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How Abuse Affects Your Gut Health

My forthcoming Idiot’s Guide to the Healthy Gut Diet (due out in May 2016) inspired this week’s blog post. So many of us are recovering from trauma that affects our health. The truth is, there are ways we can reclaim our health and vitality. We just have to be willing to make some lifestyle changes.

It’s no secret that emotional trauma and stress take a toll on your health. Whether you’ve endured abuse or had a horrific week at work, your body registers the blow. Your digestive system, where 70 to 80% of your immune system resides, plays a critical role in responding to stress and trauma.

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Science is just now discovering the truth of this statement as it unravels the inner-workings of brain-gut and mind-body connections.

Your brain and gut are connected in amazing ways science is just starting to understand. The vagus nerve connects your brain with the nerve cells in your gut and forms a two-way communication highway. If you’re stressed out, your gut will feel the effects, and your gut health can have an impact on the rest of your body. After all, the gut is the nutrient absorption and distribution center of your body.

Digestive health relies on healthy populations of bacteria that live in your gastrointestinal tract. Recent science is unlocking the mysteries of how the trillions of bacteria living in your gut communicate with your brain. These same bacteria respond to your stress levels, which can lead to inflammation and other health problems elsewhere in the body. Stress can literally cause your digestive system to malfunction and lead to serious illness.

Prolonged patterns of stress, like those resulting from sexual abuse or assault, can cause long-term damage to the gut and the bacteria we depend on for digestive health. Unchecked stress can contribute to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (such as Crohn’s), and autoimmune disorders. Recent research even demonstrates that children who endure sexual abuse have a much higher rate of developing inflammatory or autoimmune conditions later in life.

So how do survivors take stride to reclaim their health?

Find ways to carve out some peace and quiet for yourself—this is crucial to your overall physical and mental health.

Top 3 Stress Management Tools for Survivors

1. Meditation-- you don’t have to chant with your eyes closed, unless you want to. But try quieting your mind, acknowledging tension and then consciously letting it go and finding a sense of peace.

2. Good Sleep Habits— the more sleep-deprived you are the more your defenses are down, leaving you vulnerable to infections. Between 70 and 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, and your gut needs rest. Try your best to get 7 to 8 hours a sleep every night.

3. Exercise—helps your gastrointestinal tract and releases endorphins that relieve stress and boost your mood.

We can’t control what happens to us. But we can control how we respond. Prolonged stress made my body vulnerable to autoimmune disorders. Nutrition, education, and the 3 stress management tools above have made every difference in my recovery. I hope they will for you too.

Have tips or a story to share? Please comment below.

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