How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across A Lifetime

In my previous post, I gave a list of top ten websites that I thought are beneficial to know. On that list was Ted Talks, a personal favorite of mine. For this post I decided to review a Ted Talk: Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime

This is definitely a great video to watch and learn how trauma affects individuals later in life. Nadine Burke is a pediatrician from San Fransisco who opened a clinic in Bayview, a poor neighborhood in the city. Shortly afterwards she noticed that a lot of the children were referred for ADHD but after looking into their history and physical that diagnosis was not being met, instead she learned that these children were actually having symptoms related to trauma. Through a research study called the “Adverse Childhood Experiences Study” in which over 17,000 individuals participated. It calculated the number of adverse childhood experiences (or ACE’s) an individual had in relation to their health. They found that the higher the number of ACE’s the more health problems people have later in life. According to the study

“For a person with an ACE score of four or more, their relative risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was two and a half times that of someone with an ACE score of zero. For hepatitis, it was also two and a half times. For depression, it was four and a half times. For suicidality, it was 12 times. A person with an ACE score of seven or more had triple the lifetime risk of lung cancer and three and a half times the risk of ischemic heart disease, the number one killer in the United States of America.”

This goes back to the brain and how it processes stress. Children’s brains are highly sensitive to severe stress exposure and actually changes the structure and function, as well as the body. In response to this information, Nadine Burke assesses every child’s ACE scores when they come in for a check up. She believes that this problem can be solved with the help of everyone.

“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, and it goes from being adaptive, or life-saving, to maladaptive, or health-damaging. Children are especially sensitive to this repeated stress activation, because their brains and bodies are just developing. High doses of adversity not only affect brain structure and function, they affect the developing immune system, developing hormonal systems, and even the way our DNA is read and transcribed.”

I greatly enjoyed this Ted Talk and advise anyone if they have free time to watch it!!

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