EFFECTS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ON PHYSICAL HEALTH Archives - Childhood Trauma Recovery

Category Archives: Effects Of Childhood Trauma On Physical Health

Concise articles about how severe and protracted childhood trauma can adversely affect physical health (for example, by increasing the production of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body and, also, by increasing the person’s risk of alcoholism, heavy smoking, risky behaviors and suicide), including increasing risk of obesity, heart disease and cancer. Indeed, some studies suggest that the experience of childhood trauma may reduce life-expectancy, on average, by 19 years.

Childhood Trauma, Inflammation, The Immune System And Severe Adult Health Implications.

A study conducted in New Zealand, involving 1,037 children, assessed these young people according to :

  • the degree to which they had suffered maltreatment as children
  • which socio-economic group they belonged
  • the extent to which they had suffered social isolation

Thirty years after this assessment had been made, the same individuals were assessed again, in a follow-up study, in order to determine to what degree their health had been negatively impacted by the above three factors (i.e. childhood maltreatment, socio-economic group in childhood and extent of social isolation in childhood).

RESULTS OF THE STUDY :

It was found that those individuals who had experienced both significant social isolation and maltreatment as children, and, additionally, had grown up in poverty, were at double the average risk of :

  • inflammation
  • depression
  • obesity

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND THE INFLAMMATORY IMMUNE SYSTEM :

A meta-analysis conducted by Baumeister et al. (2015) found a significant association between childhood trauma and inflammation and the researchers concluded that there now exists strong evidence that individuals who suffer traumatic events during childhood are at greatly elevated risk of developing a dysregulated inflammatory immune system which, in turn, leads to an increased risk of developing both psychiatric and physical disorders in later life.

Indeed, it is now becoming increasingly recognized that the dysregulation of the immune system as a result of childhood trauma may be implicated in the later development of not just depression and obesity (as identified by the New Zealand study referred to at the beginning of this article) but it may also be the biological mechanism responsible for mediating the association between childhood trauma and the later development of many other physical and psychiatric conditions such as psychosis, anxiety, PTSD, complex PTSD, borderline personality disorder, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lung disease and metabolic syndrome and potentially, substantially reduce an individual’s life-expectancy.

eBook : 

The above eBook : ‘The Devastating Effects Of Childhood Trauma,‘ is now available for immediate download from Amazon. Click here for further information.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma And Tachycardia

tachycardia

My own resting heart rate, which is usually at least 105 beats per minute, according to my GP, ‘is nothing to worry about.’

Since a resting heart rate of above is technically classified as ‘tachycardia’ (an abnormally fast beating heart), it seems to me it is something to worry about – presumably my GP’s intent was to play things down so that I did not become anxious about it as this, in turn, perhaps, could have raised it further still.

Anyway, I suggested I started taking beta-blockers and she kindly acquiesced to this modest request (though, not untypically, they appear not to work on me). 

tachycardia

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND TACHYCARDIA :

Studies show that children who have been so badly mistreated so as to go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have increased nervous system reactivity which is associated with being in a state of hypervigilance, as if perpetually trapped in the ‘fight / flight’ response.

In order to investigate this phenomenon further, Perry conducted a study of 34 children who had an average age of ten years and had been diagnosed as suffering from PTSD.

FINDINGS FROM THE STUDY :

Perry found that 85% of the children in this study (whom, as described above,  had been diagnosed with PTSD) had an average resting heart rate of 94 beats per minute. This is significantly higher than the resting heart rate of the average ten-year-old child, which is only 84 beats per minute.

This established, the children were then required to undertake a simple task : they were required to lie down for 9 minutes and then stand up for a further 10 minutes.

RESULTS :

Amongst the whole group of children who took part in this simple experiment, two distinct patterns of heart rate emerged.

PATTERN ONE :

  • A higher-than-control basal heart rate whilst lying down.
  • A dramatic increase in heart rate upon standing up.
  • A slow return, during the ten minute period of standing up, to the baseline heart rate.

 PATTERN TWO :

  • A normal increase in heart rate upon standing up.
  • A sluggish return to the baseline heart rate.

FURTHER STUDY :

Perry (1999) later built upon this study by carrying out the following experiment :

  • Children were interviewed about their experiences of abuse.
  • Throughout the interview, their heart rates were continuously monitored.

RESULTS OF FURTHER STUDY :

  • Certain children (who were mainly female and many of whom suffered from symptoms of dissociation) showed a REDUCTION in heart rate during the interview (when compared to their heart rate during a period of free play).
  • However, another group of children from the study (who suffered from symptoms of hyperarousal) showed an INCREASED heart rate during the interview (when compared to their heart rate during a period of free play).

 CONCLUSION :

From these findings, it was concluded that children may respond to their experiences of trauma in one of two ways :

  1. By ‘shutting down’ emotionally, resulting in physiological under-reactions to stress.
  2. By becoming emotionally hyperaroused, resulting in physiological over-reactions in response to stress.

