By Jiggs Gallagher, May 28, 2017:       LOMA LINDA, CALIFORNIA–The Adventist Human Subjects Research Association (AHSRA) was founded in 2012, with major support from David Trim, director of Archives, Statistics and Research at the General Conference (GC) It includes academic researchers from Adventist colleges and universities as well as Adventist on the faculty of other institutions. The group’s first gathering took place at Andrews University and it was officially organized at a conference the following year at the GC in Silver Spring, Maryland. 

This year’s sixth annual meeting took place over four days at Loma Linda University in Southern California, May 17-20. Duane McBride, AHSRA president, is a professor at Andrews University. He noted that the conference drew more than 100 participants this year, from 20 different nations.

While the medical center location might seem to indicate primarily medical research and researchers, the organization is involved with many different areas. There were presentations on research in women’s ordination, issues involving Christian education, spiritual and religious motivation of students, and impact of family support among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender millennials in the church. These were just a few of the many presentations on the agenda.

An outstanding lecture was the keynote address by Vincent Felitti, founder of the Department of Preventive Medicine for the Kaiser Permanente system. He served as the chief of preventive medicine for over 25 years. He is renowned for the ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experiences), a long-term, in-depth, analysis of over 17,000 adults, showing the impact of six categories of negative childhood experiences, and the direct correlation to both physical and mental problems in adulthood.

The categories included physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as loss of a parent through death, divorce or abandonment, among others. His study indicated that one-third (33 percent) of the subjects studied reported no such experiences, while 67 percent reported a range of anywhere from one to six of the categories. The study counted only the broad categories, not the individual occurrences within a category.

The extensive correlation was dramatic. With each addition of an ACE category, the adults encountered increased incidences of heart disease, smoking and COPD, elective abortions, frequency of suicide attempts, and even amount of absenteeism from work. “Chronic, major, unreleased stress causes pro-inflammatory chemicals to be released,” said Felitti, “which causes heart, lung and blood vessel diseases.” He added that the inflammation process may underlie psychological changes in the brain as well.

Even more alarming was the finding that high ACE scores are estimated to result in an average reduction of life expectancy of 20 years.

The implication of ACE research is that medical practitioners must “listen carefully and non-judgmentally” to their patients, said Felitti. The research, implemented in Kaiser practices, actually resulted in a 35 percent reduction in the number of doctor’s office visits within a year, presumably indicating an improvement in patients’ physical and psychological states. He calls it the “biopsychosocial preventive approach” to primary medicine. However, the study found considerable resistance to implementing ACE principles from physicians and other caregivers themselves, in spite of the perceived benefits. He attributed those factors requiring them to spend more unreimbursed time with patients.

Several presenters used the ACE presentation to follow up on an Adventist “Blue Zone” study of Loma Linda-area centenarians, and how they compared with other non-U.S. (and non-Adventist) people in the original book and a follow-up volume by Dan Buettner. Ronda Spencer-Hwang, associate professor in the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, noted that the Loma Linda Adventist centenarians tended to come from extremely poor, rural (farming) backgrounds. Her study revealed that, as children, they often had simple diets with lots of fruits and vegetables, along with some meats. They experienced what she called a “kinetic lifestyle” (lots of chores on a farm) and developed strong resiliency factors in early childhood, enjoying the camaraderie of family and a wide circle of close friends.

Other factors influencing their long, healthy lives were a “hopeful, intrinsic drive,” a strong appreciation of nature and the outdoors, and patterns of “resting resets,” a (Sabbath) day of rest and refreshment, and also routine (set) times for sleep.

However, Spencer-Hwang also found that her centenarians had many ACE exposures as children—an average of three to four categories, and one person reported all six! “I believe their living in communities of resiliency helped them to overcome the negative impact of the early childhood adverse experiences,” she added.

Another LLUH presenter, Katia Reinert, who holds a doctorate in nursing from Johns Hopkins University, reported on early traumatic stress as a predictor of negative mental and physical health in adulthood. She has worked closely with a North American Division campaign called “End It Now: Adventists Say No to Violence.”

Reinert said she and her team found that resiliency is not necessarily a trait people are born with; it can be acquired it and people can use it to overcome the odds of a stressful childhood. She cited the role of having a strong religious faith in developing resiliency. The study included more than 11,000 Adventists, which broke down in this way: 64 percent men vs. 36 percent women; 66 percent white vs. 34 percent black (African-American).

Other health and medical presentations focused on awareness and knowledge of HPV infection, peripheral vascular disease screening in kidney transplant candidates, and soy products and their association with onset of puberty in boys. There was also an extensive poster presentation on Friday, May 19 covering 23 different topics by 79 professionals.

Next year’s conference will take place at Andrews University, and organizers expect an even larger attendance than this year’s. David Trim (founder) and Duane McBride (this year’s president) both expressed satisfaction with the spirit of cooperation and collegiality forged by getting together in an annual event. They felt that new avenues of research will result from the meetings and friendships that develop from this year’s conclave.

For more information on AHSRA, visit www.ahsra.adventist.org.

Jiggs Gallagher is a senior editor for Adventist Today and adjunct professor of journalism at California State University.

To comment, click here.