Restore Your Health: What’s Your ACE Score?

By Cate Reade, MS, RD, SFS ~

What you don’t know can hurt you.  Learning your ACE score can completely change your life by unlocking greater health, vitality and joy. That’s what it did for me on my healing journey from chronic Lyme. My health and happiness meter rose to levels far beyond any other lifestyle change.  And it can for you too.

ACE is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences.  In 1998, a landmark study performed by Kaiser-Permanente and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) looked at the effects of 10 types of ACEs in childhood and health risks in adulthood. The researchers assumed that there wouldn’t be a connection.  What they discovered was the complete opposite.  

This groundbreaking study showed that unresolved childhood emotions and trauma profoundly hurts health across a lifetime, dramatically raising the risk for chronic disease. It could be the single largest risk factor for major chronic illnesses. You may be thinking, “I had a pretty happy childhood, this couldn’t affect me, right?” I thought the same thing and was dead wrong.

The higher your score, the higher your risk of seven out of ten of the top ten causes of death. Much to my surprise, I scored four. A score of four or more ACEs increases the risk of:

• Heart disease by 165%

• Cancer 250%

• Alzheimer’s 422%

• Depression 460%

• Suicide 1,200 %!

With an ace score of 6 or higher, people are at risk for dying 20 years younger! Exploring your ACE score and addressing unresolved emotional trauma could literally save your life. Time doesn’t heal trauma but conceals it until this toxic stress cries out for resolution with a complex chronic illness.

The 10 ACEs looked at in the CDC study, included parental separation or divorce; physical, sexual or emotional abuse; physical or emotional neglect; family dysfunction involving substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and incarceration.  There were 17,500 study participants, mostly white, middle- and upper-middle class, college educated, employed with good jobs who were Kaiser Permanente health care members.  

The results astounded the researchers with a staggering 67%, two of every three people, having at least one ACE.  People with one ACE had an 80% chance of having two or more.  

The researchers acknowledged that this was not a complete list.  They missed things like bullying and racism.  This means that the number of people affected by ACEs is even higher than the 67%.  In the hundreds of studies since, it’s likely that most of us have been impacted by at least one ACE that needs to be resolved to live a long, healthy and vibrant life.  
What begins in childhood is a stress mechanism that goes out of control.  A child’s developing brain can’t process the event but knows that it feels bad and could threaten survival.  The limbic system, the feeling and reacting part of the midbrain, goes into high alert.

Without resolution, the child grows into an adult who is hardwired in the “fight or flight” mode. The sympathetic nervous system and stress response get stuck in overdrive. Stress hormones and inflammatory chemicals are released constantly; chronic inflammation builds up, compromising the immune system and damaging cells. This sets the stage for illness and chronic disease.

In general, the disease that shows up in adulthood depends on the person’s genetic weak links.  If your mom was diabetic and had breast cancer, blood sugar dysregulation and cancer will likely show up; if your dad had high blood pressure and died of a heart attack, cardiovascular conditions are more likely.

We each have a unique story that affects our health.  While we can’t change the past but we can change the structure and function of our brain by changing our thoughts and behaviors.  The key is to deal with toxic stress before it deals harm to you.  Here are some evidence-based, suggested steps you can take to overcome ACEs:

1. Explore your ACE score and learn more at

2. Journal about what happened, the events and changes you noticed and destructive health patterns that followed like overeating, binge drinking, perfectionism, over giving, workaholism…

3. Talk about it with a nonjudgmental friend or confidant.

4. Practice yoga, tai chi, qigong, meditation or deep breathing to calm down an overactive nervous system and stress response.

5. Seek therapy that resonates with you.  Explore Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (; Energy Psychology ( ; Dynamic Neural Retraining System ( and the Emotional Freedom Technique (

Place no judgement here; this was not your fault but rather an environmental failure. Learning my ACE score was a huge eye-opener that was painful to look at but the most powerful step I took to improve my health and happiness.  And you can too.  It takes time, effort and commitment but you are worth it.   

Cheers to your good health and best years!


1. Feletti, VJ et al 1998. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Am J Prev Med. May;14(4):245-5
2. Stevens, Jane. Got Your ACE, Resilience Scores?
3. CDC-Kaiser ACE Study.
4. “Silent ACEs:” The Epidemic of Attachment and Developmental Trauma.
5. What is ACEs Science?
6. Danese, A. et al. 2009. Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Risk Factors for Age-Related Disease: Depression, Inflammation, and Clustering of Metabolic Risk Markers. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.

Cate Reade

Cate Reade

Cate Reade, MS, RD, SFS is an exercise physiologist, registered dietitian and senior fitness specialist who has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthful eating and exercise programs for more than 25 years. As CEO of Resistance Dynamics, she helps older adults regain strength and balance safely and quickly with her proven innovation, the MoveMor™ Mobility Trainer. She instructs MoveMor™ exercise programs; speaks locally and nationally with healthcare professionals and senior living communities about mobility training to reduce fall risk and the power of lifestyle medicine to restore health after recovering her own from chronic Lyme disease. Questions or comments? Contact Cate at 303.515.7070 or

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