A study published in the January issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry revealed that childhood trauma is a “potent risk factor” for developing ME/CFS. The study was done by researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine and the CDC.
The study results confirm that childhood trauma, particularly emotional abuse and sexual abuse, is associated with a six-fold increase in the development of ME/CFS. The risk increases even more with the presence of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms.
The study also found that low levels of cortisol that are commonly seen in ME/CFS patients are also associated with childhood trauma. Cortisol is the hormone that helps the body regulate stress and how the body responds to stress. Ask any ME/CFS patient if they can handle stress and most likely their answer will be a definite NO.
Christine M. Heim, PhD, lead author of the study, said:
The study indicates that low cortisol levels may actually reflect a marker for the risk of developing CFS rather than being a sign of the syndrome itself.”
Here is what was involved with the study:
The population-based study analyzed data from 113 people with CFS, and a control group of 124 people without CFS, drawn from a sample of almost 20,000 Georgians. The results confirm earlier findings from a 2006 study conducted in Wichita, Kan.
Study participants completed a self-reported questionnaire on five different types of childhood trauma including emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and emotional and physical neglect. Researchers also collected saliva samples from participants to record levels of cortisol over one hour after awakening, typically an individual’s highest cortisol levels for the day.
“When looking at CFS cases with and without histories of childhood trauma, only those with childhood trauma had the classic low cortisol levels often seen in CFS cases,” explains Heim.
Heim wanted to point out, however, that not all people who have ME/CFS suffered from childhood trauma and that ME/CFS may be a “spectrum of disorders associated with childhood adversity, depression and anxiety disorders”.
I think that this study and the major exposure that this study has received is going to put us patients back to 20 years ago where physicians and the public believed we’re sick because of psychological reasons, not physical reasons. I would love to know on a larger scale just how many CFS patients have suffered from emotional and/or sexual abuse as children just to get an overall picture of what those results really are.