Paperback Release of The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine

When I sat down in my attic to write THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine, I never imagined that it would be so needed in our world! 2020 has been chock-full of adversity, uncertainty and distress on so many levels: the worst pandemic in a hundred years, millions facing economic uncertainty, global climate change, and mounting political discord. 

The past decade has been a golden era in brain research, one in which scientists have offered extraordinary hope for today’s mental health crisis by rewriting our basic understanding of how disorders of the human brain develop, and how we might help prevent or ameliorate them. And they all come down to one tiny, elusive cell, called microglia (remember that name!), which turn out to be game-changers for mental health.

The Angel and the Assassin offers a deep dive into recent groundbreaking discoveries about the brain and how microglia link our mental and physical health. When we are facing external stressors, including viral infections or chronic emotional stressors, these cells can wreak havoc in our brain, sparking inflammation and a wide range of problems. However, under the right circumstances, microglia can be coaxed into becoming healers, able to repair the brain in ways that help alleviate symptoms ranging from memory loss and anxiety to depression.

This book offers more hope and promise for human healing than any other science I’ve ever reported on. Today, as we face a pandemic and unprecedented political unrest, we need, more than ever, to understand what helps and what harms brain health, and have new pathways for healing.

I am excited to announce that The Angel and the Assassin will be available everywhere in paperback format January 19, 2021. If you haven’t already, grab your copy here!

Click here to read the prologue: When the Body Attacks the Brain.

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To learn more about the brain and the long-overlooked cells called microglia, check out these excellent press releases and podcasts about The Angel and the Assassin:

Your Healing Narrative: Write-to-Heal With Neural Re-Narrating™️

Happy 2021!

2020 was a year unlike any other. But it also brought home for many of us what matters most, including the importance of nurturing and harnessing the power of our nervous system and brain toward equanimity so that we can flourish even in the face of adversity.

Your Healing Narrative: Write-to-Heal With Neural Re-Narrating™ is my 2021 offering for individuals, parents, teachers, social workers, therapists, and health care professionals, to help ease a little bit of the anxiety, suffering, and trauma we are all experiencing.

Over my three decades as a science journalist, in the course of writing seven books and exploring the intersection of neuroscience, emotion, and the mind-body connection, I’ve sat with many individuals who’ve suffered from adversity and interviewed hundreds of leading neuroscientists. Your Healing Narrative: Write-to-Heal With Neural Re-Narrating™ is a compilation and distillation of all that I’ve learned – a synthesis of all the best strategies I know for flourishing in the face of adversity. In this program, which combines writing-to-heal techniques with science-based trauma-healing interventions and mindfulness approaches, I’ve set out to help you learn how to override your brain’s old, habitual reactions and create new, healthier responses that reset the brain and nervous system for peace and possibility.

In the past, I’ve shared how I faced a number of challenging life experiences and traumas throughout my life, both growing up, and as an adult.

I know what it’s like to feel as if you’re swimming hard against an invisible tide of challenges and stressors – whether it’s trauma from the past, stressors in your current life, chronic health conditions, or concerns over someone you dearly love. And I know how hard it is to utilize healing strategies when facing uncertainty and adversity. When the world around me, or the lives of those I love, spin into chaos, these are the moments I’ve become most caught up in rumination and self-criticism, and resisted taking care of my own well-being. 

All too often, especially if we are women or serve in the healing professions, we may be so busy caring for others that we don’t turn our attention to our own inner well-being with the self-compassion we deserve.

This year has been chock-full of adversity, uncertainty and distress on so many levels: the worst pandemic in a hundred years, millions facing economic uncertainty, global climate change, and mounting political discord. Over time, facing unpredictable, chronic stressors can deliver us into a low-grade state of fight, flight, freeze, sabotaging our immune system and our nervous system. Perhaps you’ve noticed changes in your mood, mindset, or health. Or, perhaps you’re not aware of the tension you may be holding onto as you keep on coping, and caregiving for those who need you. Either way, over time, chronic stress can begin to take a physical and emotional toll your long-term health. 

Knowledge in and of itself is not enough to change old, neural patterns. When we try to change our thought patterns and reactions on our own, we automatically overlay old, ingrained thought patterns onto newly learned approaches. 

