Just under half (45 percent) of children in the US have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), which is a traumatic event that occurs before the age of 18, such as neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, according to the National Child Health Organization.
ACEs and their impact on individual lives are a difficult and heavy reality that needs to be addressed. Oftentimes, ACEs accompany other adverse environmental and societal exposures, such as air pollution, poverty, community violence, bullying, and discrimination. ACEs are linked to various detrimental health outcomes, including chronic diseases, mental health disorders, and substance abuse.
“Trauma is widespread with the potential to be exceptionally debilitating and devastating; thus, it is vital that medical professionals start implementing positive lifestyle interventions to minimize the effect of ACEs and trauma with our patients,” says Rusly Harsono, MD, Stanford Medicine pediatrician.
ACEs are associated with increases in systemic inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, and pro-inflammatory cytokines, which promote adverse health outcomes. Through addressing systemic inflammation, the health consequences associated with ACEs can be combated.
In the research paper, “The Call for Lifestyle Medicine Interventions to Address the Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences,” Rhonda Spencer, DrPH, MPH and her research team at Loma Linda University have explored whether lifestyle medicine can be leveraged to address systemic inflammation to combat health consequences associated with ACEs through studying centenarians.
Despite tremendous ACEs and additional environmental stressors, the centenarians in the study have lived long and healthy lives. The research team hypothesized that the lifestyle choices the centenarians had made in their childhood and across their lifespan, such as engaging in physical activity, time in nature, routine rest, plant-based diet, connection with family and friends, faith foundation, helping others, and a positive outlook on life, may have protected them against the long-term effects of ACEs.
Dr. Harsono expresses that this research is a call to action for medical professionals.
Here are evidence-based lifestyle interventions that Dr. Harsono and Dr. Spencer recommend for medical professionals to prevent and treat early chronic disease among their patients:
- Provide a standard whole health lifestyle questionnaire that assesses physical activity, time in nature, routine rest, plant-based diet, developing and strengthening family and friend relationships, faith foundation, ability to help others, and a positive outlook on life.
- Create education opportunities on evidence-based lifestyle interventions for patients and medical staff.
- Promote key partnerships between healthcare institutions and local community-based organizations to develop whole health programs for battling the effects of ACEs.
- Encourage and conduct research to assess the impact of protective lifestyle factors on mitigating the adverse effects of ACEs, especially the inflammatory response.
“It is important to see the impact of lifestyle interventions for ACEs, in combination with other treatment modalities,” says Dr. Harsono. “These interventions are powerful, and we should promote and practice them in the medical community as much as possible.”