Stress and Disease of Body Organs (1)

My usual focus is on the connection between stress and physical symptoms that are not explained by detectable disease.  However, there is also research showing a link between stress and diseases of body organs.  An earlier post (Adults who had Stress in Childhood (2)) reviewed results  from the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study led by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda.

The ACE Study found that adults who suffered stress in childhood were more likely to have disease of the liver, lungs (emphysema), heart and immune system (autoimmune disorders) than adults who did not experience childhood stress.  One reason for this was that childhood stress survivors were more likely to be overweight and to abuse tobacco, alcohol and intravenous drugs.  However, the authors used statistical techniques to remove these influences and found that childhood stress was still a significant factor in the development of these diseases in adults.  They speculate that this may be due to greater inflammation within the bodies of stress survivors, caused by increases in stress-related hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and likely other unknown factors.

The authors go on to present the interesting concept that food, tobacco, alcohol and drugs often are used as partial solutions to life issues that have roots in a person’s early years.  Treatment programs for obesity and substance abuse that fail to attend to these underlying psychological problems are likely to experience lower long-term success rates.

They also point out that the health care system fails to address the adverse childhood factor in many common illnesses.  This is a tremendous missed opportunity.  When Dr Felitti’s medical group trained their clinicians to ask about adverse childhood experience and how it affected an individual’s life, they found a 35% reduction in clinic visits (comparing the year after the interview with the year before), an 11% reduction in Emergency Dept visits and a 3% reduction in hospital admissions.

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