I was happy to see several articles on the web last week about the link between childhood trauma and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). When research catches up with our clinical hunches it can be very rewarding indeed.
According to the studies cited up to “60% of people with CFS were badly abused as children” and had neuroendocrine dysfunction. Specifically, they had a “diminished salivary cortisol response to stress,” and thus were less likely to handle stress well. The conclusion of the studies was that while childhood abuse does not cause CFS, it seems to alter brain chemistry in such a way that people become more vulnerable to developing the condition.
I wrote about this neuroendocrine dysfunction in those traumatized in chapter five of my book, Why Students Underachieve: What Educators and Parents Can Do about It (2006). “…traumatized students become easily upset over minor events and situations and often cannot be soothed or calmed. We have recently learned why this is…in untraumatized students, acute stress activates all the principle antistress hormones, including cortisol and catecholamines. These hormones enable active coping behaviors. In traumatized people, relatively low levels of cortisol exist while levels of norepenephrine and other neurotransmitters are chronically increased. It is this particular combination…[that helps explain why]…they are unable to modulate their biological responses to stress.”
It is so important for people suffering with CFS to know that when we go back to the source of the condition, in many cases childhood abuse, and we heal what has been left unresolved from the trauma, the condition goes away. The so-called symptoms of CFS are actually the normal reactions of the body to the experience of abnormal events. When the body is aided in releasing the stuck energy left over from trauma, it is reset and even neuroendocrine dysfunction begins to function normally again.