That’s why I’ve created Your Healing Narrative: Write-to-Heal With Neural Re-Narrating™ in which I carefully guide you step-by-step through over 100 lessons, activities, and strategies. Throughout this course you’ll go on a journey, using the process of writing-to-heal to recognize old, painful thought patterns; observe how your history of adversity may be affecting your health, relationships, and well-being; and begin rewriting your inner story to create a new, more powerful, resonant, and purposeful healing narrative that will help you to flourish in your life, even in the face of adversity. 

My hope is that through this course, you’ll come away with simple but powerful tools to create a deep and lasting inner sense of resiliency. By doing this transformative work, you will not only help yourself through difficulties from the past, as well as in your present life, you’ll also begin to extend that inner sense of safety, and the resources you learn, to help those around you thrive.

In truth, I wish I had been able to take this program myself decades ago, earlier in my own healing journey, both as a parent, and as an individual with chronic health conditions. And so, I created it for all of you, to help you thrive through these unprecedented times. 

I’ve created two versions of this program: one for Healing Professionals and one for Individuals. You can learn more here.

I truly believe that Neural Re-Narrating™ holds the key to creating more powerful healing possibilities for inner peace and flourishing, even in these times of adversity! 

You can learn more about the different program offerings here! Be sure to use the code CALM2021 to get $25 off the introductory price!

Big Women, Little Women, Small Oscars

The Oscars are this Sunday, and as war movies and films about repressed male feelings take center stage, I’ve been thinking about why Greta Gerwig’s Little Women had me wiping away tears during the last 30 minutes of the film – something that also happened to me while watching another Gerwig film, Lady Bird.

Continue reading Big Women, Little Women, Small Oscars

The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine – now available everywhere!

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Dear Readers, Friends, All, 

I’m thrilled to announce that THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine in now on bookshelves and available everywhere!

When I first told you, my readers, that I was setting out to tell the story of these tiny brain cells, microglia (remember that name!) that connect our physical and mental health, and why these cells wield so much power over how we feel right here, right now — changing everything we thought we knew about depression, anxiety, chronic pain, mood disorders, and cognitive health, I was moved by your response.

Continue reading The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine – now available everywhere!

The Angel and The Assassin: Book Launch and Tour Info

Dear all,

The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine will be out in just 6 days!

If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering from your local bookstore or seller of your choice!

You can also check out this review in Kirkus, or read the prologue here!

And, I have a piece about the book coming out in Wired magazine on January 21, as well as OpEds in The Boston Globe and STAT, so keep your eyes peeled!

I’m heading out on tour starting on the 21st, and would love to see your lovely faces! All the details are on my website, but here’s a quick look at where I’ll be over the next month. Let me know if you’re coming on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram! Invite your friends! Come and ask me questions! 


JANUARY 21 – BALTIMORE
The Ivy Bookstore – 7:00 pm
In conversation with Sheilah Kast, host of On the Record, WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR News Station, with book signing and wine tasting to follow, courtesy of Peter Wood of The French Paradox (Voted Best Wine Store in Baltimore)!

JANUARY 30 – CAMBRIDGE, MA
Harvard Science Center – 6:00 pm
Harvard Division of Science, Harvard Cabot Science Library Series, Harvard Bookstore
In conversation with
Carey Goldberg, host of CommonHealth, WBUR, Boston’s NPR Station, and the brilliant Beth Stevens Ph.D., MacArthur Fellow and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator 

FEBRUARY 5 – BELMONT, MA
Belmont Books – 7:00 pm
In conversation with the amazing Bina Venkataraman, editorial page editor, The Boston Globe, and author of the amazing book The Optimist’s Telescope

FEBRUARY 10 – BROOKLYN, NY
Word Books – 7:00 pm
A Sob Sisters event organized by the sensational trio of New York Times bestselling writers, Susannah Cahalan, Ada Calhoun, Karen Abbott
In conversation with Kate Winkler Dawson, author of the wonderful book, American Sherlock
Sign up here

FEBRUARY 12 – ANNAPOLIS, MD
Eastport Library – 6:30 pm
Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County and Old Fox Books
In conversation with the brilliant
Christina Bethell, Ph.D., professor of public health at Bloomberg School of Health at Johns Hopkins

FEBURARY 15 – HARRISBURG, PA
Midtown Scholar – 5:00 pm
In conversation with Brett Sholtis, reporter for Transforming Health, WITF, Harrisburg’s NPR News Station


Those are the dates! I so hope to see you there!

