The Negative Impact of Adverse Childhood Events and Environmental Exposures and What to Do About It
One of the perks of being a certified functional medicine practitioner is the access to some of the best and brightest practitioners in healthcare. Last month, my cohorts and I were provided another clinically significant webinar. The topic was on the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Study, presented by Marcelle Pick, OBGYN NP. Marcelle discussed how knowing the link between traumatic events in childhood and increased risk of various diseases would enable medical professionals to consider it as an important factor for healing. She had a good point in that if we weren’t aware of looking for this connection, beyond just emotional effects, we could not provide resources to support those who experienced these negative childhood exposures. (Click here for a sample questionnaire to see your ACE score.)
A few years ago, I discussed the impact of adverse childhood events on mental health outcomes through causing harm to neurological growth. Recently, a study “mapping out” teenage brains found a link between brain development and antisocial behavior, supporting how these traumas impact our youths’ behavior. Furthermore, it has been shown that these harmful stressors influence the production of the stress hormone, cortisol, which at too high levels can perpetuate detrimental brain structural changes and may modulate nervous system responses to stress throughout the lifespan.
If parents are aware of the impact of their response to stress and behavior on their baby’s psychological outcomes, they can take preventative self-care actions that nurture their own bodies and brains which will support their baby. As I learned from the webinar and dove deeper into the ACE study, I found out that not only do adverse childhood events impact mental outcomes, I was astounded to see how they impact almost every aspect of physical health, as listed here. Therefore, mitigating emotional and physical stressors, starting with the developing child, is paramount and powerful preventative medicine for an all-around healthier world.
Here are some steps parents-to-be can do to help little ones start off as optimally as possible. Please feel free to share them with loved ones and friends.
1.Use essential oils– the combination of these volatile secondary metabolites and the powerful response of olfaction can ease tension and modulate our biochemistry, having a positive effect on baby. In fact, prenatal stress has just been found to be a predictor of autism, especially those with the stress-sensitive gene, causing a variation in serotonin levels in the body. This makes essential oils an important part of our wellness toolkit in sniffing out negative reactionary responses.
Dr. Z just wrote a wonderful blog on essential oils and pregnancy regarding safe use of oils in pregnancy. It is a great resource to provide more detail on this topic–the science supporting and the lack of evidence of harm. Due to the biochemical, psychological, and physiological impact of essential oils, I believe they are one of the most powerful natural substances we can use to modulate emotional and physical health for all ages. However, make sure you visit my database on essential oils to learn about responsible use of them in children and for yourself.
2. Optimize prenatal nutritional intake– mom’s diet can cause havoc or assist with proper brain functioning and overall wellness in the growing embryo and fetus. Some vital nutrients that have been shown to positively impact formation of healthy brain structures, and can cause detriment when at low levels, include:
- omega-3 fatty acids ((especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA))
- vitamin D
- choline and other B-vitamins
Furthermore, a healthy diet will keep mamma’s belly bugs happy and we now know little critters transfer to baby through the placenta contributing to immune balance.
3. Decrease toxic exposure– children are especially vulnerable to them due to their critical development periods. This blog includes a list of chemicals to be especially aware of during pregnancy and here are some more quick tips on optimizing epigenetic inheritance. (Read more about epigenetics here if you are new to the term.)
In this video, a very interesting perspective from Julianna Deardorff, a Berkeley professor of Maternal and Child Health and adolescent psychologist regarding what is causing early puberty in girls is presented. She mentions the impact of environmental chemicals and has some very insightful connections.
4. Parenting Style- once the baby is born, studies have shown that parenting style effects a child’s future outcomes in all areas of life. For example, children who received more positive attention had better outcomes in future earning potential, levels of happiness, academic success, and sense of morality in a comparison of several types of pare. This proves that there’s more to a child’s ability to make a great life than intelligence, what can be found in the “success gene”, or promoting overworking, which can actually be detrimental to health.
In another recent study on the effects of parenting, researchers videotaped parents’ interaction with their kids to see how it impacted their children’s development. They found that harsh parenting was linked to adverse health effects later on. Interestingly, this held true even if one parent’s “warmth” acted as a “buffer.” Furthermore, even the perception of negative judgement can be felt by one’s offspring. Health Day reported on a study in which children who perceived their parents as more judging of their weight actually put on more pounds than children with more accepting parents!
Finally, a review of 14 studies reported that certain temperament traits (high levels of impulsivity and disinhibition; low levels of effortful control, negative affect, fearfulness and shyness) were associated with higher levels of externalizing behaviors and substance abuse in adverse family environments. The authors also found some studies that these children with vulnerable temperaments had the lowest levels of externalizing behaviors and substance abuse in more supportive households. The results seemed to hold more so in younger children.
Summary and the Importance of Expecting the Best
All of these factors can seem a little overwhelming, but it’s important to note that our state of mind can impact biological pathways and even our epigenome. Therefore, think of these factors as empowering your choices, rather than information overload. If we are going to change the world and make it a better place, I firmly believe the foundation starts in utero and extends outward. Still, it’s not too late for adults either. As I mentioned above, if we know of our vulnerabilities, we have the power to make choices that can support our mental health.
For instance, in a previous blog, I looked further at factors such as exposure to stress hormones, microbiome imprints, and genetic variances influencing one’s “nervous predisposition” in adulthood. If one is aware of these connections that make them more sensitive and reactionary to stress (or environmental stimuli that is perceived as stressful), they can choose to implement lifestyle tools to modulate them. In this blog, I discussed all the factors to consider when optimizing mental health and overall wellness.
Before I bid this bog ado, I can’t forget to mention the importance of social support for health. I have an update on “The Power of the Healing Connection” here.
Please click on the links to see original sources and previous blogs with source list.