practices.

For myself, this is part of why I’ve developed a regular yoga practice. Yoga has been shown to help regulate cortisol production and to be of help with post-traumatic stress disorder. But whatever you do, whether it’s walking or meditation or gardening or tai-chi or kick-boxing or something else – I would urge all of you to make your own health a real priority.

If you’d like more information about the ACE study, here are some links: