New study shows PTSD relief may be more about the stomach than the head

The medical community has been looking high when it should have been looking low for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment. Recent research shows that this enigmatic psychological disorder is not all in the head, but rather in the gut of the millions of U.S. adults per year who suffer from PTSD.

An important study last year by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, found that certain gut microbes can actually prevent PTSD, a disorder that occurs after people have experienced a severe psychological injury or trauma with symptoms ranging from sleep disorders to anxiety to flashbacks. Sufferers usually get flashbacks and  relive traumatic experiences repeatedly.

Similar findings by the Office of Naval Research links a healthy gut with better mood and behavior with the promise of preventing or curing neurological disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as PTSD.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), gut bacteria strongly influences our metabolic, endocrine, immune, and both peripheral, and central nervous systems. Depression has been associated with enhanced levels of proinflammatory biomarkers and abnormal responses to stress. These factors seem to predict and predispose individuals to develop PTSD after a traumatic event.

“When our gut microbiome is traumatized, so is our brain,” says certified integrative nutrition coach Connie Rogers.

Scientists refer to the microbiome as the communities of microorganisms that inhabit your skin, mouth, gut, and other parts of your body. Like fingerprints, no two microbiomes are the same. The trillions of microbes in the intestinal tract profoundly impact human biology — digesting food, regulating the immune system, and even transmitting signals to the brain that alter mood and behavior.

Enteric Nervous System: Brain In The Gut

In her book Path To a Healthy Mind & Body, Rogers discusses how the foods we eat can affect our moods due to the brain to stomach connection known as the gut/brain axis.

“This means our gut bacteria directly influence every system in the body including endocrine, metabolic, immune, digestive, the peripheral system, the enteric nervous system, and our central nervous system (CNS),” says Rogers. “The enteric nervous system has a direct relationship with happy, joyful, upbeat emotions as well as depression, anger, and anxiety.”

The peripheral system, says Rogers, is a social system that interacts together with our CNS and our body. Bodily functions involve the skin, muscles, heart, stomach, and intestines. The CNS can be stressed by many factors, including poor quality foods, imbalances in cortisol levels and endocrine disruptors.

These ground-breaking findings suggest a new direction for prevention and PTSD treatment and other psychological disorders including: anxiety and depression. This is important because conventional PTSD treatments such as psychotherapy, antidepressants, or other psychotropic medications have not been overly effective in treating the estimated 24.4 million people affected by PTSD in the U.S. alone. Many turn to drugs or alcohol for any kind of marginal relief.

PTSD Treatment: Molecular Hydrogen Connection

Over 500 studies now extol the health benefits of molecular hydrogen (H2), an antioxidant supplement that researchers have linked to helping battle more than five dozen illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and Alzheimer’s. It is possibly the only antioxidant molecule that can reach inside the mitochondria (power generators) of a cell where it reduces oxidative stress, the major cause of most lifestyle-related illnesses, cancers, and the aging process.

“There is evidence that oxidative stress plays a role in the pathogenesis (development) of PTSD, and some studies have found that those suffering from the disorder have low levels of antioxidant activity compared to control groups,” says health care writer and editor Claudia Rallis.

Rogers says studies prove that the gut microbiome negatively changes with oxidative stress, which increases symptoms of PTSD. Molecular hydrogen helps gut microbiomes stay healthy by reducing oxidative stress, which in turn lessons PTSD symptoms.

“Molecular hydrogen has the ability to fight oxidative stress in the body that leads to inflammatory conditions,” Rogers says. “Molecular hydrogen helps build a good gut microbiome, helps prevent cognitive decline, and helps you regain health from PTSD.”

Tyler LeBaron, founder and executive director of the Molecular Hydrogen Foundation, points to studies that show H2 can help reduce traumatic brain injury as well as help with depression-like symptoms.

“We also see that H2 has benefits for many neurological diseases,” LeBaron says.

