Does our health status goes deeper than biology? Is it possible that in addition to all of the latest pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, fad diets and functional lab testing, that our strongest medicine is something hidden from the clinical treatment? Not an enzyme, nutrient or a mineral, but something lingering in a place that we are not even looking?
The relatively new scientific field of epigenetics is radically shifting what we understand about individual physical health expression and how it relates to emotional trauma, in some cases, trauma that didn't originate with you. Let me back this up a bit. What exactly are genes? There seems to still be this idea out there that genes are this kind of static biological computer code. The story that diseases are genetic, meaning that they are inherited, is only partially true. Genes are inherited, yes. But, genes need to be “turned on” to do the work of creating effects such as symptoms, and collections of symptoms, or what we know to be disease. What encourages genes to turn on? Environmental triggers. And, by environmental, I mean anything in the physical, emotional and energetic environment. So, yes, our parents, grandparents, and ancestors hand us the raw materials, but our exposures and choices determine the outcome.
When you experience an emotional trauma as dramatic as divorce, death or abuse, but also as seemingly benign as chronic stress, there are reactions happening at the physical level. A novel neuroendocrine pivot point is established immediately after the event occurs. Biologically speaking, there is an increased fight or flight stress response, nervous system shifts in the HPA axis, and changes in gut bacteria. Individuals also experience loss of emotional resilience, and often psychological effects of anxiety and depression.  Emotional trauma can alter the entire genome and how our genes are expressed; physically, emotionally, mentally and energetically.  What is even more interesting is that these effects can be passed down intergenerationally. For example, if you have an anxious mother with low coping skills, she can pass down those behavioral trait genes to 6 future generations. In essence, we are writing a new genetic story as we are navigating the ancestral one.
There are multiple designations in functional medicine used for individuals that have problems with detoxification. Many have been diagnosed with the MTHFR genetic mutation or are otherwise categorized as slow oxidizers. A slow oxidizer will often experience fatigue, sweet cravings, and low blood sugar. They might also have weak adrenals, sluggish or fatty liver and/or microbiome imbalances. Since the HPA axis is the epicenter of biological stress regulation and is what controls the repair mechanism of cells, this begs the question; What does unresolved emotional trauma and chronic stress have to do with the physical process of detoxification, biochemical regulation, and genetic expression? I believe the short answer is: a whole lot.
When it comes to the body and emotional trauma, “time doesn’t heal, it conceals” according to Niki Gratix. “Trauma overwhelms us at the time it is occurring. To cope, we shunt it away into the unconscious.” This gets translated biologically as remodeling of the nervous system and HPA axis. The body reads it as sort of a suspended state of stress. Body imaging pet scans have shown that the body does not know the difference between a traumatic event and chronic ongoing stress. Both types of stress can even physically reduce brain volume.  On top of this, prior trauma primes the physiological inflammatory response to react more swiftly to subsequent stressful life events. Additionally, those that have experienced a traumatic event, and/or chronic daily life stress also are going to be magnets for environmental toxin accumulation because their detoxification systems have become dysregulated. This creates a positive feedback loop; more stress, less detox. Less detox, more toxin accumulation, more toxin accumulation, less physical health. Less physical health, more stress. See the cyclical pattern here?
Let me illustrate with a hypothetical. A child experiences physical abandonment of one parent. The child also experiences attachment issues with the remaining parent. She grows up feeling conditionally loved, and emotionally left out in the cold. She develops depression (stress-induced HPA axis dysfunctions, gut microbiota shifts) and eats food high in sugar and carbohydrates without realizing they are giving her temporary dopamine hits, but further dysregulating her blood sugar leading to lower lows. To correct her depression (low blood sugar and further HPA axis imbalance), she sees a Psychiatrist who prescribes her antidepressants. She no longer feels hopeless, but she doesn’t feel hopeful either. Meanwhile, the anti-depressants are further disrupting her HPA axis and cortisol levels. Her high stress levels lead to urinary tract infections. She sees a doctor for the UTIs and is prescribed multiple rounds of antibiotics, which further degrades gut bacteria and intestinal lining, as well as serotonin (the “happy” neurotransmitter - 90% of which is produced in the gut). She feels more depressed than ever, so her Psychiatrist changes her medication and she starts the cycle over again, on and on, with different diagnosis, medical professionals and cut-and-paste symptom management. Never solving the core issue. Only compounding her health status with each intervention.
The administration of Prozac and Paxil raises cortisol levels in human subjects. Given the fact that elevated cortisol levels are associated with depression, weight gain, immune dysfunction, and memory problems, the possibility that antidepressants may contribute to prolonged elevations in cortisol is alarming to say the least. ~Chris Kresser
The prior hypothetical example is the story of, hmmm, a significant portion of the American population today. Just switch out the stress trigger and symptoms/interventions. In the landmark Impact of Childhood Adverse events (ACE) study, victims of childhood trauma were significantly more likely to experience mental health problems, substance abuse, and chronic physical illnesses as well as early death, and women were 50% more likely than men to be victims of trauma.  If you are interested in knowing your own ACE score, you can get it here.
I realize that this is all sounding a bit grim, so here's the good news: neuroplasticity and emotional release techniques. Luckily, we all have the ability to epigenetically reverse the effects of trauma through neurological reboot practices and emotional hygiene, thus giving us more ease in reversing our physical symptoms through functional nutrition practices. This isn’t a straight line either. Radically changing your diet often forces you to shine a light on your shadows. As the biochemical toxicants surface, so can and do the previously diverted emotional traumas. Which is why I often recommend my clients add some type of cognitive therapy or other therapeutic support modality to their personalized nutrition plan.