Thank you all for your help and support- please feel free to post and share this widely!

– Donna

The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine

Available January 21st, 2020!

Hi all!

My new book, THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN: THE TINY BRAIN CELL THAT CHANGED THE COURSE OF MEDICINE will be out in just 2 months, on January 21st, 2020! After two years of reporting, researching, writing, factchecking, I can’t wait to share it with you!

If you haven’t heard me yammering about it on social media (Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, please follow me?) here’s some of the news that I’ve been sharing!

I’m grateful for early praise pouring in from leading authors, scientists, physicians, and experts in their fields, people I think of, really, as Heroes of Humanity!

Susannah CahalanNew York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire calls The Angel and the Assassin “A fascinating deep dive into the unsung heroes (and villains) inside our skulls….Donna Jackson Nakazawa has a journalist’s eye for story, a scholar’s understanding of the research, and patient’s appreciation for high the stakes truly are.”

Dan Siegel, MD, Psychiatrist and Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine, and author of Mindsight says, “An inspiring account…will provide a game-changing view of health for generations of researchers, clinicians and citizens for years to come. Bravo!”

Shannon Brownlee, Senior Vice President of the Lown Institute, author of Overtreated writes, “Few non-fiction writers can tell the tale of scientific inquiry so vividly the reader can feel the excitement of discovery with every word. Donna Jackson Nakazawa is one of those writers, and this book tells the tale of one of the most intriguing and groundbreaking discoveries in all of medicine.”

Thomas Insel, MD, Former Director, National Institute of Mental Health 2002 – 2015, writes that The Angel and the Assassin is “A deft, scientific story about the ‘Cinderella’ cell of the brain, microglia . . . Jackson Nakazawa explains the possible translation of the science into solutions for brain disorders, health and disease.”

Christina Bethell, PhD, Professor of Child Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says,  “A captivating, page-turning story of the scientific discoveries that overturn centuries of medical domga. The Angel and the Assassin offers extraordinary promise and heralds new hope … paradigm shifting reading for us all.”

Mark Hyman, MD, Director, The Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, New York Times bestselling author of Food, says, “[This] is the rarest of books, a combination of page-turning discovery and remarkably readable scientific journalism. A book to both savor and share.” 

Susannah Tye, PhD, Director, Translational Neuroscience Laboratory, Mayo Clinic calls The Angel and the Assassin “An impressive, inspiring, timely call to arms.”

Terry Wahls, MD, author The Wahls Protocol, says, “The Angel and the Assassin is riveting, engaging. Nakazawa’s work is visionary.” 

Peggy OrensteinNew York Times bestselling author of Girls & Sex, writes, “The Angel and the Assassin is one of those astonishing medical yarns that you almost can’t believe: how the power of this tiny cell was so long overlooked, how integral it has become to our understanding of neuroscience and immunology, the way it has transformed the most basic ideas of who we are as humans. It is especially essential reading for women, who face depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders at higher rates than men.”

Andrew Weil, MDNew York Times bestselling author of Healthy Aging says, “Donna Jackson Nakazawa puts forth a revolutionary new way of thinking about the brain’s immune system and its interactions with [the] rest of the body….Much of the information here was new to me, and has made me more optimistic about the future of medicine.”

