Donna Jackson Nakazawa is an award winning researcher, well known science reporter, writer and the author of the new books: ‘Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal‘, “The Autoimmune Epidemic’ and ‘The Last Best Cure’.
As a science journalist Donna spent over 20 years investigating topics like neurobiology and immunology. What she found to be enlightening was research she discovered on the relationship between childhood adversity and later chronic health problems.
In this interview we are going to look at how childhood trauma can later on cause chronic pain and inflammatory conditions. We will then explore what we can do to reset your biology and get back to health.
Read on to discover:
Listen to the interview below to find out more:
Our immune system is very well prepared to deal with acute stressors in life. However, when these stressors appear on a regular basis (at home for example as a growing child) something else happnes. Children developing in this environment have their stress hormones begin to get set on “high.” This epigenetic change can occur in children’s expression of their DNA – in all 23 chromosomes.
What constitutes a traumatic childhood? Research performed among 17 000 individuals asked them for 10 different types of early childhood adversities. They then compared the answers to their later health records.
Researchers included subtle and common adversity types like living with a depressed parent, or a parent suffering from anxiety or other mental disorder as well as parents constantly arguing. They also included the more extreme types of trauma like being sexually or physically abused or neglected.
Surprisingly all categories turned out to be equally related to a higher chance of suffering from chronic illness in adulthood.
When your body is exposed to a stress factor there is an immediate response (known as the fight or flight response.) Blood is withdrawn from your digestion system and sent to your limbs and all of your muscles, preparing you to run or defend.
Your brain is also rapidly producing a cocktail of stress hormones released throughout your body. This is a survival mechanism that helped us live back when we were hunter gatherers. We needed this response to escape predators.
However, when a child is exposed to continual stress situations, without knowing when the next one is going to occur, actual genetic changes occur. The child develops changes in the genes responsible for switching the stress hormones on and off.
This is what science calls epigenetics – or how certain genes in our DNA react in response to our environment.
As a result children with these epigenetic changes enter a cycle of constantly releasing inflammatory stress hormones. These children’s stress hormones stay constantly set on “high” and they are constantly responding to their environment with the fight or flight response even in the mildest situations. For instance – you get a bill in the mail you were not expecting- and your whole defence system kicks into overdrive.
The stress cycle itself is actually inflammatory – so it makes absolute sense that individuals exposed to constant stress will be more prone to disease like cancer, chronic fatigue and migraines. And this all links back to early childhood adversity.
It is well known that women suffer more often from chronic diseases like autoimmune diseases, depression and fibromyalgia. There is also a higher number of women with childhood diversity and later health issues.
The reason for this lies in the unique mechanisms of the female body. Women tend to have stronger immune system and higher levels of produced anti-bodies when needed. This is the female body’s tool to protect the development of a child in the womb.
However, these highly produced anti-bodies can sometimes turn against healthy tissues, which is exactly what happens in auto-immune diseases.
What is also unique for the female body is that the levels of Glucocorticoids (GCs), hormones that should regulate the inflammatory response, actually go down in stress situations.
Both these factors combined put young women exposed to chronic unpredictable stress more prone to developing health issues in their later years.
It is very important to understand that you are not locked inside your genetics. Diseases and healing are processes – not a final destination.
You must realize first that you deserve to be well.
“Healing Starts with Self-Compassion.”
It is also important to understand that traditional western medicine is just as important for healing as alternative practices like mindfulness, meditation, yoga etc. An integrative approach is what gives faster and better results.
One of the most promising alternative therapies today is EMDR, which has to deal with rapid eye movement therapy, often used with traumas that occurred long in the past.
Rapid eye movement naturally occurs in the stage of REM sleep. Researchers have just started to understand now how these eye movements help to protect our brains. We are just coming to understand that during this stage of sleep something happens in our cerebral spinal fluid that literally washes the brain clean from past traumas.
This “washing” however does not happen effectively for people with past traumas or which alert system is set on “high.” So this is where the EMDR practice is very helpful.
To learn more about Donna and her work you can visit her website.
Read Donna’s books: