Research I Never Knew as an MD
When I developed a chronic illness I never thought I had experienced trauma. I had no idea that adverse life events affect risk for all kinds of chronic illnesses and that most of us don’t think we’ve had difficult experiences. As a doctor, I was trained to think that life experiences cause psychological symptoms and that chronic diseases are caused by genes, mutations, or other physical problems such as faulty enzymes, mitochondria and the like. I’ve since discovered research showing that experiences literally shape how our genes express themselves. It’s been eye-opening and the research is becoming more accepted and visible, including at Harvard, Columbia and the like. The science may help you make sense of your chronic illness too.
Summary of the Science
Research in type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases and other chronic illnesses shows that 50% of risk is caused by genes, while 50% of risk comes from the environment. 100 years of science shows that adverse life experiences are important risk factors for chronic diseases of all kinds. This new view is supported by a large body of old and new studies in neurophysiology, brain development, epigenetics, attachment, child development, traumatic stress, immune and nervous system development and more. 11 characteristics have emerged showing how life experiences shape the development of illness years before the onset of disease and how these effects occur because experience shapes our genes.
I never realized that I’d experienced trauma until I uncovered research showing that adverse life experiences affect risk for chronic illnesses of all kinds, including my own. I had never heard of this research as a doctor. When I trained and specialized as a trauma therapist what I learned helped me connect the dots even further. Understanding trauma made sense of my flares and other experiences with chronic fatigue (ME/CFS). This is my story.