Early Childhood Experience and Long-Term Health

The topic of early childhood experience as it relates to long-term health is rather personal for me and has been my chosen topic of research for many years.  In some ways, it has been a search for meaning. Having been raised in a very scary environment fraught with intermittent bouts of rage, alcohol, and domestic violence, my sense of safety and security were fleeting at best.

I really get it, why my father was so abusive and tormented or why my mother was unable to formulate a plan to protect us.  I’ve come to understand that part of my experience as a piece of a puzzle in the all too common multi-generational transmission of interpersonal trauma.

What I have struggled with is understanding my enduring response to adverse childhood experience and how it has impacted my sense of self, my beliefs, and my general health and well-being.

Last century, fundamental advances were made in medicine, both in studying the disease process and in developing methods and treatments to overcome disease which have led to the present model of the adult onset of disease and chronic illness.  In this model, once you hit 50, all kinds of things start to go wrong in the body.

Adult Onset of Disease Model

As a health care practitioner, I find this perspective somewhat limiting since more recent research is now exploring the link between  adult health status and early childhood experience.   In fact, in 1999, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) invited scientists and researchers specializing in early childhood experience to form the Early Experience, Stress Neurobiology & Prevention Science network.   Their task has been to correlate data from animal studies of early life experience with data from human psychosocial research in the study of emotional and stress-related disorders.  Their findings suggest that the effects of early life stress are cumulative and far-reaching, giving us insight into the role of early life experience in long-term health.  This series will explore this fascinating and relevant topic in more detail so stay tuned!

Have your ever thought of stress as cumulative?  Do you think that early childhood experience, positive or negative, can impact adult health?

The Limitations of Body as Machine

Metaphor of Body as Machine

The long-established metaphor, body as a machine, a by-product of reductionism (the primary scientific method of inquiry used in the study of living systems) is losing its relevance in the face of advancing scientific knowledge.  Why should this matter to you and me?  It matters because according to medical anthropologists, Robbie Davis-Floyd and Gloria St. John, the cultural manner in which the body is defined determines how it is viewed and treated within the medical health care system.

Body as Machine or Information System?

 

Biomedicine and the Reductionist Method

Most of us were introduced to the reductionist method in our high school science classes.  In bio-medicine, this method involves the breaking down and dissecting of anatomical structures and physiological pathways into biochemical and structural components for analysis with the aim of developing more effective ways to intervene in the disease process.  While this approach has supported advancements in molecular biology, pharmacology, and surgical interventions, it is proving to be too limited in understanding and intervening in chronic illnesses as these tend to be whole-body-systems disorders.  More importantly, this perspective nearly discards what physiologist Dr. James Oschman calls “the single most important attribute” of every living organism:  it’s systemic interconnectedness.

Beyond the Metaphor

With chronic disease becoming epidemic and health care costs skyrocketing out of control, it behooves researcher and consumer alike to examine the  emerging evidence of contemporary models of the human body which have incorporated the principle of holism, the idea that the body must be studied as a whole interconnected system.  This series will explore the emerging idea of body as information system and discuss how this novel perspective can help you take charge of your health and wellness in order to avoid or reverse chronic disease.

How do you experience your body, as a machine that can have its parts reworked or replaced when needed or as a dynamic interconnected system? Do the two concepts mutually exclude each other?

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