How Childhood Experiences Predict Heart Disease, Diabetes and How to Reverse the Risk (PC003)

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Welcome to Trauma Tuesday.  Today we are going to look at the connection between childhood experiences and adult prevalence of heart disease, broken bones, cancer, depression, suicide and other illnesses.  Can you believe there is a connection?  Then I’ll give my five secrets to overcoming a bad childhood.

In the late 90’s the CDC and Kaiser took on a joint project to survey over 17,000 adults about their childhood experiences.  (ACE Study Results)  They were interested in reports of abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction like addiction, divorce and domestic violence.  What they found was that 52% of the people reported at least one type of adverse childhood experience.

In the abuse category they found:

  • Psychological abuse = 11%
  • Physical = 11%
  • Sexual = 22% overall
  • 27-28% women with sexual abuse as children:    1 in 4
  • 16% of men with sexual abuse as children:  1 in 6
  • About a quarter of the population reported living with a substance abuser as a child.

The survey went a step further.  Looking at the health records of these Kaiser patients, they were able to correlate the reports of childhood trauma to their adult health.  What they found was that childhood trauma was linked to every possible negative health outcome in adults and as the number of adverse child experiences went up so did the risk of disease and the prevalence of unhealthy behaviors.

For instance.  Someone reporting 2 adverse childhood experiences is twice as likely to be depressed as an adult.  If they report four or more ACE then their risk of depression  or COPD quadruples and their risk of heart attack or cancer doubles.  They also have a 12 times greater risk of attempting suicide.

How is this possible?

The model by which this works can be represented by a cause and effect pyramid.  At the foundation of the pyramid is ACE.  Childhood trauma disrupts normal neurodevelopment.  This means that the brains of children do not develop normally when they experience trauma.

This leads to a cascade of events. They don’t think as well as children without trauma and they can have problems both socially and emotionally.

As they grow up into teenagers and adults they may adopt high risk behaviors – like smoking, drinking, using drugs, having sex indiscriminately, or dysfunctional eating

As their life progresses, they end up with diseases related to their behavior.  The smoker gets lung disease, drinkers get liver disease and people with unhealthy eating habits end up with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer

The cascade of events ends with an early death.


Is there any hope for us adults that had childhood trauma?

There certainly is.  It is possible to reverse the effects of the trauma; my own life is testimony to that.  I have used somatic practices like chi gung and yoga combined with change facilitation to resolve at least 80% of my trauma and to cure my depression completely.  It is just a matter of time before I have 100% of the trauma resolved.

While I have personally found change facilitation offers more direct and dramatic relief than other practices, yoga and somatic practices have been researched and shown to improve body image, help in emotional management, promote optimism, reduce anxiety, increase activity in suppressed areas of the brain, and reduce high risk behaviors.  Yoga and chi gung essentially reverse the effects of trauma.

My process of recovery from severe childhood abuse involved working with what was arising in my adult life.  Did you know that overcoming child abuse is a lot like renovating a fixer upper house?

Let’s say you bought this house that is a wreck, but you can see the potential.  You’ve decided to renovate it.  That fixer upper is yourself in your current condition.  The first thing you do when you buy a fixer upper is do an inventory. What needs to be fixed?  Do you need to make structural improvements or will a fresh coat of paint do the trick?  And, where is that weird smell coming from?  What expert help will you need?  As you discover more about the house you make the fastest progress if you stay out of judgment and stay in acceptance.  Afterall, you don’t really need to know why the previous owner had all that weird, rotting stuff in the basement.  All you need to know is that it is there and it doesn’t serve you.  And if you open a floor board along the way and find a termite infestation, getting upset will not make the additional work easier.  The final step in completing the work is a two part action step.  First get rid of the old stuff.  Take the junk out of the basement, fix the broken stuff, then give everything a fresh coat of paint and bring in new furnishings.

Sounds easy right?  It is, but in the case of childhood trauma you are the house that you are wanting to renovate because the original owners (your parents, family, teachers, bosses) made weird additions and modifications that you no longer like.  You start with the choice to take on the job and be free of the abuse.  Then take an inventory.  It doesn’t have to be comprehensive, really you just need to become aware of what is giving you the most trouble right now.  Sometimes we can get bogged down in the story of what this person or that person did to us.  You will get faster results if you are able to stay out of the story and focus on what you can change.  For instance, as a child I witnessed my relatives abusing my brothers.  I repressed all memory of this until I was in my late forties.  As I began to remember, I didn’t focus on how some people stood by and let this happen or how could these people do such a thing.  Instead I focused on how it impacted me.  What beliefs did I take on when I witnessed those scenes.  I was looking back, but I was not stuck in the past.  As an adult, I was able to reframe the situations and effectively rewire my brain.  The key was accepting what happened and that I couldn’t go back and change it except within the landscape of my mind.  Nor would judging the situation or people as bad or good offer me any relief.

From that foundation I took action.  I removed the beliefs that came in during the situation.  For instance, once, when I was very young, I witnessed my older brother being abused.  In that moment I “gave him my peace”  and I very keenly longed to do more and rescue him.  I was really just a baby then.  When I recovered that memory I could see how my whole life was driven by this vow to do more.  And I was never satisfied.  It was the foundation of my belief I was not enough.  Because I was not enough in that moment I was stuck believing I was not enough.  Needless to say, I deleted that program and for the first time in my life had a glimmer of peace and a sense that the world could really take care of itself.

The process of renovating our lives can be summed up in five steps or processes. Processes might be a better term, since these are steps that aren’t necessarily done sequentially.

  1. Choice
  2. Awareness
  3. Non-judgment or acceptance
  4. Action directed at removing the old garbage
  5. Action directed at bring in new nourishing stuff

The Three A’s:  Awareness, Acceptance, Action



Cheery Monday by  Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Voice Intro:
Dylan McClosky

Podcast:  Copyright 2017 Dorena Rode – All rights reserved

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