Perhaps the best-known study on the effects of childhood trauma on the individual is the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study conducted by Felitti and Robert Anda in the 1990s. The study involved a survey of 17,337 volunteers (approximately half of whom were female) to ascertain whether there was a link between the experience of childhood trauma and the development, in later life, of emotional, behavioural and physical problems.
In summary, the study found that (on average) the greater the individual’s experience of childhood trauma, the more likely, on average, s/he was to develop the emotional, behavioural and physical problems in later life that I referred to above.
THE BRAIN-BODY CONNECTION :
It is now known that these mental and physical problems experienced in later life by individuals who have suffered significant and ongoing childhood trauma are intrinsically interlinked due to the intimate relationship between the brain and the body. This intimate relationship is illustrated by the recent research study described below :
Recent research conducted at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that (a hitherto undiscovered) ‘brain-body pathway’ exists linking the brain, via the lymphatic vessels, to the body’s immune system (prior to this discovery, it was assumed that the brain was isolated from the body’s immune system). This newly discovered pathway transports immune cells around the body and helps to detoxify it.
A central effect on children of suffering significant and protracted childhood trauma is that the ongoing, severe stress that they are forced to endure leads to the production of excessive quantities of damaging and inflammatory chemicals (Bierhaus et al., 2003).
It is now known that because of the existence of this newly discovered ‘brain-body pathway’, these harmful chemicals are distributed throughout the entire human biological system, thus adversely affecting both mind and body and, accordingly, leading to both mental (e.g. anxiety and depression) and physical problems (e.g. high blood pressure and heart disease).
Indeed, research shows that those who have experienced severe and protracted childhood trauma are, on average, likely to die significantly earlier than individuals who were fortunate enough not to live through such early life traumatic experiences.
Bierhaus A, Wolf J, Andrassy M, et al. A mechanism converting psychosocial stress into mononuclear cell activation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003;100(4):1920-1925. doi:10.1073/pnas.0438019100
“The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study”. cdc.gov. Atlanta, Georgia: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. May 2014. Archived from the original on 27 December 2015.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).