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17Oct 2012

Know your ACE score: A 'unified-field theory' for psychology?

Jane Stevens

Reporting on Health has reprinted one of the most original and important stories I've read in a while. Written by the veteran science reporter Jane Stevens, it details the central role of childhood trauma in such things as chronic disease, mental illness, and criminal behavior in adults.

She writes about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, "the largest public health study you never heard of." Done in the 1990s, it was built on the accidental discovery that patients being treated for obesity, including some who were hundreds of pounds overweight, were highly likely to have had traumatic experiences as children, including being victims of sexual abuse, having a mentally ill or alcoholic parent, or having lost a parent through divorce or abandonment. 

Addressing these childhood traumas could help to ease many illnesses and save billions of dollars in healthcare costs, Stevens reports. 

Stevens has embraced these findings and is determined to make sure that this largest-study-you-never-heard-of gets heard. She's writing a book on it, and she has two websites devoted to it. At one of those sites, acestoohigh.com, a commenter says that "the ACE project is to wellness psychology what continental drift was to geology--a unified field theory."

I think that's a fair comparison. Read this story; it's illuminating.

-Paul Raeburn

 

Comments

Thank you for reading the story, and for your kind words, Paul. I hope this intrigues other science reporters to look into the research around adverse childhood experiences. I didn't even get into epigenetics and the hundreds of studies that link childhood trauma with many medical conditions, such as basal cell carcinoma and wound healing. The current understanding is that toxic stress not only affects brain development, but causes systemic inflammation that is expressed decades later.

Cheers, Jane

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