While Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) are a major risk factor for later physical and mental diseases, attachment trauma is the major silent ACE.
It isn’t directly assessed when calculating one’s ACE score, which makes it a silent ACE.
However, due to the early nature of this silent ACE, it sets the course for a trauma body earlier than other traumatic events in childhood or adulthood.
Today we are going to specifically look at how attachment trauma affects the digestive tract early on, and specifically, the effects it has on the gut bacteria.
At birth, the intestines are immediately colonized with up to 1012 organisms per gram of content in the intestines (1). This is a lot of bacteria!! Normally, this should come from the vaginal tract and colonize the newborn at birth, protecting it from unhealthy bacteria that will certainly come as babies start to explore their world!
A study was done looking at the result of breaking the normal attachment process between rat mothers and their baby pups. Starting on the second day of life (week 1-2 for human babies), the baby pus were separated for 3 hours every day from mom for 10 days.
At age 2 months, the baby pups showed an unhealthy gut bacteria pattern and had looser stools in response to stress hormones compared to pups who had not been separated for a few hours from their mom for those 10 days (1).
Take a look at this interesting study. A group of rat moms and their newborn pups were split into two groups: one was provided with the usual nest “home”, the other group wasn’t provided a place to nest for the first week following delivery. Later, when the pups were weaned (approximately 1 year of age in humans), the baby rats were found to have unhealthy gut bacteria and what is called “leaky gut,” as shown below” (6)
How can gut bacteria be unhealthy? Gut bacteria is healthy when there is a diverse type of bacteria with a balance of bacteria with different functions. The gut bacteria in these growing pups were not diverse, had fewer bacteria that breakdown fiber, that produce a ketone butyrate that is very helpful for brain fuel and gut health, and fewer bacteria present in the mucous of the lining of the intestines that serve to protect from “bad” bacteria ingested (6).
Therefore, it should be understood that childhood attachment trauma results in lots of changes in our digestive tract!
From the point of trauma, it changes the gut bacteria, makes the sensory nerves in the digestive tract hypersensitive to normal sensations, decreases overall blood flow to the intestines, causes motility problems leading to either loose stools or constipation, and causes the digestion and absorption of food to be affected with the development of “leaky gut” and food sensitivities (3-4).
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a condition involving these symptoms that is prevalent among adults and has been associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s). Often times, IBS is triggered after an event throws an already struggling system out of balance in a way it cannot recover, like an intestinal infection or a course of antibiotics.
Gut bacteria are closely related to inflammation in the gut, which has been associated with our bodies forming antibodies that attack our own tissues, such as an autoimmune diseases. Often times, this goes undetected, even though is one of the most common areas for these antibodies to react and bind to the brain tissue (5-6).
Most importantly, for us, it changes the brain-gut interactions (3).
The gut has been termed “The Second Brain” by psychologists.
As Justin and Erica Sonnenburg (2015) share in their book, The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood and Your Long-Term Health (5), “Our brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons and a highway of chemicals and hormones that constantly provide feedback [… ]This information superhighway is called the brain-gut axis and it provides constant updates on the state of affairs at your two ends. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach after looking at your post holiday credit card bill is a vivid example of the brain-gut connection at work. You’re stressed and your gut knows it – immediately.”
Chronic Stress Is Trauma on the Gut
These are the same changes in your gut health that you are experiencing as a parent if you’re under chronic stress (4). Attachment trauma becomes a shared family experience on so many levels!
If left unchecked and uncorrected, disease processes start, like autoimmune process and high inflammation states in the gut and body that you’re not aware of now, but can get progressively worse until an autoimmune or heart disease has fully developed years later (6).
So, you really should all go on specific probiotics to help optimize your gut, and thus your brain for health and secure attachment.
Treating with probiotics will not heal attachment trauma, just as it will not take away chronic stress. However, it can help repair the effects of trauma and stress on the gut, including the inflammation, increased sensitivity/pain, and motility problems. Probiotics can complement and speed up the recovery process when done alongside the therapeutic attachment parenting and healing from chronic stress.
Although studies have shown that restoring a healthy gut bacteria can reduce negative physical symptoms related to digestion and abdominal pain, as well as improve memory, decrease anxious and depressive feelings (6), you must note that this is not a replacement for addressing the root cause.
How Do I Restore Healthy Gut Bacteria
There are a few different ways to establish healthy gut bacteria. Prebiotics, which provide food for the healthy gut bacteria, and probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that you swallow to repopulate.
The best prebiotics are fiber and inulin (9). Eating foods with fiber (vegetables and fruit) should be at every meal, but it is also important to take a probiotic to repopulate with the bacteria that breaks down fiber. For example, a great source of fiber that can be easily added to your meals are chia seeds.
Inulin is a product you can buy without a prescription. It is a slightly sweet powder that you add a tsp to your food one meal a day.
Which Probiotics Do I Use?
There are a lot of probiotics out there on the market, which can make it difficult to know which one to use!
Here are the important features of probiotics you need if you are recovering from trauma or chronic stress:
- contains multiple different kinds of strains of bacteria
- one that contains the Bacteroides bacteria – (Note, Bacteroides can only survive for a few minutes outside of the human gut, so it can’t be put into a probiotics. Therefore, you have to feed it the prebiotics to build up its population.)
- re-populates healthy fungi
Variety and Diversity
Since it is good to have a good variety of gut bacteria, it is good to take probiotics from different sources. For example, yoghurts, kefir, and kombucha are all foods/drinks that contain strains of bacteria that normally live in your gut. There are also probiotics in pill forms that you can buy, both refrigerated and non-refrigerated.
