The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Disease

Childhood trauma and disease
The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Disease

“An estimated 26 percent of all children in the United States will witness or experience a traumatic event before the age of four.” (1)

Even worse, these experiences often follow them into adulthood and cause lifelong health problems. 

This article is the story of the connection between fear and health. 

The fact is, childhood trauma and disease are joined at the hip.

Traumatic experiences can trigger a domino effect of complications, including:

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Diabetes

  • Heart disease

  • Autoimmune conditions

  • Widespread inflammation

Unfortunately, this is just a small sample of issues that can evolve. 

Let’s take a closer look at the intimate connection between childhood trauma and disease.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a psychiatric condition that occurs in people who go through traumatic experiences, like…

  • Rape

  • Violence

  • The death of loved ones

  • Natural disasters

…or other scarring situations.

Because children are more emotionally vulnerable, early trauma can have a big impact on long-term health. 

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

Any time that something upsetting, threatening, or shocking happens, it has the potential to trigger uncomfortable emotions and negative behaviors.  

In most cases, these reactions are temporary. 

But what happens when the brain gets stuck in “fight-or-flight” mode?

When this happens, PTSD can creep in. 

In order to heal, patients need to go through the stages of healing, including grief and acceptance. 

However, children often lack the basic coping mechanisms to heal. 

Even worse, many kids don’t have loving adults in their lives to help guide them. 

As a result, they become at risk for PTSD and disease. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the most common signs of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks of traumatic events

  • Frightening thoughts appearing out of nowhere

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Brain fog/inability to think clearly

  • Changing daily routine to avoid certain experiences

  • Anxiety triggered by images and sensations related to the event

  • Easily startled/tense

  • Poor memory

  • Angry outbursts

  • Anti-social behavior (2)

Even under the guidance of a counselor, “recovering” from PTSD can take six months or longer. 

Diagnosing PTSD

When psychiatrists diagnose PTSD, patients must display the following symptoms for at least a month:

  • At least two “reactivity” symptoms, such as rage, anger, or being easily startled

  • Two “cognition” symptoms like brain fog or poor memory

  • One “avoidance” symptom, such as avoiding certain locations because they trigger memories of the event

Causes and Risk Factors for PTSD

Believe it or not, traumatizing events don’t necessarily have to involve violence. 

Sudden illness or ongoing neglect can also lead to childhood trauma and disease.

Here’s a complete list of the causes and risk factors of PTSD:

  • Physical assault

  • Sexual abuse

  • Car accident

  • Death of a friend or family member

  • Serious illness or injury

  • Terrorist attacks or political violence

  • Natural disasters

  • Witnessing domestic abuse

  • Substance abuse in the family (3)

Genetics can also play a major role in childhood trauma and disease. 

Kids with a family history of mental illness are much more likely to develop more serious complications following childhood abuse. 

Women are also much more likely to develop PTSD, although it is unclear why. 

Childhood Trauma Changes the Body and Brain

According to a 50,000-person study conducted by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention, “The long-term health effects of childhood traumatic stress are well documented. 

For example, childhood abuse, neglect, and related forms of household dysfunction increase the risk of…

  • Substance abuse

  • Mental illness

  • Sexually transmitted diseases

  • Suicide attempts

…and other health outcomes, such as ischemic heart disease.” (4)

So where do all of these health problems start?

Ultimately, it all begins with the loss of executive functions in the brain. 

After trauma, the left hemisphere of the brain goes into survival mode and “disassociates” as a coping mechanism.

At the same time, stress hormones gush out of control, and this can lead to hormone imbalances throughout the body.

Before long, elevated stress hormones can lead to…

  • Poor memory

  • Irritability

  • Muscle tension

  • Sleep disorders

  • Heart problems

…and other long-term health issues. 

Natural Treatments for Childhood Trauma 

Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Several natural treatments can help patients recover from the long-term effects of childhood trauma and disease.  

1. Talk Therapy and Counseling

When children experience trauma, they need a specialist to guide them through the recovery process. 

That’s why the first step towards a full recovery is working with a licensed counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. 

Chances are, your child might take awhile to warm up to them, but don’t get discouraged!

It’s imperative that they open up and share the traumatic memories, and this only happens when they’re ready.

For the most part, the beginning is always stressful and rocky. 

However, it tends to get better over time. 

For example, one 2017 study found that 86 percent of patients showed improvement by the end of treatment. (5)

2. Meditation and Mind-Body Practices

It might not happen overnight, but practices like meditation, deep breathing and yoga can greatly reduce symptoms of childhood trauma and disease.

In fact, the power of meditation translates throughout the body and brain. 

For starters, meditation is proven to reduce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. (6)

At the same time, it boosts calming neurotransmitters. 

Yoga can be equally powerful. 

Studies show that yoga can significantly increase GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety. (7)

3. Self Care for Stress Reduction

Besides counseling and mind-body practices, there are several other self-care practices to help recover from childhood trauma and disease, including:

  • Regular physical activity

  • Reducing work-related stress

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Spending time in nature

  • Reading more books

  • Journaling

  • Watching inspirational videos and listening to podcasts

Trauma is a mindset as much as it is a physical reaction, and embracing positive experiences can help reverse it. 

Feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers for more advice about childhood trauma and disease.

We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.