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A Closer Look At The Science

The term post-traumatic stress disorder was originally associated with war veterans. Up to 20 percent of U.S. veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have had post-traumatic stress, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. With that said, an estimated 76 percent of the population will experience an event potentially traumatic enough to trigger symptoms of PTSD. Emergency responders and doctors are especially vulnerable. As many as 60 percent of patients discharged from intensive care units (ICUs) are also apt to suffer.

At first it seems incredible that microscopic gut bacteria could have anything to do with trauma-induced conditions until you look at the connection between the two main states of nervous system arousal: parasympathetic and sympathetic. The parasympathetic nervous system arousal is responsible for “rest and digest.” The sympathetic nervous system arousal is responsible for “fight or flight.”  The vagus nerve basically controls the parasympathetic nervous system. Under stress-free conditions it keeps us relaxed but alert. It keeps our heartbeat within a resting state and keeps our gut working to digest. But when the brain’s alarm system, the amygdala, recognizes danger, muscular tension clamps down on the vagus nerve. Ears perk up, pupils dilate to see more movement, the heartbeat increases to pump blood away from the digestive process and into our limbs for faster flight or stronger fight.

Trauma happens when we experience something that is horrific but we can do nothing about it. Our nervous system kicks into a dual arousal of both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system arousal for a freeze response. This trauma becomes PTSD if we fail to process what is happening through our available nervous systems.

The Human Microbiome Project

In the same way that scientists are busy cataloguing DNA in the Human Genome Project, researchers are also cataloguing the vast range of bacteria that live on or within the human body. Called the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), scientists have discovered that every person has a collection of whole ecosystems of microbes in every part of our body, including the gut and intestines. The diversity in these microbial ecosystems is what keeps us healthy, physically and psychologically.

The good news is that an imbalance in the gut microbiota can be corrected. This was illustrated in a study at the University of Colorado Boulder where scientists gave stressed mice some of the same bacteria found in the guts of calm mice. The anxious mice immediately calmed down and experienced better moods and less anxiety.

Bacteria Also Have a Time Schedule

Another study has discovered that bacteria, like humans, have their own unique inner-clock or circadian rhythms. These are linked to our body’s multitude of other rhythms as we release hormones that affect our gut activity at different times of day. When our circadian rhythms are out of whack, the bacteria in our stomachs and intestines also get off track. Our health affects our gut bacteria and their health affects our own well-being in an endless loop. Healthy gut bacteria and unhealthy bacteria release different signals with different timing. These biochemical signals in turn affect our brains, especially the way we process stress.

5 Things To Improve Gut Health

Bottom line, keeping our gut well-stocked with healthy, diversified bacteria, can help our overall mental state, including providing relief from PTSD symptoms. Besides taking a molecular hydrogen supplement, you can dramatically improve your gut microbiome by doing these five things:

  1. Use probiotics – These are supplements that introduce live beneficial microbes into your digestive tract. It’s important to use probiotics that survive stomach acids. Just Thrive offers the only all natural probiotic-and-antioxidant combination product that 100 percent survives the harsh conditions of the stomach and arrives alive in the small intestine to get to work for you. Use in combination with prebiotics, which help nourish probiotics.
  2. Eliminate harmful foods – Sugar, processed foods, fast foods, alcohol, sodas, and other unhealthy staples of the American diet kill off good bacteria and promote harmful ones.
  1. Eat fiber-rich plants – Good bacteria love vegetables, especially artichokes, peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Fruits are also good for your gut.
  1. Eat fermented foods – Choose ones that contain live cultures and have not been pasteurized, since pasteurization kills the beneficial bacteria. Good choices include sauerkraut, kimchi, , coconut kefir, and kombucha.
  1. Protect existing gut flora – Medications such as strong antibiotics can kill good gut bacteria. Don’t take anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Anxiety is also a gut killer. Meditation, yoga and tai chi can help keep your existing beneficial microbes very happy.
Thomas Ropp Longtime journalist Thomas Ropp is an environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest ten years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.

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