Variety is the key to restoring a healthy gut flora after trauma and chronic stress.You don’t want to take the same probiotic day after day. Have a few different sources of probiotics and mix it up every day. And you only need to take one source of probiotic daily.
Of the gut bacteria, you want to ensure that you are getting the most important strains of gut bacteria as part of your probiotic treatment. Find probiotics that contain the following strains of bacteria: Bacteroides, Enterobacteriaceae, and Lactobacillus. As a general rule of thumb, you want about 50% more Bacteroides than the other bacteria strains. These are not the only strains you should be taking, just make sure these strains are listed under ingredients in the probiotics you take (10).
In general, for the probiotics in pill form, refrigeration is the better form. The species are still alive and so it will give you more for your buck!
Probiotics can be taken with or without food.
Healthy Fungus Is a Healthy Probiotic
Healthy fungus is part of a healthy gut flora! Kind of gross to think about, but healthy fungus keeps the unhealthy fungus like yeast (Candida) from overpopulating.
Saccharomyces Boulardii is a healthy yeast probiotic that should be in your repertoire of probiotics.
Saccharomyces boulardii has been shown to help re-populate healthy gut bacteria, increase the percentage of percentage of gut bacteria that makes short chain fatty acids, which are sources of energy for the gut lining. It is especially good for reestablishing healthy gut bacteria faster after antibiotics! (11).
It needs to be taken on an empty stomach, and definitely not with any kind of fats, which will prevent if from making it all the way down into the intestines.
Purchasing Probiotics and Probiotic Schedule
You can find probiotics at most grocery stores, definitely natural foods stores, and on Amazon as well. I have compiled these prebiotics and probiotics that include the features we have discussed, I have put them in a bundle for easy access and a one stop shop. If it is helpful to you, you can purchase these here. Sign in to fullscript and on the left column click on the Trauma Probiotics Dispensary Tab.
Here is a one week sample schedule of prebiotics and probiotics to maximize the repair of healthy intestinal gut bacteria after trauma or chronic stress. You can do 2 weeks of rotating probiotic sources, then take a break for one week, then do another 2 weeks of a schedule like below.
Day 1 AM: Saccharomyces boulardii in AM on empty stomach
Day 1 PM: inulin at dinner
Day 2 AM: Probiotic capsule with breakfast
Day 2 PM: inulin at dinner
Day 3 AM: Saccharomyces boulardii in AM on empty stomach
Day 3 PM: Saccharomyces boulardii after dinner on an empty stomach
Day 4 AM: yoghurt or kefir
Day 4 PM: probiotic and inulin with dinner
Day 5 AM: Saccharomyces boulardii on empty stomach
Day 5 PM: Saccharomyces boulardii after dinner on empty stomach
Day 6 AM: yoghurt or kefir
Day 6 PM: inulin at dinner, probiotic
Day 7 AM: Saccharomyces boulardii on empty stomach
Day 7 PM: Saccharomyces boulardii after dinner on empty stomach
Here’s to you and your child’s health as you both recover from trauma and chronic stress!
Lee B.J., Bak Y.T. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Gut Microbiota and Probiotics. J Neurogastroenterology and Motil. Jul 2011; 17(3): 252-266.
- Murakami T, Kamada K, Mizushima K, Higashimura Y, Katana K., Uchiyama K., Handa O., Takagi T., Naito Y., Itoh Y. Changes in Intestinal Motility and Gut Microbiota Composition in a Rat Stress Model. Digestion. 2017; 95(1): 55-60.
- Moussaoui N, Jacobs JP, Larauche M, Biraud M, Million M, Mayer E, Tache Y. Chronic Early-life Stress in Rat Pups Alters Basal Corticosterone, Intestinal Permeability, and Fecal Microbiota at Weaning: Influence of Sex. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. Jan 2017;23(1): 135-143.
- Niki Gratrix, Lecture: Emotional Trauma in Microbiome Health. Microbiome Medicine Summit 2, The Kellman Center for Integrative and Functional Medicine.
- Konturek PC1, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the Gut: Pathophysiology, Clinical Consequences, Diagnostic Approach and Treatment Options. J Physiol Pharmacol. Dec 2011;62(6): 591-9
- Sonnenburg, Justin and Erica (2015). The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood and Your Long-Term Health. Penguin Random House Company, New York.
- Ochoa-Reparaz J, Mielcarz DW, Begum-Hague S, Kasper LH. Gut, Bugs, and Brain: Role of Commensal Bacteria in the Control of Central Nervous System Disease. Ann Neurol. Feb 2011;69(2): 240-7
- Tang WH, Kitai T, Hazen SL. Gut Microbiota in Cardiovascular Health and Disease. Circ Res, Mar 2017; 120(7): 1183-1196
- Lawrence K, Hyde J. Microbiome Restoration Diet Improves Digestion, Cognition, and Physical and Emotional Wellbeing. PLoS One. June 2017;12(6):e0179017
- Catry E., et al. Targeting the Gut Microbiota With Inulin-Type Fructans: Preclinical Demonstration of a Novel Approach in the Management of Endothelial Dysfunction. Gut. April 4 2017: doi: 10.1136
- Crouzet L., Gaultier E., Del-Homme C., Cartier C., Delmas E., Dapoigny M., Fioramonit J., Bernalier-Donadille A. The Hypersensitivity to Colonic Distension of IBS Patients Can Be Transferred to Rats Through Their Fecal Microbiota. Neurogastroenterol Motil. April 2013;25(4): e272-82