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The Biology of Trauma - Why Combining Therapies Can Help You Heal Faster

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

I brought Jordan on board to work with me at Autoimmune Hub because I believe that using psychotherapy to address trauma can not only help us to truly heal and move forward but it can also help to improve the effectiveness of nutritional therapy.

Adverse childhood events (ACES) and trauma are highly associated with autoimmune disease. This is not a huge surprise when you think of how draining trauma, emotions and drama are on the nervous system and the energy that they can take away from the body. Your emotional state affects all of your biology but most importantly it has a knock-on effect on the health of your gut and liver and these are almost always out of balance in autoimmune disease.

Psychotherapy can empower you to let go of emotional baggage, ruminate less, avoid emotional manipulations, turmoil and ultimately helps you to hold onto your own energy and have more of it, enabling you to focus on yourself, your presence and what you need to do in life. That alone can be life changing - but more so with symptoms of autoimmune disease. So how does trauma affect the body?

Traumas aren’t necessarily huge events such as sexual or physical abuse. They can be anything that has caused a lot of stress or overwhelm. Emotions such as fear, anger or a fight or flight or freeze response can have an impact on your nervous system and cause it to shut down. Your adrenal glands are triggered to produce stress hormones and when ongoing trauma is combined with daily stress your adrenal glands are pushed to exhaustion.

If you’re an adult and you have unresolved trauma it will sit in your nervous system and will be perpetually stimulating your adrenal glands to be on guard, to have a certain view of the world, to feel unsafe, or to have a body armour or even appear needy (as that can be a game we play to get what we want). All of that uses energy from the adrenals and nervous system. Daily stresses can be financial, marital, late nights or poor sleep etc. This combined effect obviously burns you out faster than if you had no trauma and only daily stress.

When you go into adrenal burn out your adrenal glands don’t produce cortisol according to your circadian rhythm and you end up with a stress hormone imbalance and feelings of fatigue at the wrong time of day. Continued stress then begins to suppress your thyroid hormones, which impact your metabolism (weight gain) and slow you down (fatigue) as the body tries to survive. Serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and GABA - all your brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) are also suppressed. This can lead to anxiety, depression, OCD, feelings of overwhelm and an inability to cope or even sleep. Visually, this may be breaking down into tears easily when things feel stressful. Daily stresses may feel more overwhelming when they are combined with unresolved trauma, because those daily stressors trigger the unresolved wounds that we all carry with us. If you experienced childhood trauma and then had to face an aggressive person, you will feel more overwhelmed and vulnerable. It will evoke a stronger response to that aggression than someone who has had a healthier or safer upbringing, because the nervous system is already fragile. We are all born with a similar ability to cope and withstand stress - it’s called our ‘allostatic load’, but adverse childhood events and trauma can affect a person’s ability to cope.

An imbalance in stress hormones can lead to blood sugar imbalances, weight gain and eventually diabetes. Your active thyroid hormone T3 diminishes as conversion doesn’t occur as well. T3 is needed for every single cell in your body. It's required by your intestinal cells and gut lining to be healthy. A healthy gut lining is imperative as this is where the outside world meets your inside world. It works hard to provide a first line of defence from your immune system, prevent toxins crossing over into your bloodstream as well as absorbing nutrients. If over time you use antibiotics and don’t work on eating the right diet, your good gut bacteria begin to decline and this not only causes damage to your gut health, but your nutrient status goes down (they produce vitamins) and it also affects your mental health (they send nine messages to the brain for every one message the brain sends to the gut). A damaged gut leads to toxins, bacterial waste and undigested food to pass across the damaged membranes (increased gut permeability) where it would otherwise remain in the gut lumen. These leaked toxins lead to inflammation causing asthma, eczema, arthritis and Psoriasis etc. Apart from poor diets with too much gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol and too many antibiotics which destroy the lining, cortisol imbalances (stress) leads to a T3 reduction which also causes a leaky gut. This is why when people who are stressed might see their eczema, arthritis or Psoriasis flare up.

The vagus nerve that runs down from the brain to the gut sends signals to your intestines, known as cytokines and these signals affect the bacteria in your gut as well as the lining and the environment in the gut. When you’re stressed you breathe differently. When you breathe differently your vagus nerve is affected and sends more danger signals to your gut compromising its function. When you breathe shallowly, your diaphragm doesn’t massage your liver (your master organ). The liver produces bile, it detoxifies your body, stores vitamins, helps with blood sugar control and cholesterol management. With chronic stress and unresolved trauma you go into shallow breathing and end up with liver stagnation. From there you have less bile flow, which affects the environment of your gut and makes it less healthy. Low bile leads to less lubrication which causes more constipation. This causes more bloating, gas, heartburn, indigestion and GERD etc.

When you have liver stagnation due to inflammation from a leaky gut, toxins, medications, stress and a poor diet this can lead to a hormonal imbalance; often a progesterone deficiency and oestrogen excess (although there are many variables) and with that women will experience more PMS symptoms. Some women are then put on the birth control pill which then depletes your body of B vitamins, further destroys the gut lining and worsens symptoms.

You can use nutritional therapy to heal inflammation, detoxify the liver and calm down the nervous system, but if you resolve emotional trauma with psychotherapy, the body heals faster. You’ll need fewer supplements to manage symptoms and over time you may need less medication, fewer probiotics and other complementary therapies.

And of course If you want to get the best out of therapy, it’s also important to heal the gut, the liver and the adrenals because you will also make better progress when your brain isn’t bogged down with inflammation, cortisol imbalances and food allergies that all put a burden on your neuroplasticity and your ability to rewire the brain.

Both nutritional therapy and psychotherapy have the potential to help you have a different experience of yourself and of life. If you’d like to find out more about how you can heal faster and get your mind and body back into balance book a free 30 minute consultation via our contact page. We will discuss your goals and set out a strategy to move you forward today.

If you'd like to read more about what Jordan does click here


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