Conscious parenting: The relationship between childhood trauma and chronic illness

Dubai - The science, the facts and the information we all NEED to know



By Kavita Srinivasan

Published: Thu 23 Sep 2021, 7:13 PM

Last updated: Thu 23 Sep 2021, 7:41 PM

Have you experienced pain, fatigue, infertility, anxiety, autoimmune conditions, early cancer, contracted type 1 diabetes… and a host of other issues? Have you experienced pain that no one could explain? All the scans are fine. It is not real, they say. You’re okay. “It’s all in your head.”

Well, it is in your head. And it’s in your body too. What I have a problem with is: saying “it’s in your head” makes it sound like you’re making this stuff up. But you’re not. You’re not making this up. It is in your body. And the cause is trauma that originated in the earliest years of your life. In fact, it goes far back into your genetic roots, to your mother’s womb, to your grandmother’s existence… into the recesses of your history.

Let’s delve into the facts:

In 1997, Dr Vince Felitti at Kaiser Permanente and Dr Robert Anda at the CDC conducted the largest study on childhood trauma and its impact on the health of adults through their lifetime. The results were astounding and the deep-rooted relationship, irrefutable.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study surveyed 17,337 adults and is the largest and most important public health study that indubitably proved that:

  • Trauma was more common than one thought and
  • Wasn’t restricted to privilege, race, gender or income.

The way Felitti and Anda measured the impact of trauma was by listing out 10 ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). The higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to contract a serious chronic illness. Below are the ACEs:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Sexual abuse
  3. Verbal abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Emotional neglect
  6. A family member who is depressed or diagnosed with other mental illness
  7. A family member with addiction issues
  8. A family member who is in prison
  9. Witnessing a mother being abused
  10. Losing a parent to separation, divorce or death
  11. Community violence, natural disasters also a part of it

How does this impair health?

When you experience trauma, your body goes into fight/flight/freeze mode and signals the adrenal gland to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to give your body the boost it needs to flee from danger. This is great if in fact there is danger to flee from. What ends up happening is that our experience of the trauma lasts much longer than the incidence itself. For example, if you were physically beaten as a child if you didn’t go to bed on time, as the sun sets, your body will alert you that bedtime is coming and bedtime is dangerous. There is no danger in the present but the memory of the trauma remains imprinted. Cortisol and adrenaline continue to be pumped into your brain, impairing its learning functionality, increasing your heart rate, impacting your insulin resistance, immune system and the very nature of your DNA. Your body is always in danger mode and an overload of the hormones can severely stress your physical health.

The stats:

Compared to someone with an ACE of 0, people with an ACE score of 4+ had:

  • 20 year difference in life expectancy
  • 2.5 times the risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • 2.5 times more of a likelihood of getting Hepatitis
  • 4.5 times more of a likelihood of getting Depression
  • 3.5 times more of a chance than someone with an ACE score of 0, to have a heart attack, cancer, Type 1 Diabetes
  • 12 times more of a likelihood of suicidal ideations

Compared with someone with an ACE of 0, a person with an ACE score of 7 or more had:

  • 3 times the risk of lung cancer.
  • 3.5 times the risk of Ischemic heart disease.

How does science factor into this?

Trauma:

  • Inhibits the prefrontal cortex, responsible for impulse control and learning.
  • Can be measured in an MRI scan through differences in the amygdala (the brain’s fear-response center).
  • Activates the Hypothalamic Pituitary Access (the brain’s fight/flight/freeze system) and what is supposed to save you in the face of danger, endangers your wellbeing. Children’s brains are just developing and this deeply impacts the developing immune system, brain and even the DNA.

So, what can we do?

When was the last time you went to a doctor and they asked you about your childhood trauma? Medicine is not trauma informed. The proof is out there and has been for 25 years, so why aren’t we educating parents about this the way we would about childproofing and Lamaze classes. The threats are real; the science in front of us. It’s time we stop denying the undeniable and wake up.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com