You can read more about these two contrasting traumatic responses in my previously published article entitled : Two Opposite Ways The Child Responds To Stress : Hyperarousal And Dissociation.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

How Mental And Physical Suffering Generated By Childhood Trauma Are Intrinsically Interlinked.

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, behavioral 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, behavioral and physical problems in later life that I referred to above.

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 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.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

How Childhood Trauma Can Make You Oversensistive To Light, Sound And Touch

light oversensitivity

Before babies and young children are able to learn through the use of language, they learn through the information they receive through their senses (i.e. taste, touch, smell, sight and sound) and by integrating this information in meaningful ways.

The main part of the brain that is responsible for putting together this sensory information in ways that facilitate learning is the CEREBELLUM, located at the back of the head (see diagram below).

How Childhood Trauma Can Adversely Affect The Development Of The Cerebellum : 

Neuroscientific studied suggest that the development of the cerebellum depends significantly upon the perceived security, consistency, reliability and rhythmicity of the mother’s (or primary carer’s) physical holding of the infant.

 

Neglect :

If the mother (or primary carer) is neglectful and does not hold the baby sufficiently frequently in a manner that transmits to him/her (i.e. the baby) feelings of deep and meaningful emotional connection , this may lead to impaired development of the cerebellum which, in turn, can lead to cerebellar dysfunction.  It is this dysfunction of the cerebellum which may then cause problems integrating sensory information (Teicher et al., 2003).
cerebellum

Effects Of Cerebellar Dysfunction :

Dysfunctions which may result from impaired development of the cerebellum due to the kind of neglect described above include :
  • extreme sensitivity of touch. Examples include the affected individual  :

– being easily irritated by ‘coarse’ feeling clothing

– being easily made to feel uncomfortable by the touch of others (therefore the individual may feel compelled to actively avoid coming into physical contact with others and to be averse to their touch). Alternatively, s/he may crave tender, physical contact with others, as adults, in order to to compensate the perceived lack of loving, nurturing touch by his/her mother (or other primary carer) in early life.

  • extreme sensitivity to light (e.g. having to wear sunglasses in conditions the vast majority of people would not feel the need to do so)

 

  • extreme sensitivity to sound / noise (e.g. feeling intense irritation or anger in response to small sounds that the vast majority of others would not find bothersome).
  • learning difficulties : problems organising sensory input can lead, in turn, lead to difficulties organising a cohesive sense of the world.

Also, according to Doyon (1997), the cerebellum represents the brain’s main seat of PROCEDURAL MEMORY – this is a part of long-term memory that stores information about how to do things (i.e. carry out procedures, skills and actions, both cognitive and motor, such as talking, reading, walking) and FORMS THE FOUNDATION OF ALL LEARNING.

  • lack of co-ordination and clumsiness

 

 

  •  RHYTHMIC DYSREGULATION (this is too complex to go into detail about here, but you may wish to read more about it by clicking on this link)

 

David Hosier BSc Hons: MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Health Anxiety : Its Link To Childhood Trauma

health anxiety

We have already seen that, all else being equal, an individual who suffers significant childhood trauma is at greater risk than average of developing an anxiety disorder in adulthood. In this article, I will look specifically at health anxiety and what types of childhood experiences may put individuals at increased likelihood of developing it. With regard to this, the first question to answer, of course, is :

What Is Health Anxiety?

Health anxiety used to be referred to as hypochondria; however, this term is becoming increasingly obsolete due to its somewhat pejorative connotations. For a person to be diagnosed with health anxiety (and such a diagnosis, of course, can only be carried out by an appropriately qualified professional) s/he generally has to be preoccupied with thoughts centering around illness (i.e. a belief s/he is ill or an overwhelming conviction that s/he will imminently become ill) despite reliable, medical reassurances that this is not the case.

Furthermore, this preoccupation causes the individual significant distress and impairs normal, day-to-day functioning.

What Childhood Experiences Make It More Likely That An Individual Will Develop Health Anxiety?

First, individuals who suffered a serious illness as a child and were traumatized by the experience are at increased risk of developing health anxiety in adulthood.

Second, those who, in childhood, had a primary-carer who was excessively anxious about their health, or more generally overprotective, are at increased risk of developing health anxiety in adulthood.

Third, those who, in childhood, experienced a close family member (such as sibling, mother or father) being seriously ill are at increased risk of going on to develop health anxiety.

Fourth, people who, as children, had parents who excessively shielded them from the reality of health problems (e.g. parents who never talked about their own illnesses or the illnesses / deaths of other family members, including never allowing the child to attend funerals) are more likely to go on to develop health anxiety

Finally, growing up with parents who, to an excessive degree, feel the need to continually (and with excessive frequency) emphasize the vital and crucial importance in life of having one’s health.

Other Factors That Can Contribute To The Development Of Health Anxiety:

Childhood experience is not the only factor connected to the development of health anxiety in later life ; other factors that may contribute or be involved include :

1) Personality traits (characteristics) : e.g. a proneness to worry or intolerance of uncertainty

2) Chemicals in the brain (especially low serotonin activity)

3) Abnormal brain processes associated with low serotonin activity leading to excessive rumination (over-thinking)

health anxiety

Above : examples of the excessive ruminations that a person with health anxiety may have.

