Childhood Trauma and Adult Health: Is There a Connection?


We know that childhood trauma can trigger psychological problems in victims later on in their lives. But do you know that the heart attack someone experiences at 56 can be related to the adverse events he or she experienced as a child?

Negative childhood experiences can predispose a personto health problems, (both mental and physical) in his or her senior years.

A major American Project on adverse childhood experiences shows that childhood events have a direct effect on the status of adult health.

According to Vincent J. Felitti M.D., traumatic emotional experiences in childhood can trigger serious health problems even 50 years later. Not only does this suggest that memories of early events do not disappear over time, but their negative emotional impact is lasting and cumulative.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) began from an observation made in an obesity treatment program: a correlation between childhood sexual abuse and the onset of obesity.

Researchers found that for many patients, obesity itself is not a problem; they see it as a form of "protective solution" to unwanted sexual encounters. An example is a young woman who developed obesity a year after she was raped; the weight gain was her solution to unwanted sexual attention.

Using this correlation between trauma and obesity, researchers tabulated an ACE score based on several categories of childhood abuse and household dysfunction.

5 Categories of Household Dysfunction: Growing Up in a Household

1. where someone was in prison

2. where the mother has received violent treatment

3. with an alcoholic or drug user

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4. with a chronically depressed, mentally ill or suicidal person

5. where at least one biological parent was unavailable to the patient during childhood for whatever reason.

An individual exposed to none of these categories receives an ACE score of 0; exposed to any 4 of these categories means he or she receives a score of 4.

Extensive research studies have revealed the following correlations between the ACE score and adult health ( both physical and emotional).

a) The higher the ACE score, the greater the likelihood an individual would take up smoking, a correlation that raises this question: is smoking a form of self-treatment for problems experienced in childhood?

b) A person with an ACE score of 4 is 260% more likely to develop Chronic Obstructive Disease or COPD than a person with an ACE score of 0.

c) Prevalence of hepatitis increases 240% in patients with an ACE score of 4 as opposed to people with an ACE score of 0.

d) Prevalence of sexually transmitted disease increases by 250% in patients with an ACE score of 4.

e) A male child with an ACE score of 6 is 4,600% more likely to become an IV drug user than someone with an ACE score of 0. Like smoking, drug use can be a form of coping mechanism for victims of childhood trauma.

f) An ACE score of 4 or more increases the likelihood of depression by 460% and the likelihood of suicide by 1,200%.

g)A high ACE score also predisposes the individual to heart disease, coronary events, fractures, diabetes, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and alcoholism.

Recent research at Stanford University School of Medicine and the Lucille Packard Children`s Hospital supports the conclusions of the ACE study.

Examining children living in a violent, low-income neighborhood, researchers documented an extraordinary correlation between abuse, trauma, neglect and the children`s mental and physical health.

Exposure to four types of childhood trauma, for example, increases by 30 times the probability of behavior and learning problems.

More often than not, childhood trauma creates post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD in these children, a disorder often misdiagnosed as ADHD, which means these children are often given stimulant medication (for ADHD) rather than psychotherapy which is what these traumatized children really need.


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Bruce Lipton in The Biology of Belief describes the reaction of a fetus during an argument between the mother and father. In this case, the parents are engaged in a loud argument while the mother is undergoing a sonogram.

The video shows the fetus arching its back and jumping up "when the argument is punctuated with the shattering ofglass." This is visual evidence that the fetus can experience trauma well before birth.

According to Lipton, parental programming of the child's subconscious mind begins in utero. Parents have a profound responsibility in shaping the environment and hence the brain, emotions, personality,even the genetic makeup of the child.

Both these studies confirm the relationship between childhood trauma and adult health problems. Perhaps greater access to parenting skills is what we need in order to deal with the behavior and emotional issues found in children and adults.


Felitti, Vincent J. MD. "The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health: Turning Gold to Lead."

Lipton, Bruce. PhD. The Biology of Belief. Santa Rosa, CA: Mountain of Love/Elite Books, 2005.

Stanford University Medical Center (2011, June 12). Childhood trauma linked to higher rates of mental health problems. ScienceDaily.

Disclaimer: The above information is meant only to inform and should never displace professional consultation.

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