Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Physiological Responding to Stress in Young Adults
The ACEs study explored the link between high levels of exposure to childhood adversity and poor chronic health outcomes across the lifespan. Participants were screened with the ACEs questionnaire, which identifies childhood experiences of abuse, neglect, and trauma early in life. The study examined various underlying biological mechanisms of long term health outcomes, including indicators of allostatic load (HDL cholesterol, body mass index, percent body fat, and blood pressure), behavioral differences (discomfort tolerance, trait anxiety), and autonomic nervous system responding. The study found that participants with 4 or more ACEs showed more sensitivity to discomfort, reported higher levels of anxiety, and exhibited a profile of autonomic responding that may underlie the risk for coronary artery disease found in those with four or more ACEs later in life. Importantly, this study also showed no differences between those with four or more ACEs and those with no ACEs on other health indicators, including blood pressure, BMI, and cholesterol. Taken together, these findings suggest that interventions that promote autonomic health through exercise and social support may offset the risks of health problems for those who have experiences childhood adversity.