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How Traumatic Stress Fuels the Flame of Gut Issues (and Arthritis!)

How Traumatic Stress Fuels the Flame of Gut Issues (and Arthritis!)

Hey everyone! Dr. Hyman here. I want to introduce you to my friend, Dr. Susan Blum. I recently wrote the forward for her new book, Healing Arthritis. I have invited her to talk about the ways that traumatic stress can effect your gut health and some exercises to help bring your gut back into balance. Here’s what Dr. Blum had to say:

How Traumatic Stress Fuels the Flame of Gut Issues (and Arthritis!)

Over the past decade we’ve learned an enormous amount about the effects of childhood stress and trauma on illness later in life, namely that trauma can alter gut bacteria, the intestinal lining, and gut-immune function, making us a breeding ground for chronic disease.

The gut is the gateway to optimal health, but a damaged gut can wreak havoc on your body – from autoimmune disease to heart disease and everything in between. So how can we understand the effects of traumatic stress on the body? Let’s go back to basics.

What is traumatic stress?

When you experience any kind of stress, one of the ways your body processes it is through the adrenal glands, which respond by creating a flood of stress hormones, including cortisol, that then affect both your digestive system and your immune system.

Traumatic stress is an extreme version of the stress response that your body has following a traumatic event. When your stress doesn’t turn off, your body is bathed in hormones and neurotransmitters that can damage your gut bacteria and your intestinal lining. It affects your mood, sleep, and energy, and produces increased levels of inflammation – the underlying root of diseases like arthritis.

From my clinical experience, it’s clear that traumatic events in the distant and recent past, as well as chronic or acute stress, can influence your current health and might be one of the root causes of the inflammation that’s driving your arthritis or preventing a full recovery. The first step is to become aware of this connection; the next is to find ways to reduce the stress in your life.

How can you bring balance to your life for optimal health?

In addition to eating for gut health, a key component in balancing the gut is tending to the mind-body connection. As I began the Arthritis Protocol – a plan found in my forthcoming book Healing Arthritis – I focused on three parts: sleep, meditation, and support. The mind is the part of you that is always thinking, planning, worrying. When you practice mindfulness and mind-body exercises such as meditation, you’re bringing your attention to this moment, so you can take a break from the memories or thoughts that trigger feelings of stress from the past or future. Remember, this is a practice that you need to do often, ideally every day, and with practice it will get easier and have a greater positive effect on your body.

I share some of my favorite mind-body-spirit exercises below, but remember that sleep is an integral part of this. Sleep is the time when your body  does all the important repair work. Find the sleeping hours that are natural for your body, so you can reap the benefits. 

Mind-body-spirit exercises:

  • Introduce a creative hobby, like knitting, painting, or writing.
  • Get moving! Yoga is a form of moving meditation, and can be easily found in your community or online.
  • Try daily meditations. You can start slow, with 3 – 5 minutes a day, and access helpful apps like Calm.
  • Body work like acupuncture is a great way to relax the body and ease the mind.
  • Talk therapy offers enormous benefits. I’m a big fan of getting all the support you can during difficult times.

Mark Hyman MD is the Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.