If you ARE maybe thinking of buying a copy of THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN one day, would you consider pre-ordering? One of the most helpful things you can do to support an author’s work is to preorder the book from your independent, community bookseller. Here’s why! (Get ready for an INSIDE PEEK at publishing!) When you preorder from your local bookstore, the bookstore owner takes note: OH! HEY! PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED IN THIS BOOK! That makes them more likely to order copies, stock the book, place it in the bookstore window, write about it in their newsletter, and suggest it to other readers! (Oh, and to invite said author to do a book signing near you :). ALL THIS LEADS TO ANOTHER UNBELIEVABLY HELPFUL THING!! INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES report pre-sales and sales to The New York Times Bestseller list (and other lists!). Lists RELY on small, privately owned bookshops sales reports for rankings! HOW CAN YOU DO THIS? IT TAKES ONE MINUTE AND FOUR CLICKS. This link takes you to the page for THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN where you’ll find options for pre-ordering. Click on INDIEBOUND. Type in your zipcode (on the right where it says “Buy at a local store.”) ORDER! (Maybe that is only three clicks? Even better.) If you want to buy on Amazon or Barnes & Noble that’s okay too! You’ll see those options at the same link. BOTTOM LINE: PRE-ordering an upcoming book from your LOCAL FRIENDLY BOOKSELLER IS THE ULTIMATE GIFT YOU CAN GIVE AN AUTHOR IF YOU VALUE READING THEIR BOOKS.

As we get closer to pub date I’ll be sharing my speaking schedule, where I’ll be signing books, and other big news! Stay tuned and THANK YOU for all of your help and support! I’m lucky to have the best readers on the planet! (Oh, and please share this widely!)

Donna

Why We Need to Talk About the Unique Biological Effects of #ToxicChildhoodStress and #FemaleAdversity on Women’s Bodies and Brains.

The Female Body and Brain on Toxic Stress

(CRUCIAL NOTE HERE BEFORE YOU READ: Boys’ immune systems become dysregulated in response to #toxicstress too, and that leads to disease and changes to the brain that we also need to talk about more openly AND compassionately. Today I’m focusing on girls’ unique immune response to #toxicstress.)

So, exactly what happens in a girl’s body, in response to #toxicstress, that leads girls to be more likely to be ill as adult women? EVERY WOMAN WAS ONCE A GIRL. So, we should figure this conundrum out, right?

(For more on the scientific link between toxic childhood stress, being female, and later developing autoimmune disease, depression and other conditions, please read PART I of this essay, Why Girls Who Face Toxic Stress are More Vulnerable to Adult Illness: The Shocking Relationship Between Being Female, #ACEs, Autoimmune Disease and Depression)

Well, it turns out that girls’ developing immune systems react differently to toxic stress than boy’s do. This is because of some basic physiological differences between women and men. Women are, generally, physically smaller than men and our hearts and lungs are much smaller in size. Yet our anatomy makes added room to carry a fetus in order to create new human life.

Our smaller heart, lungs, and organs still have to be able to do everything a human male does – pump oxygen, circulate blood, run fast, think fast, be awake 16 or 17 hours a day – and have the necessary fuel to carry a child to term. We have to do double duty, on half the machinery.

Women can do so much more on less because we also have higher baseline levels of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen acts as a kind of messenger, carrying information between groups of our cells. Say we are stressed, or catch a flu, or get a vaccine – estrogen helps us, as women, have a more robust immune response. This more robust immune response is also thanks to steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids (or GCs). Glucocorticoids are produced by the adrenal gland and are anti-inflammatory. They help regulate inflammation.

If a woman is pregnant, glucocorticoids help us to keep our baby safe and carry it to term, even if we come down with the flu, or have a physical injury. Our immune system is poised, all the time, to protect our ability to carry another life.

This heightened female immune response also means that when our immune system sets out to fight off any foreign invader, such as a virus or bacteria, as women we also produce more of what are called antibodies, or fighter immune cells. That’s good. BUT it can also be a problem. As women, when we produce more antibody fighter cells, we also produce more autoantibodies. Autoantibodies are rogue fighter immune cells that can mistakenly attack the body’s own tissue or organs, in what we refer to as friendly fire. As in #autoimmunedisease.

When women, ESPECIALLY GIRLS, repeatedly face #toxicstress during the developmental years, over time, their stress response begins to be dysregulated. Glucocorticoids, or GCs, become less able to properly regulate a healthy, appropriate immune response, which leads to more inflammation.

Now remember, in the face of threats that prick up the immune system (which includes infections, physical injury, AND social threats and stressors), girls ALSO make more antibodies AND more rogue autoantibodies – again, because we have so much more estrogen.

