When healing yourself or a child from an insecure attachment style or from an Attachment Disorder, the effects of the trauma on the brain and body need to be considered. By repairing those effects along the way, the healing process goes faster as the body gains more resources that will help that the individual to become balanced and whole.
The digestive tract is a major player in one’s physical and mental health; it is directly impacted by trauma, especially chronic emotional trauma.
Attachment trauma is a chronic stress on the body, as a result, trauma and stress have the following effects on the digestive tract:
- Changes in gut bacteria to unhealthy bacteria
- Intestinal lining becomes leaky
- Increased inflammation throughout the intestines
- Changes in blood flow to the intestines
- Increased reactions and sensitivities to food
- Increased sensitivity (pain) to gas and other intestinal activities
These changes become really important when we look at how the brain is impacted by bacteria and inflammation in the gut. This is known as the gut-brain axis. There is a well-developed highway of communication between the two systems, and their activities cannot be separated one from the other.
If there are problems in the gut, there will be problems in the brain. If you are healing yourself or a child from attachment trauma, you need the brain, and thus the gut, for optimized emotional health and relationships.
Just one example involves the link between trauma, inflammation, and the brain chemical, Serotonin, which is the target of most of the first-line medications for depression and anxiety.
Byproducts of inflammation divert the production of serotonin to toxins targeting the brain and nervous system. These toxins have been linked with depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s.
If your gut is causing or even contributing to depression, the progress in healing from attachment trauma will be affected. The effects of trauma on the intestines need to be addressed to optimize the brain for health, relationships, and to break the ongoing cycle between the two systems.
Early childhood trauma, chronic stress, and PTSD result in changes in the intestines including the types of gut bacteria that results in inflammation. Looking at Vietnam Veterans with PTSD, they showed these and other intestinal changes here.
This inflammation can also be caused by individuals whose diets consist of large amounts of processed foods, which will also causes changes in the gut bacteria. With both the brain and the gut imbalanced, the body doesn’t have the resources it needs to restore itself to balance out. The result is worsening intestinal and mental health.
A pattern in the gut-brain axis gets stuck. In the intestines, the struggle is with inflammation, poor intestinal wall integrity (leaky gut), decreased blood flow, food sensitivities and reactions, poor digestion, and acid reflux. In the brain, the biochemistry gets trapped in unrelenting cycles of anxiety, poor concentration, irritability, and depression.
The effects of trauma on the intestines need to be addressed to allow the body and brain to heal, rather than perpetuate imbalance. The effects of trauma on the intestines are addressed by the following methods:
- Eliminating foods causing reactions
- Regulate daily bowel movements
- Repair intestinal lining
- Establish healthy gut bacteria
- Repair intestinal nervous system
In this blog, we will be discussing, specifically, the top three on the list, eliminating foods that cause reactions, how to regulate a daily bowel movement, and how to help repair your (or your child’s) intestinal lining.
The last two points, establishing healthy gut bacteria and repairing intestinal nervous system have been discussed in previous blog posts. Establishing healthy gut bacteria was addressed in a prior blog on the effects of trauma on the gut. You can refer to that blog post here for specific recommendations of probiotics.
Repairing the intestinal nervous system is part of the somatic experiencing and emotional work you are doing to regulate and organize the nervous system.
There can be many different types of sensitivities when it comes to the gastrointestinal system, to trauma, and/or to chronic stress.
Sensitivities include everything from immune system and inflammation reactions in the intestines and body, to motility changes, such as loose stools or constipation, bloating, and other abdominal discomfort.
Remember that whatever the reaction, someone who has experienced early attachment trauma will “feel” these effects more than someone without a trauma history.
All of these different types of reactions will negatively impact one’s physical and mental health, making it harder to feel and function. Therefore, compromising one’s ability to recover fully from the effects of trauma or chronic stress.
Thus, eliminating foods that are causing sensitivities or reactions is an important piece of the puzzle.
The immune system is the system that protects our bodies from dangerous things that might harm us. It has methods in place to attack anything that doesn’t belong, from viruses and bacteria to cancers.
Trauma and chronic stress can make an individual start to react to different foods as if they were foreign, dangerous, and should be attacked and eliminated from the body. It’s this inflammation in the gut that is also linked to inflammation in the brain and things like depression.
To find the foods that the immune system is mounting an attack against is to do a blood test where they mix different food particles with your blood, and see if any of the immune cells attack that food. Any foods that come back showing a reaction by your immune system should be eliminated from the diet for a time.
I would recommend retesting after healing from the trauma has been achieved, and see if those reactions have resolved.
The two companies that I usually use for these food sensitivity blood tests are Cyrex and Cell Science. You will need a functional medicine practitioner to order these.
Identifying Nonimmune Food Sensitivities
Many times, as you eliminate foods that cause the immune system to attack, you may also notice other foods that cause a reaction. This reaction can be bloating, pain, sleepiness, mood changes, or any other change that is unwelcome!
Even though these reactions were not picked up in the blood tests, these foods should be avoided in order to have the body and brain optimized for healing from attachment trauma.
Many people experience that as they recovery from trauma or chronic stress, their systems no longer react to certain foods.
Unfortunately, there have been some foods that consistently show to be damaging and perpetuating problems in those with ongoing effects of trauma. These foods are gluten and dairy. This is unfortunate, because it’s so hard to find food products that don’t contain these ingredients, which can cause it be even harder to make that change.
If these products are a problem for you or your child, removing them from your diet for a time can be a really helpful change! Your recovery time to health and earned secure attachment will be much faster!
I recommend doing an experiment for one month, eliminating both gluten and dairy. It takes two weeks to clear your intestines of a particular food item. After the first two weeks, we will do another two weeks for the system to operate without any gluten or dairy.
