#39: The Ace Study [Part 2] – Toxic Stress and Illnesses

#39: The Ace Study [Part 2] – Toxic Stress and Illnesses



In the past few episodes, I talked about the role perceptions play in our belief system, reactions, habits, and health. I talked about how EVOX sessions have been super helpful to me.

In episode 37, I talked about the ACE Study. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. You will want to listen to that episode. Take a few minutes to answer 10 questions and get your score. If you can also follow CLICK HERE to answer the questions and get your score online.


Let me share a brief background of the ACE study. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti was running a very successful obesity clinic. However, he noticed “a very unusual problem.”

The very successful people who were losing a lot of weight had the highest dropout rate in the program.

Dr. Felitti started to ask questions. He learned that many were sexually abused or had suffered some other adversity during childhood.

Eventually, he hooked up with the CDC and Kaiser Permanent for a study. They interviewed more than 17,000 people about their childhood experiences in the areas of neglect, abuse, and family dysfunction.

The ACE Study shows the correlation between childhood adversity, toxic stress, and later-life illnesses, and premature death. Obesity is among the illnesses.

According to Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, “toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.”

The ACE Study revealed a few important findings:

  • They cause adult onset of chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as mental illness, violence, and being a victim of violence.
  • The more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.
  • People have an ACE score of 0 to 10. Each type of trauma counts as one, no matter how many times it occurs. You can think of an ACE score as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma. For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholic. Having an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and attempted suicide by 1200 percent.
  • People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years.
  • ACEs are responsible for a big chunk of workplace absenteeism, and for costs in health care, emergency response, mental health and criminal justice.
  • The fifth finding from the ACE Study is that childhood adversity contributes to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health and social health issues.
  • On a population level, it doesn’t matter which four ACEs a person has; the harmful consequences are the same. The brain cannot distinguish one type of toxic stress from another; it’s all toxic stress, with the same impact.

Allow me to add another interesting detail to this convo. Whether you’re a woman or a man, listen up because knowing this can make a huge difference in your life, especially when it comes to managing your health and relationships.

If you are woman, take a deep breath now. Unfortunately, studies have shown that females have more complex patterns of childhood adversity. In turn, females are more significantly more likely than males to report a range of ACEs and mental health, social, and emotional difficulties in adulthood.  For example, women have a 2:1 ration of depression compared with men.

And if you have ever sit down to talk to you male family members and compared notes about childhood, you may have wondered why men don’t remember as many details, especially when it comes to negative experiences, as much as women do…

Dr. Margaret McCarthy, professor of neuroscience at the University of Maryland, discovered that males make about twice as many neurons during the first week of life as females. This may allow males to later “forget” some of the bad things that happened to them, including early life adverse events.

The hormone differences between the gender also cause women to face higher rates of chronic conditions compared to men.

Although this seem unfair and all, there is nothing we can do about our genders. However, each one of us can take steps to heal.

Next episode, I will talk about letting go of these traumas so you can heal and grow to an even more extraordinary version of yourself. I have a high score myself (more coming on that). You and I are not doomed!

That’s it about the ACE Study for today. In the meantime, when you are ready to kick start your health transformation, get the knowledge and accountability you need to succeed, let’s do this. Go to BeFabBeYou.com and schedule a complimentary call. I’d love to be part of your health village.

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Thanks again and talk to you soon.

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