4) Genetic predisposition : it is possible some people may genetically inherit a tendency towards obsessive-like thinking.

Therapies :

Therapies available for the treatment of health anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused therapy (CFT). However, sometimes (depending upon the individual’s particular constellation of psychological problems) other forms of psychotherapy may be more appropriate.

Also, because it is thought that serotonin-level abnormalities may sometimes be involved with health anxiety, antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for its treatment (under the guidance, of course, of an appropriately qualified professional).

RESOURCE :

Overcome Fear Of Illness 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma May Accelerate Ageing Process And Reduce Life Expectancy

 

accelerated aging and childhood trauma

Research conducted by Puterman (University of Columbia, Canada), a specialist in stress and ageing, suggests that those of us who suffered significant trauma and consequential chronic feelings of stress as children may :

a) be more prone to disease and illness as adults

b) live shorter than average lives

 

Why Might This Be?

According to Puterman, this may be due to the adverse effects the stress of our childhoods had on our body’s cells.

More specifically, Puterman suggests that early, protracted exposure to stress may shorten our telomeres (telomeres are located on the end of our chromosomes).

Above : Telomeres under the microscope.

 

Above : Childhood trauma may prematurely age telomeres.

 

Why Do Shortened Telomeres Matter?

Telomeres serve to protect our chromosomes and, if shortened by early life stress, do not perform their task so effectively ; this may lead to the cells in our body ageing and dying prematurely, Puterman suggests.

Puterman is careful to point out, however,  that experiencing stressful events in childhood does not necessarily cause the shortening of telomeres in any simple, direct way, but, rather, the greater the number of traumas we suffer, the greater their duration and the greater their intensity, the higher our risk is that our telomeres will incur damage.

Puterman’s research findings also suggested (based on the study of 4,600 individuals) that social and psychological stressful events that occur during childhood have a more damaging effect on telomeres than do stressors relating to the particular family’s financial situation.

 

Other Ways Childhood Trauma Adversely Impacts Upon Our Physical Health :

We know, too, that those who have experienced significant childhood trauma are more likely than average to :

 

All of the above, of course, may significantly undermine our physical health, and, even, ultimately, lead to terminal disease and illness.

 

RELATED POST :

TO READ MY POST ENTITLED : ‘How Childhood Trauma Can Reduce Our Life Expectancy BY 19 Years‘, CLICK HERE.

 

eBook :

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download (other titles available). Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Why Is Physical Illness More Common In PTSD Sufferers?

If we have suffered from significant childhood trauma leading to the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our adult lives this also puts us at increased risk of developing various unpleasant physical symptoms. This is because the trauma has had chemical effects in our brain (leading to our PTSD) which can have knock-on adverse effects upon our body. I provide examples of the kind of symptoms that may result below :

SYMPTOMS :

  • increased rate of heartbeat
  • stomach / digestive problems
  • rapid and shallow breathing (often referred to as hyperventilation)
  • shaking / trembling / tremors / localized muscle spasms
  • feeling faint / light-headedness
  • sweating

DISEASES AND DISORDERS :

A positive correlation exists between the incidence of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a population and the incidence of certain physical diseases and disorders (shown below) in that same population. However, further research needs to be conducted in order to ascertain whether having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases one’s risk of suffering these conditions or whether having such conditions makes one more vulnerable to developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some of the diseases and disorders associated with PTSD are as follows :

  • cardiovascular disease
  • increased probability of suffering from heart attacks
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • headaches
  • certain autoimmune disorders (for example, those causing problems with the skin)
  • pregnancy complications
  • miscarriage
  • preterm contractions
  • obesity

Above : PTSD physically, biologically and chemically alters the brain – these changes may lead to physical symptoms, diseases and disorders in some sufferers, on top of the immense psychological pain and suffering it causes all who are unfortunate enough to have the condition.

Why Do Such Links Between PTSD And These Disorders Exist?

Various theories have been put forward in an attempt to explain why such links between PTSD and physical disorders such as those listed above exist.

  1. Increases in stress hormones such as cortisol over time have an adverse physical effect upon the heart and cardiovascular system.
  2. PTSD can lead to unhealthy ways of trying to cope with mental pain and suffering such as excessive drinking, excessive smoking and the ingestion of dangerous narcotics and overeating (so-called ‘comfort eating’) all of which, in turn, can lead to declining physical health.
  3. PTSD sufferers tend also to be seriously depressed and therefore lethargic – this can mean that PTSD sufferers take very little physical exercise leading to a greater likelihood of developing physical health problems.
  4. PTSD causes a change in the balance of chemicals in the brain and these changes, in turn, may cause yet further changes adversely affecting the immune system and various bodily organs.
  5. Changes in certain chemicals that negatively affect the mind also adversely affect the stomach.

eBook :

Above eBook now available for immediate download from Amazon. Click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSC; PGDE(FAHE).

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