This leads to a double whammy. It’s a simple equation:

A (Glucocorticoids stop regulating a proper immune response in face of #toxicstress)

+ B (Estrogen leads to production of more autoantibodies, which can attack the body itself)

= C (When girls face toxic stress, rogue autoantibodies can run amok, promoting slow-brew inflammation, and later disease)

This means that, over time, a woman’s immune system is a lot more likely to begin to attack her own body. This accounts for the fact that #autoimmunediseases strike women at three times the rate of men. For some illnesses that ratio is far higher. Examples. Women develop Hashimoto’s thyroiditis at a rate of 10:1 compared with men. In lupus, that rate is 9:1. In Sjögren’s syndrome, 9:1. #AutoimmuneDisease is one of the top ten leading causes of death in women under the age of sixty-five.

Fifty million Americans have an autoimmune disease, and three-quarters of these are women.

Women are also twice as likely as men to have chronic pain syndromes. Women with an ACE score of 3 are significantly more likely to have chronic pain syndromes including headaches, back and neck problems. Women are also more likely to have “contested conditions” – meaning the medical profession is still debating whether these autoimmune conditions are real or just psychosomatic — such as #chroniclyme, #chronicfatigue and #fibromyalgia.

A heightened inflammatory stress response also affects the architecture of the #femalebrain differently than the male brain. A girl’s brain, on adversity, is a vulnerable brain in unique ways. For instance, both boys and girls who grow up with #toxicstress demonstrate, on brain scans, fewer neural connections between the pre-frontal cortex (the decision-making center of the brain) and the hippocampus (an area of the brain that helps us to make sense of our emotions and experiences). But, in girls who grow up with #toxicstress and #ACEs, another area of neural connectivity is affected. It goes offline. Synaptic connections between an area of the brain known as the amygdala (the fear-and-alert center of the brain) and the pre-frontal cortex are also weakened.

This means that girls who experience #ACEs are more likely to grow up in a chronic state of hypervigilance. Fight or flight. Feeling that life is an emergency. This contributes to the fact that girls and women are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as adults than are men. Stats bear this out. One third of men with an #ACE Score of 4 later develop depression—already a high and disturbing figure—while nearly 60 percent of women with 4 #ACEs develop chronic depression in adulthood.

That means that the risk that growing up with #toxicstress and #adversechildhoodexperiences will lead to neuroinflammatory diseases such as depression and anxiety disorders is, as with autoimmune disease, TWICE AS HIGH for women as it is for men.

Physical inflammation is increasingly linked to mental health disorders. Cutting-edge research shows us that our body and brain’s immune responses function in tandem. (I’m writing more about that in my next book, out in 2019, so stay tuned for The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Cell That Changed the Course of Medicine. I think it’s the most important book I’ve ever written.)

Still, it can take years, sometimes decades, for toxic childhood stress to translate into symptoms, much less visible physical disease. A young girl can face a lot of chronic #toxicstress at the age of 12. BUT it may take 30 years or longer for the inflammation unleashed by that chronic adversity to progress to disease symptoms. At that late date, the link between a stressed little girl and the ill woman she’s become is invisible to the patient – and her physician.

This plays into why so many doctors miss autoimmune disease in women. Recent studies show that the average woman sees five doctors over four-and-a-half years before receiving a proper diagnosis—and nearly half of women are labeled and dismissed as “chronic complainers” in the early stages of their illness.

This means that women who’ve faced #femaleadversity and who also face #autoimmunedisease often get dismissed TWICE. From early on in life, they know if they meet up with any type of #femaleadversity  or CHILDHOOD TRAUMA– sexual harassment, date rape, sexism, abuse, at home, school or work — if they report it their version of events, what they say may very well be dismissed. Disbelieved. Their self-reports are very likely to be distrusted. Years later, in a doctor’s office, when they report their PHYSICAL #auatoimmune or #chronicpain symptoms, they get dismissed or disbelieved all over again.

The past repeats itself.

(Later this week, I’ll be adding more to this thread, in PART THREE.)

If this topic interests you personally, because it speaks to your experience, or because you work with, teach, mentor, or are parenting girls, or if you work in #ACEAwareness or #trauma prevention, sign up for my blog and newsletter now. If you haven’t yet signed up for my mailing list and/or my blog, you might want to now.

