Trauma and Physical Health

Trauma and physical health
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I have largely learned the following from Carolyn Spring whom I greatly admire for overcoming her own adversity and making her experience and subsequent study so freely available to others. You can visit her website at

I have learned that we are walking pharmacies and that my body and mind often know how to heal themselves, if only I listen and know how to make use of my own biochemistry. Thank you, Carolyn.

Here is my attempt at passing on the most important information from her course: “Mental Health and the Body: Treating Trauma.”

* Inflammation is a response of our immune system to threat. When our body feels under psychological/physical/emotional threat, it releases (amongst other things like stress hormones) chemical messengers called Cytokines. These Cytokines turn on inflammation in the body as a response to the perceived threat.

* Inflammatory responses to Cytokines have a huge impact not only on the physical body but also on our mood, behaviour and mental health.

* Depression could be seen as sickness behaviour in response to our immune system reacting to the Cytokines released because of the stress we are under. We feel awful, want to sleep more, withdraw, have no energy and no motivation.

* Trauma and depression are linked with other inflammatory diseases like diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, dementia, etc.

* Abuse or other adverse ongoing conditions during childhood sensitise inflammatory pathways which predisposes the immune system to overreact.

* Cytokines and their inflammatory responses can lead to metabolic complications and weight gain. People with obesity are 2-3 times more likely to be depressed because fat tissue produces Cytokines. Depression increases the risk of obesity and vice versa.


* Have a look at your sleep; is it refreshing and long enough? Sleep is the body’s anti-inflammatory. (If you are interested in this, please read my separate article on sleep).

* Have a look at your diet. Sugar is one of the most inflammatory foods.

* Frequent high fat meals can increase anxiety. The hormone Cholecystokinin is released to break down fats from our diet. This hormone plays a role in increased anxiety.

* Try to stick to three healthy meals a day, eaten at roughly the same time every day. If we eat continually (grazing, snacking), we lose the power of Ghrelin (hunger hormone) to be beneficial for our mental health. Ghrelin reduces anxiety and depression. When the stomach is empty, this is also a good time for gut wall repair. Some people thrive on ‘time-restricted’ eating, which means not eating anything for at least 12 hours a day.

* Our Gut Health is really important! In a nutshell: Balanced gut bacteria is good for our metal health, gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) is bad for our overall wellbeing.

* Trauma affects our gut, our gut affects our mental health as well as our trauma recovery. Gut dysbiosis is common amongst people who suffer with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Anxiety and Depression.

* Gut bacteria synthesise vitamins and neurotransmitters. If we don’t have the right gut bacteria, we will be deficient in these vitamins and neurotransmitters.

* The gut is part of the enteric nervous system; there are brain cells in the digestive tract. Gut and brain talk to each other via the vagus nerve.

* Our mood is heavily influenced by gut bacteria.

* Cravings are driven by gut bacteria. The bacteria are signalling that “they want to eat”. We get a shot of dopamine and serotonin to reward us and to stimulate us to eat again.

* If someone would like to try out something like the paleoketogenic diet, I would recommend speaking to your GP first.

As a conclusion I would personally like to add that it is so very refreshing to hear someone like Carolyn Spring confirm that categorising mental health conditions is not the be-all and end-all. Do I have Depression or Mood Disorder or PTSD? While some people no doubt feel relief when they get a diagnosis, which can of course facilitate access to certain help like free CBT counselling on the NHS, once diagnosed, the medical model does not tend to pay attention to underlying processes like trauma and inflammation.

While there sometimes is a case to be made for taking medication to improve someone’s mental health and overall wellbeing, I think it prudent to at the same time look at what I can do myself to improve my whole system with the resources I have within this very system.


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