True Cellular Formulas Team - October 31, 2023

Trauma, Gut, and Nutrition

A Complex Connection


In today's bustling world, the interplay between our mental and physical well-being often goes overlooked. When we think of trauma, our minds typically drift to emotional pain, mental health struggles, and the challenging process of healing. Yet, the repercussions of traumatic experiences stretch beyond the confines of our emotional realm. One lesser-known but critically important impact of trauma is its effect on our gut. In this article, we'll delve into the intricate relationship between trauma, gut health, and nutrition, highlighting the essential need to nourish our bodies, especially during difficult times.

Understanding Trauma: More than Emotional Pain

At its core, trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event. It isn't just the horrors of war, severe accidents, or personal assaults that can lead to trauma. Any event that leaves an individual feeling overwhelmed, isolated, or in danger can be traumatic. The symptoms are diverse, ranging from flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety to physical symptoms like fatigue and aches.

Body's Response to Trauma

When trauma strikes, the body goes on high alert. The adrenal glands start pumping out cortisol, our primary stress hormone. While cortisol is crucial for responding to immediate threats, prolonged elevated levels can wreak havoc on the body.[1] One of its lesser-known effects is the triggering of the flight-fight-freeze mechanism, which can lead to a range of physical symptoms. It’s essential to recognize that trauma doesn't just reside in the mind; it finds its way into our physical being, profoundly impacting our overall health.

The Gut-Brain Axis: An Intricate Relationship

A Two-Way Street: The gut and brain, though seemingly distinct, share a deep, bidirectional communication network known as the gut-brain axis. Through this axis, both the gut and brain can influence one another. For instance, a troubled gut can send signals leading to mood changes, and conversely, stress or depression can alter gut function.[2]

Role of Microbiota

Within our gut lies a vast ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, collectively termed the gut microbiota. These microorganisms play a pivotal role in our overall health. They aid in digestion, bolster our immune system, and even produce neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which regulate mood. An imbalance in this microbiota, often from factors like diet or stress, can have significant repercussions on both our digestive and mental health.[2-3]

Trauma and Increased Gut Permeability: The Science Behind It

What is Gut Permeability?

Often referred to as "leaky gut", increased gut permeability is a condition where the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged. This damage allows undigested food particles, toxins, and bacteria to leak into the bloodstream, potentially leading to various health issues.

Linking Trauma and Gut Health

Traumatic experiences and chronic stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, as mentioned earlier. Prolonged exposure to this stress hormone has been found to compromise the integrity of the intestinal barrier, promoting a leaky gut. As these toxins and bacteria seep into the bloodstream, they can trigger an inflammatory response.[4] This inflammation not only impacts physical health but can further exacerbate mental health symptoms, creating a vicious cycle of physical and emotional distress.

The Importance of Nourishing the Body During Difficult Times

Nutrition and Gut Health

Nutrition plays a paramount role in maintaining and repairing gut health. A well-balanced diet can provide the essential nutrients needed to reinforce the gut lining, ensure the well-being of the gut microbiota, and reduce inflammation.[5]

Power Foods for the Gut: Some foods have a particular affinity for gut health:

  • Bone broth: Rich in collagen and gelatin, it can assist in repairing the gut lining.
  • Fermented foods: Kombucha, sauerkraut, and yogurt introduce beneficial bacteria to the gut, fostering a balanced microbiome.
  • Fiber-rich foods: Foods like whole grains, legumes, and vegetables promote healthy digestion and feed the good bacteria in the gut.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts, these can help reduce inflammation in the body.

Foods to Approach with Caution

Just as some foods nurture the gut, others can be detrimental. Excessive alcohol, processed foods, sugars, and certain medications can exacerbate gut permeability and imbalance the microbiota.[6]

Practical Tips for Prioritizing Nutrition During Traumatic Periods

  • Meal Planning for Emotional Times: During periods of emotional upheaval, it's often challenging to maintain a balanced diet. Meal planning can act as a lifesaver, ensuring you're stocked up on nutrient-dense foods that bolster gut health.
  • Seeking Professional Guidance: Engaging with a nutritionist can provide tailored advice based on personal needs. They can offer strategies, recipes, and guidance to ensure the gut remains a priority even during traumatic periods.
  • Embrace Community and Social Support: Sharing meals or cooking with loved ones can act as both a therapeutic exercise and a way to ensure healthy eating. It provides accountability and fosters a sense of belonging, which is invaluable during tough times.
  • Tuning into One's Body: Every individual's body is unique. Paying attention to how certain foods affect mood, energy, and digestion can help fine-tune dietary choices. During periods of trauma, it's essential to listen to one's body and prioritize self-care.


The intricate dance between our emotional and physical well-being underscores the need for holistic approaches to healing. Traumatic experiences, while primarily affecting our emotional landscape, also ripple through our physical bodies, notably impacting our gut health. As we navigate the complexities of life's challenges, prioritizing nutrition becomes more than just a pursuit of physical health; it's an act of self-compassion, resilience, and holistic recovery. By nourishing our bodies, we not only fortify our physical defenses but also equip our minds with the strength to heal, showcasing the profound interconnectedness of body and soul.

  1. “Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Aug. 2023, 
  2.  Clapp, Megan et al. “Gut microbiota's effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis.” Clinics and practice vol. 7,4 987. 15 Sep. 2017, doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987
  3.  Madison, Annelise, and Janice K Kiecolt-Glaser. “Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition.” Current opinion in behavioral sciences vol. 28 (2019): 105-110. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.01.011
  4. Faries, P L et al. “Intestinal permeability correlates with severity of injury in trauma patients.” The Journal of trauma vol. 44,6 (1998): 1031-5; discussion 1035-6. doi:10.1097/00005373-199806000-00016
  5. Zhang, Ping. “Influence of Foods and Nutrition on the Gut Microbiome and Implications for Intestinal Health.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 23,17 9588. 24 Aug. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijms23179588
  6. Chen, Ganggang et al. “Gut microbiota dysbiosis: The potential mechanisms by which alcohol disrupts gut and brain functions.” Frontiers in microbiology vol. 13 916765. 29 Jul. 2022, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2022.916765

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