The condition of your gut could be a clue that within you resides unresolved trauma or prolonged states of emotional distress, such as shame or fear. One must be open to the possibility that our bodies hold the answers to questions that we don’t always know how to ask.
According to a survey by the Dubai Health Authority’s Preventive Services Center, almost one in four UAE residents suffer from digestive ailments, while irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is reported to be the most common gastrointestinal diagnosis in the United States.
Through the gut-brain axis, the gut controls not only digestion but our immune system, metabolism and the most overlooked: mood.
Unresolved trauma and living in prolonged states of shame and stress or abuse in childhood could be a major contributing factor to gut health complications in this continuous dance between the brain and gut. Incredibly, 95 percent of serotonin and 50 percent of dopamine are made and stored in the gut, which contribute enormously to how good and motivated we feel on a daily basis.
The dysfunction of the brain-gut axis is central to gut health issues and is attributable to the development of a maladaptive stress responses that occur through the activation of the immune system due to inflammation. Although inflammation is a vital biological process that helps us recover from injuries or pathogens like a flu, it can rapidly become chronic due to lifestyle factors like poor diet, toxins, and emotions like stress, and shame or past trauma. This chronic inflammation can lead to mental health problems like anxiety, brain fog, and depression plus a host of gut health disfunctions.
Several pathophysiological processes are hypothesized to explain this two-way relationship between poor gut health and prolonged feelings of stress, shame or fear, including alterations in serotonin levels and the dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain.
Healing requires getting our gut-feeling connection back in tune. We can do this by focusing not only on the foods that are kind to our gut, like broth and stews, but also on the practices that are friendly to our mind, like dealing with unresolved trauma and practicing self-compassion, breathwork and meditation, and through particular types of human interaction.
Self-compassion can be cultivated in many ways, which includes engaging in self-talk that is kind, treating yourself as if you were your own best friend and remembering that as humans, none of us are perfect.
A fascinating study published in the scientific journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity examined the link between mental stress, the brain, and inflammation, and found some surprising results on the influence of self-compassion. The researchers had the participants doing math and public speaking. The blood samples from the participants found that the longer they performed math problems or spoke in public, the higher their inflammation levels were.
However, the people who had the highest levels of self-compassion had the lowest inflammation response to the stress. This indicates a powerful message: Stress, shame and inflammation may be unavoidable in life, but the way we handle ourselves in that moment adds to the amount that we’re negatively impacted.
Human connection is a powerful antidote to promote gut health healing and addressing trauma, which works by repairing our ability to read danger and safety correctly.
Impactful social interaction is not simply being in the presence of others. The vital issue is reciprocity: being sincerely heard and seen by those around us, the sensation that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For the physiology to calm down, heal, and re-grow, we need a primeval feeling of safety.
Similarly, the human connections we have could be further reinforcing gut health ailments by inducing stress or feelings of fear and danger within the relationship. Fear freezes curiosity and playfulness. In order to heal the human body we must have human connections where we can safely explore and learn. There can be no growth or healing without curiosity and no adaptability without being able to discover, through trial and error, what does and does not work for you.
So, if you have gut health issues, be open to internal inquiry and consider that there is much more than the foods you eat involved in healing yourself.