High ACE Scores and Trauma-Triggered Illness
What is ACE Illness?
ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences and, originally, the research found major links between major childhood trauma and later adult chronic illness like obesity, stroke, COPD and heart disease, but it has since expanded quite a bit to cover other types of trauma and the link to autoimmune disease, depression, anxiety, suicide tendency, fibromylagia and chronic fatigue to name a few.
Incidentally, before you switch off a) because of the word ‘trauma’ and think I never suffered any or b) I’ve had some trauma but I wasn’t a child, don’t.
Trauma is a bit of a catch-all term and it doesn’t just mean things like violence, physical, sexual abuse etc; it also refers to emotional or physical neglect, being put down, feeling alone, bullying, feeling fearful or unsafe a lot etc.
This is a HUGE evolving area of medicine in the field of chronic illness and what causes it. I’ve put up an image of a slide above which shows the link to depression, but you can read a similar increased risk in autoimmune disease (massive link to these actually), chronic fatigue, hyper-sensitivity illness (ie food and chemical sensitivity), asthma, stroke, heart disease, unresolving weight gain and loads more besides.
So, what are we talking about here? Let’s see if I can distill it down and then I’ll give you some resources at the end to find out more.
Is Your Chronic Unresolving Illness an ACE Disorder?
The reason I am interested in ACE disorders is because I discovered my own chronic illness – hypersensitivity to foods, migraine, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia etc was indeed caused mostly by childhood and adult trauma. I really had NO idea!
And, by working on the ACE illness side of things and not just the physical stuff as a nutritionist, I got better 🙂 Now I am trying to share what I’ve learned with you.
The first step is to find out if you have a high ACE score and work out if it could be contributing to your own illness. A clue is if you have done the usual things that should work, but they haven’t. I had to ask: ‘what else is going on?’ and was shocked at the answers! It ultimately took me on a 2.5 year journey..
Most people have had some trauma, of course, and that’s actually normal – it helps us build resilience to life. The issue comes when a person is habitually and often subtly (or not so subtly traumatised – at any time of life but especially in childhood when our genes and brains are developing and setting – and that starts to cause actual brain, hormone and genetic changes. That sets us up for chronic illness later in life. Certainly mine built up over many years.
ACEs Trigger Actual Brain, Hormones and Genetic Change
If we have a higher than usual ACE score, it is quite likely that the genes that control our stress responses and inflammation get reset and we actually need less stress over time to become ill. Ugh.
This means, in reality, that people can become genetically and hormonally more ‘sensitive’ or the current trendy name is ‘an empath’ which then makes a person more sensitive to life, pain, other people’s pain even; just stress in general.
I think this is what ultimately leads to the condition called Central Sensitivity Syndrome too actually, where people suffer pain and hypersensitivity illnesses – I reckon it is all linked.
As we know, chronic stress, in whatever form, triggers chronic inflammation in the body leading to loads of different health conditions.
And Then Chronic Inflammation…
Most experts now believe that almost every chronic illness is inflammatory in some way. In people with a high ACE score who have become sensitised, you have to deal with the emotional trauma, perceptions and beliefs to lower that inflammation as purely physical treatment isn’t enough.
OK, with me so far?
“Healing emotional trauma is one of the most important aspects to address in all chronic complex illnesses. Unresolved emotional trauma leads to pain and is at the core of addictive and destructive health patterns [often unconscious ones]..
“Unresolved trauma leads to a state of chronic stress and inflammation, which perpetuates illnesses and leads to beliefs that sabotage our ability to recover.” Niki Gratrix (more on her below)
Of course, not everyone is going to have this happen. If you had even just one person in life as a child who you could talk to and feel safe with, it offsets a lot of it. Your resilience and when you build it can stop the epigenetic changes (the gene changes) occuring even.
In fact, even just asking you about it on here or in-clinic is also enough to trigger you to get well – and that’s proven by research!
Anyway, that’s what an ACE illness is. I prefer to call it trauma-triggered illness in a way because I have found in-clinic and in my own case that it doesn’t just happen in childhood. Any adult trauma or stressor can trigger an illness that won’t resolve. It can even be both: in my own case, I had a high childhood ACE score, built resilience but then had it retriggered in my 40s!
Also: believe me, I know you are thinking ‘I’m well over that’ and you don’t consciously think about things that happened earlier in life. However, it is subconciously going on right under your nose and is really not conscious at all. This is why it took me a long time to accept it myself, oops: just three diagnoses of PTSD and ACE Illness and almost 3 years to believe it wasn’t just physical. Just sayin – don’t be a twerp like me 😉
The Link With AutoImmune Disease
Just before we leave this bit, here are the stats about autoimmune illness that staggered me!
If you have 2 or more ACEs, you have a 70% higher risk of developing a TH1 dominant immune disease and an 80% risk of getting a TH2 dominant one than someone with none. That’s enormous!
TH1 examples include: Coeliac Disease, Type 1 Diabetes, chronic viral infections, Hashimoto’s, MS, Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriasis, Crohn’s.
TH2 examples include: Allergies, Asthma, Colitis, IBD, multiple sensitivity, Eczema, Dermatitis, Sinusitis, Lupus.
Ooh, BIG news, that.
OK, I know you are champing at the bit now to see your own score..!
How to Calculate your ACE Score
There are quite a few resources I could list for you but one of the best is by Niki Gratrix, a UK nutritionist who is specialising in this area, like me. I don’t see the point in reinventing the wheel, so I will link to some of her resources for you.
Do the questionnaire first; it is a mix of the original study questions and the ones now added to give you your so-called ‘extended ACE score’ as the original researchers focused more on the obvious and extreme trauma types, whereas we now know that subtle, long-term, un-ending humiliation, emotional neglect, put downs and the like can be just as damaging in different ways.
Then, when you have the score, you’ll have an idea of whether your own illness might be partly or even fully caused by emotional trauma or hypersensitivity from genetic changes in your brain.
The score I generally look for is over 4, but especially 6+ (I had 8).
If yours is higher than 4, or even if you have 1 but it was a biggie, of course, and you have a chronic illness of some kind, you need to start looking more into the whole area of ACE Illness and begin doing something about it if you are to get well.
Ooh, OK that is a LOT to take in, isn’t it?!
What to Do If Your ACE Score is High
It took me almost a year to write this, but here is the five-step programme I put myself through to get better.
You can read much more about it here in the Mind-Body Medicine section.
Talk To Us
Finally, I’ve been through it so you can talk to me if that would help – see Support Calls here. And, I’ve now got Julie, the hypnotherapist who helped me through it, on our clinic team too – of course! You can see more about her here.
We’re here to help. I know sometimes this can come as a bit of a shock or a lot of denial kicks in – believe me, I did enough for all of us! – BUT ’tis true, ’tis researched well and ’tis part of how you will get better, I promise.
I just wish someone had told me all that a decade ago 😉
Good luck, you WILL get well!