In the Spring of 2010, Jack Shonkoff (et al) wrote an article with the Center on the Developing Child, explaining how early childhood trauma can alter the structural genome (the approximately 23 thousand genes children inherit from their parents). A negative life event, such as abuse and neglect, can leave a chemical “signature” on the genes and this can turn them on or off. A child’s brain developing with altered epigenomes will result in changed behavior. If the wrong genes are turned on or off, this can also lead to the individual being much more susceptible to disease later in life as the altered genes may result in underdeveloped organs (such as the kidneys, brain, heart etc.)
The paper goes on to state: “Moreover, research in both animals and humans shows that some epigenetic changes that occur in the fetus during pregnancy can be passed on to later generations, affecting the health and welfare of children, grandchildren, and their descendants.”
I have recently set up this web site to post some of my discoveries relating to research I’ve been doing for a documentary on traumatic stress. I hope that future posts will elicit responses and discussions from you on the topics. This is an ever evolving work in progress.
I have been fortunate enough to interview some of the leading professionals in the trauma field and have had a chance to look at the many and varied ways in which people and institutions are dealing with treating traumatic stress disorders. I want this site to be a place where I can post any opinion related to the subject and learn from your responses.
The documentary argues three specific points:
1. Traumatic stress is the cause of thousands of common symptoms, making it the nation’s largest and costliest health care crisis. Trauma is hidden in plain sight and will affect 90 per cent of us in our lifetime.
2. Our current medical approaches to treating trauma are highly profitable and highly ineffective. If the medical industry continues to treat symptoms, traumatic stress will continue to consume and harm the lives of millions.
3. There are doctors and health practitioners who have stepped outside the box of conventional medical practice and have been getting extraordinary results with trauma victims. Further, the huge advances in biological understanding of trauma and the technology such as PET scans, have allowed much deeper insight into the nature of the disease.
I hope you enjoy the site, give me unfettered feedback and post comments to generate discussion.
(If you do not want to be included please hit the unsubscribe button on the web site. If you know anyone who is interested, please pass the information along).
traumatic stress is permanently encoded in the brain. Here’s how*:
Encoding starts with activation of a neuron or neurons in the amygdala where the event begins to map out its pathway that leads to an encoded event. On these neurons are many types of receptors, but for our purposes, it is AMPA glutamate receptors that are critical and they become potentiated (increase in number and permanence) at the post-synaptic neuron. It is these receptors that are activated when the event is recalled. (So when you sit with your therapist and discuss the traumatic event again and again, you are simply reactivating the receptors and pouring another round of toxic cocktail of cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine into your body, until of course you become so dissociated, your therapist interprets that as “cured” or “recovered” and you move on. “Tell me about the mugging” Bam! the pathway lights up and you become emotional which is what the therapist likes but your body does not as it is extremely taxing on things like your immune system, heart, liver, arteries etc. More about that later…)
The most common operation in the US is circumcision. This is done without an anesthetic to newborn babies usually in the first seven days of their life.
First off, studies show that babies feel pain and process pain even when in the womb. For many years doctors have assumed otherwise and have routinely operated (open heart surgery, corrective eye surgery etc etc.) on under one year olds without any anesthetic. (In 1988 the AMA finally changed their policy). Talk about trauma!
Second, if we take the action of circumcision outside of religious context, it seems awfully barbaric. Try explaining to someone from another planet why we chop off a very sensitive part of a new born baby’s anatomy. Many in the US claim the “tradition” argument. But circumcision became a trend in the mid-eighteenth century due to a campaign to stop boys masturbating. It failed in that.
Click here to see original NYT article.
In a New York Times Article, Dr. Friedman wonders why insight in therapy on specific traumatic issues did not make his patients any better. He rightly points out that insight “even adds to a person’s misery”.
Dear Dr. Friedman,
Having spent the better part of a year researching issues around post traumatic stress symptoms for an upcoming documentary, I feel the need to reply to your recent article and share some information I have found.
Scientists now know that traumatic events become permanently encoded in the brain, forever. These events can, and regularly are, triggered by either trying to gain insight into them or through any number of senses such as a particular smell, sight or taste. It is also why PTSD and other trauma sufferers literally experience the past event as though it is happening in the present.
Robert Anda, a doctor, advisor to the Center for Disease Control, and co-author of the ACE Studies (Adverse Childhood Experiences) makes the point that subjecting your child to neglect or traumatic experiences is akin to feeding your child lead paint chips. The damage to the child’s developing brain is similar with both actions.
The DSM defines trauma as having “experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with …actual, or threatened death or serious injury…to self or others and responding to that event with intense fear , helplessness, or horror.”
Traumatic stress is one of the most prevalent, insidious diseases we, as individuals and a nation, face today. If you are like the millions of other Americans who have been in a situation where you have felt helpless- whether at work, financially, at home, in an accident etc- then you have experienced traumatic stress. Trauma is created in a state of helplessness.