Mar 14

ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

At least two books, described below, highlight the effects that ACES (adverse childhood experiences) can have on your life.

Another resource that can be utilized right now is the ACES quiz, which will give you an idea of where you stand. Click on the link.

I. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal (2015) by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

For detailed info see my previous post regarding this book. Below are selected quotes.

Simply living with a parent who puts you down and humiliates you, or who is alcoholic or depressed, can leave you with a profoundly hurtful ACE footprint and alter your brain and immunologic functioning for life.

Recognizing that chronic childhood stress leads to chronic adult illness and relationship challenges can be enormously freeing. If you have been wondering why you’ve been struggling a little too hard for a little too long with your emotional and physical well-being—feeling as if you’ve been swimming against some invisible current that never ceases—this aha can come as a welcome relief. Finally, you can see the current. And you see how it’s been working steadily against you all of your life.

…(A)s Bernie Siegel, MD, puts it, quite simply, after half a century of practicing medicine, “I have become convinced that our number-one public health problem is our childhood.”

II. The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (2018) by Nadine Burke Harris

Some ACEs statistics courtesy of interviews with Harris:

Two-thirds of Americans have been exposed to one significant adverse childhood experience, and between 13 and 17 percent have been exposed to four or more. We know that being exposed to high doses of childhood adversity dramatically increases the risk for seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. (New York Times)

An individual with four or more ACEs is 10 times more likely to be an IV drug user as someone with no ACEs. (New York Times)

…For depression, it was 4.5 times. For suicidality, it was 12 times. (NPR)

As explained in her NPR interview, how you might envision the physiological effects of toxic stress:

Well, imagine you’re walking in the forest, and you see a bear. Immediately, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary, which sends a signal to your adrenal gland that says, release stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol. And so your heart starts to pound. Your pupils dilate. Your airways open up. And you are ready to either fight that bear or run from the bear. And that is wonderful if you’re in a forest, and there’s a bear. But the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night. And this system is activated over and over and over again.

What can help to offset ACEs? New York Times interview excerpt:

One of the key ingredients for keeping the body’s stress response out of the toxic stress zone is the presence of a healthy buffering caregiver…We also know that if a caregiver is able to self-regulate, their kids have much better outcomes. Good old-fashioned mental health care really does help. In research studies, certain types of interventions, including child-parent psychotherapy, can help to normalize cortisol levels and get the body’s stress response back on track.

Regular physical exercise, a healthy dose of sleep, and meditation are suggested, among other things, for adults dealing with the effects of their ACES.

Jul 22

“Childhood Disrupted”: ACEs and Your Physical Health

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?
Not quite. Far more often, the opposite is true. Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of Childhood Disrupted

Two-thirds of American adults are carrying wounds from childhood quietly into adulthood, with little or no idea of the extent to which these wounds affect their daily health and wellbeing. Something that happened to you when you were five or 15 can land you in the hospital 30 years later, whether that something was headline news, or happened quietly, without anyone else knowing it, in the living room of your childhood home. Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa‘s new Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal explains the roots of adulthood issues.

In brief, research regarding ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) has been conducted since the 90’s by the CDC. But, as Jane Ellen Stevens (ACEsTooHigh) points out, this is not only “the first self-help book about ACEs, it’s the first book that explains what’s been called the unified science of human development in clear language for people who aren’t scientists or medical professionals.”

How Childhood Disrupted Can Help

As told to Stevens by the author:

  • You can find out your own ACE scores and if it feels safe, provide this info to your doctors, mental health providers, and families.
  • Learn that the effects of trauma aren’t easily separated into mental vs. physical health issues.
  • Adopt ways to improve your self-care, “including meditation, exercise, enough sleep, good nutrition, living in a safe environment, and having safe relationships.”
  • Find out how to “heal the brain and body on a biophysical level – approaches which include MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, writing to heal, neurofeedback, and many others.”
  • Know about women’s unique differences. “Women who suffered ACEs face twice the likelihood of developing autoimmune disease and depression in adulthood than do men. Often these are the very diseases that physicians find so hard to diagnose and treat, and this science may help to counter the medical community’s tendency to underserve women who suffer from difficult to define health problems such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic back pain, and autoimmune disorders.”

Your Own ACE Score

Once you’ve taken the brief ACE test, what does it mean? An excerpted explanation from ACEs Too High:

…Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems. (Of course, other types of trauma exist that could contribute to an ACE score, so it is conceivable that people could have ACE scores higher than 10; however, the ACE Study measured only 10 types.)

As your ACE score increases, so does the risk of disease, social and emotional problems. With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent.

Shannon Brownlee, MS: “Every few years a book comes along that changes the way we view ourselves, our society, and our place in the world. This is such a book. Compulsively readable and deeply moving, Childhood Disrupted contains surprising insights into the power of childhood experience on every page.”