Brain / Central Nervous System Reboot Practices
Research shows that yoga (asana) and yogic style breathing (pranayama) has amygdala calming properties.  In fact, if you are mouth breathing or taking shallow breaths, the neurons in your brain are receiving this and sending signals to the amygdala to fire up the fight or flight response, the neurons believe you are under threat. This does not happen with deep yogic breath. You are calming the gut-brain-axis and sending your nervous system the message to enter the parasympathetic state.
An underemphasized area in medicine is the placebo effect. Our minds are extremely powerful and thoughts can be expressed in a body positive or body negative way. Scientific studies indicate that a diagnosis can oftentimes be worse than the actual condition due to all the mental and emotional stress that accompanies a medical label of disease. All that the objective label of disease really encompasses is a collection of symptoms indicating biological imbalance. But, the emotional "story" surrounding a cancer or liver disease diagnosis is much more complex.
I cannot overstate the importance of developing your body/brain/spirit conscious awareness. You could literally save your own life with consistent practice and over time. Not into yoga? Can’t quite commit to meditation? Just breathe, deeply. Set an alarm on your phone if you need that to remember. There are so many other ways you can access your parasympathetic state. Simply put, do what makes you happy and invokes a feeling of peace. Do things more often that don’t involve a goal, accomplishment, or “end game”. Live in the moment. Do things just because you enjoy doing them and because they relax you. Do as many of these things as you can every day. Some examples; dancing, singing, painting, writing, restorative yoga, massage, Epsom salt baths, cooking, reading, spending time with friends and loved ones; you get the idea.
Emotional Release Techniques
Our ancient ancestors had the support of the tribe through communal living, initiation rites and the shaman to assist in sustaining emotional health. As society has become more modernized and industrialized, we not only have become more physically distant, but also less emotionally attuned. Teal Swan calls fragmented personality the “worldwide disease”. She theorizes that we all have split personalities stemming from unintegrated traumas. If there is any truth to this, emotional work should become a habit just like brushing our teeth. Like brain reboot techniques, there are more ways than one to practice effective emotional release. What has worked for me is a combination of guided inner child meditation, cognitive therapy, and EFT tapping.
A study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease showed that EFT tapping reduced cortisol (stress hormone) levels in PTSD veterans by 24%.
The great thing about inner child work and tapping that they don’t have to cost anything if you are willing to do some work to find the videos that suit you most and to learn the technique of tapping. If you prefer to be guided by a Practitioner, modalities such as Reiki, Healing Touch and Body Talk may be of interest as well. Understand that this is a lifelong process. You won't have one breakthrough and be done. It is a continual unfolding to feel your feelings. But, you will get emotionally stronger each time. It's much like building a muscle. We live in a society that does not support expressing real emotions, which is why we have an epidemic of people (specifically men) afraid to go deep and try any of these techniques, but I am here to emphasize that if you want to truly be healthy and resolve your physical issues, this emotional work is a not an option, it is the bedrock.
Many people nowadays are into positive psychology. While I agree that having a positive attitude is very healthy, I also think that putting a smiley face over your pain is like putting a bandaid on a sliver. It might look better and maybe even feel better for a minute, but the pain is still there, hidden underneath the mask. Find ways to be happy, yes, but be accepting of sadness and grief and the spectrum of emotions that make us human. The more comfortable and OK we get with all emotions on a personal level, the more awakened our society will become as a whole. And for purely practical reasons, we have to feel our emotions in order to release them from the places they are stored in our bodies. Our body intelligence then assists in dissolving these energies with tears. I won’t go into my views on how American society perpetuates emotional repression by its very structure and essence, that would require a whole post of its own, and I think most of you reading this already pretty much get it. Instead, I will leave you with a quote from Charles Eisenstein’s brilliant essay titled; Mutiny of the Soul:
When a growing fatigue or depression becomes serious, and we get a diagnosis of Epstein-Barr or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or hypothyroid or low serotonin, we typically feel relief and alarm. Alarm: something is wrong with me. Relief: at least I know I'm not imagining things; now that I have a diagnosis, I can be cured, and life can go back to normal. But of course, a cure for these conditions is elusive.
The notion of a cure starts with the question, "What has gone wrong?" But there is another, radically different way of seeing fatigue and depression that starts by asking, "What is the body, in its perfect wisdom, responding to?" When would it be the wisest choice for someone to be unable to summon the energy to fully participate in life?
The answer is staring us in the face. When our soul-body is saying No to life, through fatigue or depression, the first thing to ask is, "Is life as I am living it the right life for me right now?" When the soul-body is saying No to participation in the world, the first thing to ask is, "Does the world as it is presented me merit my full participation?" ~Charles Eisenstein
What if our body is the medium through which our symptoms tell the story of a deeper truth? What if our body is trying to wake us up on a physical level so that we might follow the breadcrumb trail to the emotional root? Biotransformation is a miracle. Our bodies instinctively alter toxic substances to protect us. Our body is always performing acts of love towards us every second of every day. Our brains carry out a similar function in trying to protect our hearts. What if we opened to the possibility that we are our own greatest allies in healing what ails us? If only we took a moment to look somewhere we had never thought to look before.
If you are ready to follow the breadcrumb trail of healing, I can help! I create functional nutrition plans to clear your mind and heal your body. Click the link for contact info and schedule a free 10-minute consult.
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