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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tamara Dickson

ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Research

ACEs is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences that originated from a 1995 study by the CDC & Kaiser and refers to 3 kinds of adversity children face in the home:

1) physical, sexual, and emotional abuse,

2) neglect

3) household dysfunction- like parental violence, substance abuse, separation/divorce, or mental illness.

This study marked our beginning to understand in a scientific way how ACEs trigger an excessive and long-lasting stress response that can impact a child’s developing brain, immune system, metabolic regulatory pathways, and cardiovascular system. Over time, ACEs can have a wear-and-tear effect on the body, resulting in correlations between ACEs and the greatly increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, substance abuse, smoking, poor academic achievement, time out of work, and early death.

The ACEs listed above are the ones that have been examined in most studies, but I would argue that the list should be updated to include:

- Growing up questioning your sexual identity

- Experiencing a mismatch in your assigned sex and gender identity

- Experiencing or witnessing cultural, racial, or ability discrimination or violence

For those who have survived multiple ACEs, please understand that you can do many things to smooth over the biological impact of early adversity and reduce risks to your health. If you are already suffering from chronic health concerns, the acknowledgement of these influences can be key to finding wellness. It is important you work with healthcare providers that you feel comfortable with in telling this history and who will consider and address its impact.

From a Naturopathic perspective, a customized nutrient, diet, and botanical plan could be built to soothe overworked hormonal, neurotransmitter, and metabolic pathways to improve responses and steer the body toward homeostasis and away from fight-or-flight mode. There are also studied mental health techniques shown to foster resilience for those seeking to heal from ACEs: therapy, journaling, yoga, mindfulness meditation, and specialty psychotherapy techniques like EMDR, EFT, and neurofeedback.

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