(To sign up for my mailing list and newsletter, click on the link below, and see the “Mailing List” subscription box to your right. To sign up for my blog, scroll down on the right hand side of my website’s blog page to “Never Miss a Blog Post and sign up there.)

You can also find me on Facebook or @DonnaJackNak on Twitter.

Why Girls Who Face Toxic Stress are More Vulnerable to Adult Illness: The Shocking Relationship Between Being Female, #ACEs, Autoimmune Disease and Depression

Hi All,

This blog is about WHY Adverse Childhood Experiences are a #METOO ISSUE. I want to talk about how and why toxic childhood stress – also as #ACEs — is a #metoo issue of the greatest magnitude. For girls and for the adult women they become.

One thing readers know about the work I do and the books I write, including Childhood Disrupted, The Autoimmune Epidemic, and The Last Best Cure, is that I focus on the intersection of neuroscience, immunology and emotion – while shining a spotlight on WOMEN’s experiences.

Connecting these dots is always an underlying theme in my work. Women, girls, toxic stress, the female brain and immune system, autoimmune disease and chronic physical and mental illness — if you care about any of these, keep an eye out for my upcoming three-part blog series in which I delve into the scientific links between them all.

Today I’m posting the first part of my three-part exploration on Growing Up With Female Adversity: The Female Body and Brain on Toxic Stress.

(For those of you who read this introduction to my three-part series in my heads-up post yesterday, skip down below to PART ONE…)

I’ve written this blog, and am offering it up freely, because I think it’s crucial that we address the unique way in which the female brain and immune system respond to environmental influences, including #ACEs, and how, in turn, this unique female brain-immune response contributes to girls being several times more likely to later develop autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety disorders, and so many other chronic illnesses.

I’m going to break down for you, in a way no one else has, or will, how and WHY Adverse Childhood Experiences and toxic childhood stress are a #metoo issue of the greatest magnitude. For girls and for the adult women they become.

In it, I’m offering up the term — and hashtag — #FemaleAdversity — to refer to the chronic societal stress girls face growing up. Girls not only come of age with higher rates of #AdverseChildhoodExperiences, including verbal, emotional, sexual and physical abuse, girls also have to find their way to a healthy adulthood and sense of self amidst cripplingly narrow societal expectations regarding what constitutes acceptable female beauty and behavior.

All this is intensified, 24/7, by imagery of effortless female perfection on social media and in media in general. Meanwhile, girls are witnessing the sexual harassment and sexism so many adult women endure. Over time, this #FemaleAdversity can take a toll on girls’ and women’s immune systems, bodies, and brains in unique ways.

The timing for this discussion seems apt, as today we come to the end of #autoimmunediseaseawareness month as well as #womenshistorymonth and enter #childabuseprevention month. A fitting moment to delve into all of these issues.

So, Today, I’m sharing:

PART ONE: Why Girls Who Face #ToxicStress are More Vulnerable to Adult Illness: The Shocking Relationship Between Being Female, #ACEs, #AutoimmuneDisease and #Depression.

To get personal for a moment, the reason I focus so strongly, as a science journalist, on this intersection between neuroscience, immunology, emotion, toxic stress, and being female is, in part, due to my own autoimmune history. I’ve struggled most of my adult life with the lingering physical effects of having been paralyzed twice with Guillain Barre Syndrome. I’ve had a pacemaker since I was 28. I’ve struggled with peripheral neuropathy, chronic neuromuscular pain, thyroiditis, leukopenia and other medical issues throughout my adult life.

But I’m hardly alone in all this; so many of you, my readers, have faced similar and often much more difficult health issues than I have. My own experience is merely what lead me, as a career science journalist, to investigate the intersection of neuroscience, immunology and the deepest inner workings of the human heart.

What KEEPS ME GOING is the way I’ve been moved, time and again, by the hundreds of thousands of female readers who’ve shared with me their struggles, in the face of #trauma, #autoimmunedisease, #chronic illness, #depression.Wanting to help ease that suffering propels ME to uncover new understanding, new answers and insights that can change lives.

