Can Unresolved Trauma Be Causing Your Digestive Issues?
With many things regarding our health, in this case, our digestive health, we should always take a holistic approach. In pursuing better digestive health, only focusing on nutrition will likely lead to some improvements; however, we may not experience an optimal state of gut health. Health is more than just calories. Health is more than what we eat. Attaining optimal gut health requires improving sleep quality, finding a movement or workout routine that works for you, implementing stress management strategies that can take you out of a sympathetic state, and even having a sense of community and belonging. If you can address all those areas of your life, you will likely experience vast improvements. Unfortunately, people have taken the steps mentioned, yet something is still off. They are eating a diet consisting of gut nourishing plant foods, they sleep 7 to 8 hours a night, meditate, and move daily, but their digestion is still not where they want it to be.
What could be missing? Traumatic experiences
We know that stress activates sympathetic pathways in our gut, and unresolved trauma can manifest in the same way as to stress in our bodies. When discussing trauma, we need to talk about how stress impacts the health of our gut. Specifically, stress can increase gut permeability (leaky gut) and inflammation. 1 Traumatic experiences can also alter our gut microbiota via hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis disregulation. The subsequent release of stress hormones and neurotransmitters can change the function of our gut, the microbial environment, which influences the composition and bacterial gene expression. 2 This change of gut function can result in loose stools and a sense of urgency to go to the bathroom because of decreased transit time. 3 4 Due to your body being in a sympathetic (fight or flight) state, it is not concerned with dedicating energy and blood flow to our digestive tract, so when food finds its way there, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract wants to get rid of it. The change in the composition of our gut microbes is a result of stress hormones like catecholamines, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, as they have been shown to increase the growth, virulence, and colonization of pathogenic microbes. 5 Stress will create an environment more conducive to harmful gut bacteria, which can result in inflammation.
Are you interested in learning:
How mental health and gut health are connected via the microbiota-gut-brain (MGB) axis?
What does the research say about early adverse events and trauma as it relates to digestive health?
How early can these events occur to affect your gut health?
What are some therapies that can help address early adverse events or trauma so you can begin the journey of healing and recovery?
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Mayer E. A. (2000). The neurobiology of stress and gastrointestinal disease. Gut, 47(6), 861–869. https://doi.org/10.1136/gut.47.6.861
Malan-Muller, S., Valles-Colomer, M., Raes, J., Lowry, C. A., Seedat, S., & Hemmings, S. (2018). The Gut Microbiome and Mental Health: Implications for Anxiety- and Trauma-Related Disorders. Omics: a journal of integrative biology, 22(2), 90–107. https://doi.org/10.1089/omi.2017.0077
Lyte, M., Vulchanova, L., & Brown, D. R. (2011). Stress at the intestinal surface: catecholamines and mucosa-bacteria interactions. Cell and tissue research, 343(1), 23–32. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00441-010-1050-0
Santos, J., Yang, P. C., Söderholm, J. D., Benjamin, M., & Perdue, M. H. (2001). Role of mast cells in chronic stress induced colonic epithelial barrier dysfunction in the rat. Gut, 48(5), 630–636. https://doi.org/10.1136/gut.48.5.630
Tannock, G. W., & Savage, D. C. (1974). Influences of dietary and environmental stress on microbial populations in the murine gastrointestinal tract. Infection and immunity, 9(3), 591–598. https://doi.org/10.1128/IAI.9.3.591-598.1974