A couple months ago, i sat glued to my laptop listening to some of the world's top gut health professionals speak on the microbiome, its effect on our health, and what affects its health. Something that came up more than once was childhood trauma. Dr. Susan Blum says that auto-immune disease is directly related to emotional trauma. She also reminds us that anxiety is driven by gut flora. Gut flora regulates and makes serotonin, a neurotransmitter. We are admonished to handle our stress or we will never be able to heal our guts. Ohhhh do i feel a sister on that one.
Stress is known to decrease our levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. A sufficient amount of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is vital for weeding the bad bugs from the gut. Beneficial bacteria thrive in an acid environment (which you know if you practice lactic acid fermentation at home) but pathogens don't like it! And if you haven't heard, low stomach acid is also a major cause of acid reflux. This is why so many people taking PPI's for reflux are actually getting sicker and winding up with dysbiotic guts (guts with out-of-balance flora) which can lead to nutrient deficiency, malabsorption, and a cascade of other health issues.
Another way stress affects our digestive systems is by decreasing motility. Decreased motility = constipation = SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and diverticulitis. We should have very small amounts of bacteria in the small intestine; 90% of our gut bacteria should reside in the colon. SIBO leads to malabsorption of nutrients which can lead to immune reactions which can lead to brain fog. If you've ever experienced brain fog, it. is. not. fun. It's freaky to the extreme when your brain feels slow and your thoughts aren't clear.
JJ Virgin said that emotional stressors cause us to shed good bacteria. Yep, i can attest to that. When my brother and mother died 3 weeks apart in the fall of 2014, i shed pretty much all my good bacteria (which has been confirmed twice by two different gut sequencing labs).
All of this, the relation between gut bugs and emotions, emotions, trauma and gut bugs, leads me to ponder the cyclic nature of the issue. A less-than-ideal µbiome leaves us more prone to not handling stress well. Stress leads to microbiota damage which leaves more vulnerable to stress which leaves more vulnerable to gut damage which...you get where i'm going with that. And since we know that the state of our µbiome affects our mood (lack of the proper gut bugs is linked to depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia), it seems reasonable to deduce that stress, unchecked, can lead to what has historically been termed "mental illness."
For this reason, it seems to me that we must take care to destress on the daily. Find something that brings you calm and peace, whether it be yoga, meditation, using an app like Calm, deep focused breathing, singing, chanting, drumming, pruning plants, gardening, getting lost in your favorite music. Deep breathing, humming and singing move the vagus nerve, which is important for turning on the parasympathetic nervous system which takes us out of "fight or flight" mode, among many other important functions. Read all about the vagus nerve and how to stimulate it here.
Daily care for the µbiome can lead to decrease in stress, depression, anxiety and a host of other health issues. The µbiome had been linked to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, MS, and is hypothesized to effect a plethora of other dis-ease.
For deeper or more persistent emotional issues that aren't responding quickly to gut improvement protocols (like increasing fiber intake, making fruits and veggies your bff's, eating fermented foods, cutting hydrogenated and industrial seed oils from your diet, chewing your food thoroughly, getting regular mild exercise, good quality sleep and reducing overall stress), you may want to look into EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming. It sounds complicated, but it's not. It's actually super easy and in the hands of a skilled and knowledgable practitioner, it can also be quite effective.
My EMDR-trained therapist uses vibrating "buzzers" that i hold in my hands (one in each) that also have a light on the end that i can look at, back and forth from hand to hand as it "buzzes," if i want more focus. As the attention goes back and forth from left hand to right and back again, i think of an event in my past that still brings up an emotional response in me and which is likely affecting my stress levels to one extent or another. Sometimes i clear that "stuck" energy very very quickly and immediately go into another which is usually somehow related to the last. In one session, i'm usually able to clear a major issue and a few minor issues. I always feel more at peace and clear after a session.
Before starting EMDR therapy, my stomach was often in a hard knot, up high in my upper abdomen. My chiropractors would adjust it, bringing it down to its normal spot and helping relieve the stress-knot. Since hitting the fermented foods hard since April and doing EMDR, my stomach knot has disappeared. I'm certain this has helped facilitate even more gut healing. Healing stress is good for the µbiome, and as the microbiome heals, stress levels can go down and mood can improve, so go forth and take the steps to facilitate healing through healthy food and lifestyle choices, through therapy, or both.
If you experienced a turbulent childhood or trauma at a young age (or even as an adult), check in with yourself, take an honest look, and determine if that event (or events) could still have a hold on you today. If so, seek ways of releasing it, whether it be on your own or with the help of a professional - or both! Your µbiome will thank you.