Childhood Trauma Tied to Adult Illness

Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse suffered in childhood appear to increase the risk of killer diseases such as heart disease and cancer in adulthood, according to research. And the more abuse suffered by an individual, the greater their risk of serious disease in adulthood. The impact of these adverse childhood experiences on adult health status is strong and cumulative.

Researchers found that the risk of smoking, severe obesity, physical inactivity, depressed mood, and suicide attempts increased as the number of childhood exposures to abuse or dysfunctional households increased. They found that those 6.5% of adults reporting exposure to at least four categories of childhood trauma were more than twice as likely to smoke as adults, more than seven times as likely to become an alcoholic, and more than 12 times as likely to attempt suicide, compared with adults who experienced no serious trauma during their childhood.

The authors found similar links between childhood trauma and adult incidence of major diseases. Study participants whose childhood ranked among the most difficult had more than twice the rate of heart disease, cancer, and chronic bronchitis compared with individuals whose childhood was reported to be among the least troubled. Abuse or anxiety experienced in early life may encourage unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, overeating, or drug use, because they have immediate pharmacological or psychological benefit as coping devices in the face of the stress of family and household dysfunction. Initial use of these "coping devices" can easily become lifelong habits, however, and affect physical and mental health long after childhood ends.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine (1998;14:245-258)

COMMENT: I have suspected the conclusions of this study for the last several years. I am more and more convinced that most of the adults I see for chronic health problems have their origin in some past unresolved emotional trauma. Certainly a strong spiritual element to one's life will be helpful at resolving this. Unfortunately I have cared for many spiritual giants and pastors who had severe unresolved trauma. Two weeks ago I went to a weekend seminar in Illinois and learned a technique called thought field therapy which primarily focuses on correcting some of the energetic imbalances that contribute to the emotional and secondary physical problems.

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