Most of us know trauma affects mental health. But did you know trauma can detrimentally impact your physical health and can lead to chronic illness? Exposure to adversity in childhood can change your physiology and overall development, including the immune system, hormonal system, and neurological system. This knowledge and understanding, was explored and ultimately validated, in a well-known research study, called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.
The ACE Study
Between 1995-1997, the CDC and Kaiser Permanente undertook one of the largest investigations on childhood abuse, neglect, and domestic issues causing affect to later-life health problems and emotional wellbeing. This research study became known as the ACE study and ultimately helped to create understanding and connection in the world of health care, uniting physical health with mental/emotional wellbeing. With more than 17,000 participants, the study concluded that ACEs have long-lasting, negative effects on health outcomes and wellbeing.
You may be asking what exactly are ACEs? The adverse childhood experiences focused on in the study include:
- Physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse
- Parental mental illness
- Parental substance abuse
- Parental separation/divorce
- Domestic violence
Participants were asked to answer yes/no to 10 questions in relation to the above topics. The more questions that were answered “yes”, the higher the ACE score.
ACE Study Findings
Through this study, two important findings were discovered. First, ACEs were incredibly common amongst the overall population. Secondly, those with higher scores were found to have an increased risk of experiencing negative health outcomes. Findings included:
- 61 per cent of the population had at least 1 ACE
- 6 per cent (1 in 6 individuals) had experienced 4 or more ACE’s
- Some of the health concerns and chronic illnesses that were linked in this research included: pulmonary disease, cancers, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, depression, suicidality, and becoming a victim of violence.
Knowledge is Power
This massive research undertaking has helped provide understanding and hopefully change throughout society and the health field. The ACE questionnaire is still being used today to further the initial research and in clinical settings.
It’s important to note not everyone with a high ACE score will experience negative outcomes, and some people with lower scores may struggle with physical and mentals health issues later in life. For adults, the ACE questionnaire is just one tool we can use together to better understand your current health concerns. For parents, this research can help educate you about the effects of toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences, and hopefully change or reduce some of the risk factors your children could be exposed to. Remember, knowledge is power and can help create change.
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