After one month of completely eliminating gluten and dairy, reintroduce one ingredient back into your (or your child’s) diet, while tracking mood, energy, and focus for three days. If there is no change, you can keep that ingredient in your diet and move on to introduce the next item. Again, track for three days. Then you can make an informed decision about the foods that optimize or derail you or your child. It takes the guessing out of it!
Importance of Daily Bowel Movements
Because of the increased sensitivity of the gut in those with ongoing effects of trauma or stress in their life, gas, bloating, and stretching of the intestines will really impact mood, focus, and energy levels.
For this reason, regular bowel movements are important, but the most vital reason is to avoid both constipation and loose stools that cause these symptoms.
Often times, either constipation or loose stools have been your child’s normal for so long that they don’t make the connection between abdominal discomfort and a bad mood. They may be in a half-dissociated state, because of the chronic freeze response in their nervous system, which results in them not really being aware of their belly discomfort and bloating.
To know if your child may be experience mood changes due to intestinal issues, start watching the size of their belly throughout the day and their bowel movement patterns.
Does their belly get big (bloated or gassy) after meals? Do they have a regular soft bowel movement daily? Do they have to sit on the toilet for a long time and push to pass stool? These are the indications of the effects of trauma on their intestines with which you can help them.
If constipation is the issue, the best way I have found to deal with this is to take Magnesium with water at bedtime. Ideally, you take the Magnesium on an empty stomach with 8 oz of water.
If you are using the Magnesium for constipation reasons, Magnesium Oxide is the best form, as it’s one of the more poorly absorbed forms of Magnesium… meaning it stays in the intestines and gets pooped out! Start with 200 mg, and increase or decrease the amount of Magnesium Oxide until you get what you want… a soft bowel movement in the morning!
If you are also wanting the effects of muscle relaxation in addition to treating constipation, Magnesium Glycinate or another form of chelated Magnesium would be the better choice since this is better absorbed. Whatever your body doesn’t need to help relax the muscles and nerves will stay in the intestines and aid in making the stools softer. Start with 400 mg with water at bedtime, and increase or decrease the amount until you get the desired effect of a soft bowel movement in the morning.
Repairing the Intestinal Lining After Trauma
We know the gut lining has been damaged due to trauma and chronic stress. This damage has led to inflammation, pain, and food sensitivities. Helping the lining become intact again is important to help stop the ongoing gut issues from past trauma.
Think of the intestines as a tube through which food passes. This food is supposed to be broken down into tiny particles and then selectively taken through the lining of the tube. In this way, the tube itself maintains its integrity, and serves as a clean and efficient transportation service.
Instead, if this lining were to develop holes in it, it would no longer be a clean and efficient system. Food particles that are not supposed to pass through, would pass to the other side causing disruption of an otherwise organized environment. This is one way in which food sensitivities and inflammation develop as a result of trauma or chronic stress.
The good news is that this can be repaired. Just like it’s easier to repair a road in the middle of the night when there aren’t as many vehicles on the street, it is essential to reduce the ongoing damage in order to repair. Like we discussed above, the foods causing the reactions and inflammation need to be eliminated in order to calm things down long enough to repair the lining.
Once you have removed the foods that cause reactions, there are two other foods that you can include in your new diet, which will directly repair the gut lining. L-Glutamine and MCT oil are the two ingredients that you should add to your diet during this time of repair. Once the repair period is complete and your system no longer reacts to those foods like it did before, you can stop L-Glutamine and the MCT oil. At different periods of stress in your life or your child’s life, you may need to come back to these for another repair.
Glutamine as an Intestinal Repair Tool
L-Glutamine is the food source for the cells that make up the lining of the intestinal tube. L-Glutamine is taken in a supplement or powder form, and best taken between meals (again, less traffic to compete with).
The dose for L-Glutamine is generally taken in 1,000 mg doses, and adults can take up to 3-4,000 mg several times a day during periods of intense intestinal repair or high protein requirements.
L-Glutamine will also help with stabilizing blood sugar, so it can be helpful to take it one hour after meals and before bedtime for this purpose as well. For children, start with 1,000 mg 1-2 times daily, and if they do well with that, you can increase to 2,000 mg 1-2 times daily for 2-4 weeks.
MCT oil is the other ingredient that Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof, talks about as a dietary tool to restore integrity to a leaky intestinal wall.
MCT oil is a specialized form of coconut oil, where the most potent ingredients have been separated out.
There are a few brands available, the purest, though most expensive brand at this time, is the Bulletproof XCT oil.
Add 1 Tablespoon of MCT to food or drinks to get the benefit of this special coconut oil. This is a perfectly safe food to take every day for the rest of one’s life, so this can be a good maintenance food for maximal intestinal (and thus brain!) health.
Repairing the gut from the effects of trauma is so important in the work of healing from attachment trauma. Because this will optimize one’s mental health, it changes the course of the healing process when done in combination with therapeutic attachment parenting. It will also improve short-term and long-term physical health as many adult diseases related to Adverse Childhood Experiences are also correlated with gut health and inflammation.
As part of this repair process for the gut, we need to eliminate any continued damage by removing foods that cause reactions of any sort. We need to establish daily motility patterns, reduce intestinal discomfort, and finally, repair the intestinal lining using products like L-Glutamine and MCT oil.
Encouraging you on the journey of healing from trauma!
MCT Oil for Intestinal Health/Repair:
Dr. Mercola (Aug 22, 2-16). The Many Benefits of MCT Oil.
Dave Asprey (2015), The Bulletproof Diet
Effects of Trauma on the Gut:
Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation.“The Gut Reaction to PTSD.”
Emily Rosen (2014), Post-Traumatic Stress and Digestion: What’s the Connection