The reason I shine an up-close light on how women’s bodies, brains and immune systems are impacted in unique ways by toxic stress and emotion, and other environmental triggers, is because the science in this area is exciting and also under-reported. And the reason this science is under-reported is because it can be complex and hard to unpack in a media era that all too often relies on simplistic, broad-brush headline-centric, click-bait reporting.

If you follow my work you already know that research shows that #ACEs, such as being chronically put down or humiliated, living with a depressed, mentally ill, or alcoholic parent, losing a parent to divorce or death, being emotionally neglected, physically or sexually abused, as well as many other types of toxic childhood stressors, are linked to a much greater likelihood of developing autoimmune disease, heart disease and cancer in adulthood. Having experienced 6 categories of childhood adversity can take 20 years off your lifespan.

That’s because toxic stress changes the way our immune system responds to stressors in the future. When kids and teens experience chronic adversity, inflammatory chemicals begin to flood a child’s body and brain, plunging the body into a state of chronic hypervigilance.

Our genes are ALWAYS in a back and forth dance with our environment. If you’re a child growing up in an environment that is chronically stressful, and don’t have reliable adults to turn to, that meets the definition of toxic stress.

Toxic childhood stress begins to cause changes in the architecture of the developing brain, and it engenders profound epigenetic changes in the genes that oversee the stress response. In fact, Yale researchers recently found that children who’d faced Chronic Unpredictable Toxic Stress (what I term C.U.T.S.) demonstrate changes “across the genome” in genes that oversee the stress response. These changes re-set the stress response to “high” for life.

They also showed changes in genes that play a role in developing autoimmune disease, cancer, depression, anxiety and so on.This correlation is particularly stark for WOMEN. For each category of #ACEs a girl faces, her chance of developing a serious autoimmune disease in adulthood increases by 20 percent. For instance, a girl who faces three categories of Adverse Childhood Experiences has a 60 percent greater chance of developing an autoimmune disease so serious she requires hospitalization as an adult woman, as compared to a girl who grows up without #toxicstress.

For every category of #ACEs a man has faced, his chances of being hospitalized with an autoimmune disease increases by about 10 percent – still a significant and disturbing correlation and one we also need to pay attention to.

We also know that girls face more #ACEs growing up in general. In fact, girls are 50% more likely to have experienced 5 or more categories of childhood adversity. These include sexual and physical abuse, emotional or physical neglect, growing up being chronically humiliated, or growing up with a parent with a drug/alcohol problem or mental illness, or losing a parent to divorce/death.

These higher rates of #ACEs for girls mostly revolve around the fact that girls are physically smaller than men and have less societal power or equality in family life – and are more vulnerable to, and likely to be victims of, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and harassment.

Just think of today’s #METOO movement. It’s all about systemic emotional, sexual, physical harassment and humiliation and abuse based on being in a situation in which men in the culture (and “culture” can include members of your family of origin) are more powerful than you.

We also know that girls who experience 2 or more categories of #ChildhoodAdversity are twice as likely as boys who experience 2 or more types of childhood adversity to develop autoimmune disease in adulthood.

In fact, the relationship between being female, facing adversity as a teenager or child, and later developing an #autoimmunedisease, is so strong it resembles the link between smoking and cancer, or drunk driving and having a car accident.

Again, the more childhood adversity a girl grows up with, the higher her risk becomes for adult disease, and the more likely she is to end up in the hospital at some point in her adult life in order to be treated for a serious autoimmune condition. As a science journo when I saw these statistics I wanted to know: WHY are women who experience childhood adversity twice as likely to suffer from disease as adults, compared to men?

What happens in a girl’s body, in response to #toxicstress, that leads girls to be more likely to be ill as adult women? EVERY WOMAN WAS ONCE A GIRL. So, we should figure this conundrum out, right?

Tomorrow, I’ll try to do just that for you, in Part Two: Every Woman Was Once a Girl: Why We Need to Talk About the Biological Effects of #FemaleAdversity on Women’s Bodies and Brains

If this topic interests you personally, because it speaks to your experience, or because you work with, teach, mentor, or are parenting girls, or if you work in #ACEAwareness or #trauma prevention, sign up for my blog and newsletter now. If you haven’t yet signed up for my mailing list and/or my blog, you might want to now.

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