Building Resilience Against the Sequelae of Adverse Childhood Experiences: Rise Up, Change Your Life, and Reform Health Care

Am J Lifestyle Med. 2019 Apr 15;13(5):470-479. doi: 10.1177/1559827619839997. eCollection Sep-Oct 2019.


A reformed approach to health care tackles health at its roots. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in those exposed to them may contribute significantly to the root causes of many diseases of lifestyle. ACEs are traumatic experiences, such as physical and emotional abuse and exposure to risky family environments. In 1998, a ground-breaking study found that nearly 70% of Americans experience at least 1 ACE in their lifetime, and graded exposure is associated with the presence of mental health disorders, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Over the past 20 years, evidence has demonstrated further disease risk, outcomes, and epigenetic underpinnings in children and adults with ACEs. Building resilience-the capacity to adapt in healthy ways to traumatic experiences-through lifestyle modification offers potential to combat the negative health effects associated with ACEs. Emerging research demonstrates resilience is cultivated through individual skills (emotional intelligence, coping, and fostering healthy lifestyle choices), and nurturing supportive relationships. Being mindful of the impact and prevalence of ACEs and diversity of individuals' experiences in society will help build resilience and combat the root cause of chronic disease. This review aims to cultivate that awareness and will discuss 3 objectives: to discuss the effects and hypothesized pathophysiological underpinnings of traumatic experiences in childhood on health and wellbeing throughout life, to present ways we can promote resilience in our daily lives and patient encounters, and to demonstrate how advocacy for the reduction of ACEs and promotion of resilient, trauma-informed environments are fundamental to health care reform.

Keywords: adverse childhood experiences (ACEs); advocacy; resilience; trauma.