How to heal the Gut-Brain Axis after trauma?
The gut-brain axis refers to the bidirectional communication and link between the gut microbiota and the central nervous system
Trauma can be incredibly debilitating and significantly impacts the quality of life of trauma survivors. Here at Rewire Therapy, we are passionate about providing practical tools and techniques on how to heal trauma. Learn more
Trauma can be incredibly debilitating. It can make one feel hopeless and imprisoned. It is for this reason that Rewire Therapy strives to provide practical tools and techniques to help trauma survivors on their trauma-healing journey.
This article aims to offer insights into the gut-brain axis and how it can be used as a tool to aid in healing trauma. We’ll begin by discussing what the gut microbiota is and where it comes from, before exploring the gut-brain axis and how this connection may be strengthened to help heal trauma.
The human gut is host to a wide variety of bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota is predominantly located in the large intestine of the gastrointestinal tract and consists of a variety of different microorganisms belonging to different species and phyla, some good some bad, and some neutral (Foster & McVey Neufeld, 2013; Rieder et al., 2017). The relationship between these microorganisms and your body is usually complimentary and symbiotic, where we happily coexist with our gut microbiota, however, disruptions to the gut can result in a state of dysbiosis (Rieder et al., 2017). Trauma is an example of a disruption that may impact the functioning of our gut microbiota.
Where does our gut microbiota come from?
The gut microbiota is primarily individual-specific with only one-third of the microorganisms being common in most people. The composition of the gut microbiota that is individual-specific can be classified by the diversity and abundance of different species of bacteria present in the gut. There are a number of factors that influence the make-up of the individual-specific part of our gut microbiota.
Our gut microbiota begins to develop extremely early on in an individual’s life. Beginning at birth, the make-up of an individual’s gut is influenced by factors such as whether the birth was vaginal or via Caesarean section and whether a baby is breast-fed or formula-fed (Clapp et al., 2017; Foster & McVey Neufeld, 2013). The gut continues to be influenced throughout the life cycle by a multitude of factors including, diet, metabolism, age, environment, the use of antibiotics, and stress ( Foster & McVey Neufeld, 2013).
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut-brain axis refers to the bidirectional communication and link between the gut microbiota and the central nervous system (Arneth, 2018; Clapp et al., 2017; Rieder et al., 2017). This means that the gut can directly activate neural signaling in the central nervous system, just as the brain can directly influence intestinal functioning (Foster & McVey Neufeld, 2013). One of the most direct communication pathways between the brain and the gut is through the vagus nerve (Fülling et al., 2019). You can find out more about the vagus nerve in our Vagal Toning Program.
The direct link that the vagus nerve creates between the gut microbiota and the brain means that the health and composition of the gut microbiota can directly influence mood, cognition, and behavior (Arneth, 2018).
The gut microbiota and host usually have a harmonious, symbiotic relationship. However, there are many factors that can lead to changes in our gut microbiota. For example, Antibiotics cannot distinguish between the bacteria that cause infections and healthy gut bacteria, this means that healthy bacteria in the gut is also destroyed in the process (Konstantinidis et al., 2020) Similarly, stress and depression can lead to higher levels of inflammation in the body, which in turn causes blooms of pathogenic bacteria (Zeng et al., 2016). Other factors such as diet and trauma also play an important role in the composition of our microbiota.
These alterations can cause the host to enter a state of dysbiosis. This state of dysbiosis in the gut has been linked to the development of anxiety and depression (Arneth, 2018; Clapp et al., 2017).
Gut-Brain Axis and Trauma
The gut-brain axis link is important in understanding how traumatic events can influence both mental aspects as well as physical aspects such as our digestion and nervous system response (read all about how trauma impacts the nervous system in our blog). This provides an important avenue for examining our gut health and nutrition as a factor that can be changed to help to heal trauma. Check out our Nutrition for Trauma Program to take advantage of this gut-brain connection to use nutrition to help heal your trauma.
- Arneth, B. M. (2018). Gut-brain axis biochemical signalling from the gastrointestinal tract to the central nervous system: gut dysbiosis and altered brain function. Postgrad Medical Journal, 94, 446–452. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/postgradmedj-2017-135424
- Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and Practice, 7(4). http://dx.doi.org/10.4081/cp.2017.987
- Foster, J. A., & McVey Neufeld, K. (2013). Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in Neurosciences, 36(5). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tins.2013.01.005
- Fülling, C., Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2019). Gut Microbe to Brain Signaling: What Happens in Vagus…. Neuron, 101(6), 998–1002. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2019.02.008
- Rieder, R., Wisniewski, P. J., Alderman, B. L., Campbell, S. C. (2017). Microbes and mental health: A review. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 66, 9-17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2017.01.016
- Zeng, M. Y., Inohara, N., & Nuñez, G. (2016). Mechanisms of inflammation-driven bacterial dysbiosis in the gut. Mucosal Immunology, 10(1), 18–26. https://doi.org/10.1038/mi.2016.75