Biology of Trauma® Podcast
With Dr. Aimie Apigian MD, MS, MPH
Episode 75
Fear Stored In The Gut: Attachment, Relational Trauma, And Solutions For The Hyper-Sensitive Gut
“For many individuals, resolving past childhood trauma has been a key part of effectively managing their IBS. Addressing the emotional and psychological roots of the condition is just as important as addressing the physical symptoms themselves”.
~ Dr. Aimie

Fear Stored In The Gut: Attachment, Relational Trauma, And Solutions For The Hyper-Sensitive Gut

How Early Experiences Shape Lifelong Health

Early life experiences can shape long-term health and the risk of developing conditions like IBS. 

The period of early childhood development, both in the womb and the first few years of life, is so important because this is when our trauma response systems become wired. During this critical window, our nervous systems are very plastic and moldable by our environments.

Traumatic experiences or even perceived “terror” during this neurodevelopmental period can result in lasting impacts. If the body feels it is constantly threatened, as may happen after neglect, abuse, or other trauma, it will adapt accordingly. 

On a physiological level, this primes the trauma response to remain at a heightened “global high-intensity activation” state even when safe. 

What does this mean?

Essentially, our early life experiences become embedded into our autonomic nervous system as a default trauma response pattern. Our bodies learn that the world is dangerous and they must be on high alert at all times. 

While this served an important evolutionary purpose, it can be problematic if carried into adulthood.

This is why our early experiences are so influential – they shape the very architecture of our trauma response systems. An irregular response, as we’ll discuss, increases the risk for conditions like IBS that involve mind-body imbalances.


What is IBS?: Defining Irritable Bowel Syndrome 

IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is an incredibly prevalent functional gastrointestinal disorder affecting an estimated 10-15% of people globally. At its most basic, it’s characterized by abdominal discomfort, bloating, and irregular bowel habits like diarrhea and/or constipation.

The hallmark symptoms revolve around dysregulation of the gut-brain axis, meaning problems with the two-way communication between the enteric nervous system in the gut and the central nervous system in the brain. 

This can lead to visceral hypersensitivity where someone experiences pain from stimuli that normally wouldn’t cause distress.

For IBS sufferers, everyday digestive processes like eating, bowel movements, and stress can trigger flare-ups of abdominal pain and discomfort. 

The severity varies from mild nuisance to severely debilitating, negatively impacting quality of life.

Despite its high frequency, the specific causes of IBS aren’t fully clear. However, research points to the roles of psychological stress, genetics, and environmental factors. 

This is why considering both mind and body is important for effective IBS management.


The Impact of Stored Trauma on the Gut: How Trauma Influences Digestion

Early life experiences can prime the body to remain in a state of constant “global high-intensity activation” through its effects on the nervous system. This has direct consequences for digestive health.

On a physiological level, the sympathetic nervous system controls so much when activated. 

It shunts blood away from the gut to muscles to prepare for threats. This makes sense in the short term but long term leaves the gut in a state of perpetual underactivity without proper blood flow or digestion.

Over time, this trauma response can sensitize the entire gastrointestinal system, making it hypervigilant and hyperreactive to any potential irritants. The gut also has its own nervous system that’s directly influenced by the brain through the vagus nerve.

So when early experiences result in a habitually “switched on” response, the gut ends up bearing the brunt of this dysregulation. 

The hypersensitivity this causes is thought to underlie the painful and uncomfortable symptoms commonly experienced by those with IBS.


The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Adult IBS

Early childhood is when the foundations of the trauma response system are established in the nervous system. 

Experiencing threats to safety and well-being at such a vulnerable developmental stage can essentially wire the body for this trauma response as a default pattern.

As we know, stored trauma in the body dysregulates the gut-brain axis in ways that manifest as IBS symptoms. Resolving past childhood trauma has proven a key part of effectively managing IBS for many patients. 

Addressing both the physical and emotional/psychological roots of the condition is important.


Mind-Body Solutions for Managing IBS Symptoms

Now that we understand the mind-body mechanisms behind IBS, I’d like to share effective mind-body approaches clients can use to help manage their symptoms at home. 

As always, listen to your body any time you are using these. If it doesn’t feel right, stop and move on! 

Since stored trauma and nervous system over-reactivity drive IBS, it’s important to incorporate practices that counteract this dysregulation. Gentle gut-focused exercises, applying heat, and connecting breath to this area can help shift the nervous system out of “fight or flight” and into a more relaxed state.

Parts work is also key – taking time to connect with and reassure any distressed parts of ourselves that they are safe can release held tension from trauma.

Addressing underlying inflammation is equally important. Anti-inflammatory foods and herbs can help. Also, changing lifestyle habits like managing stored trauma through journaling or meditation, and getting quality sleep can help calm gut hypersensitivity over time.


Addressing Underlying Contributors: Parts Work and Other Holistic Approaches

Managing symptoms is important, but finding lasting relief is also crucial to addressing the root causes perpetuating one’s IBS. 

Parts work is so helpful for resolving past emotional wounds still impacting the body. It starts with releasing tension from trauma. Making space to connect with and reassure distressed parts of ourselves that they are safe now can do this. This allows for deeper healing.

Reducing inflammation is another key, as gut inflammation exacerbates hypersensitivity. As stated above, anti-inflammatory foods, herbs, and lifestyle habits like managing stored trauma through yoga or meditation can help calm the digestive system over time.

Addressing the psychological and emotional roots is also beneficial, such as through talk therapy modalities. 

All of this to say, effectively resolving childhood trauma has proven instrumental for many in overcoming IBS long-term.

I’ve had a great time sharing this with you! 

Until next time.

To your best health and your best self, 

Dr. Aimie 

Here’s what you’ll learn in the full podcast episode:

  •    What element of our body drives all syndromes
  •    Why somatic work is one of 3 pillars for stored trauma
  •    The stabilization with somatic work changes our biology 
  •    What every physician should know about syndromes
  •    The role of childhood trauma in chronic syndromes
  •    What is Dysautonomia in syndromes
  •    Why lupus patients frequently have trauma histories
  •    How do we address the presence of shame and grief often locked into syndromes
  •    The key to somatic work with any and all syndromes
  •    What is the goal since it’s not ‘absolute safety’

Helpful Links:

Where To Start:

Foundational Journey: A 6-week Journey I lead where I safely guide you into your own nervous system to see what is stored!  More importantly, is what comes next. I want to teach you how to create that felt sense of safety in your body. I want you to have tools and a foundation of regulation. 

We lay this foundation through somatic and parts work.  

Think of it as stabilizing your system before going into surgery.  We lay the foundation before doing the deeper trauma work. 


Attachment Trauma Roadmap: Earning a secure attachment as an adult requires hard work to rewire the nervous system, in which attachment trauma has become deeply embedded. This roadmap lays out this healing process through somatic work, parts work, and addressing biology.

Attachment Pain Guide: Learning how to get to a secure attachment starts with understanding the types of attachment pain you have. This guide helps individuals better understand the types of attachment pain

Related Podcasts:    

Recognizing and Overcoming the Freeze Response with Irene Lyon, Part 1, Recognizing and Overcoming the Freeze Response with Irene Lyon, Part 2 Cycling back and forth between the sympathetic and the freeze responses are characteristic of those experiencing IBS. Learn more about recognizing and overcoming the freeze response here.

The Role Trauma Plays in Highly Sensitive People: Those with global high-intensity activation often exhibit characteristics of a highly sensitive nervous system. Learn more about how this is connected with trauma.

What is The Parasympathetic State and Why Does it Matter?: The parasympathetic state is necessary for addressing gut dysfunction, yet those cycling between the stress response and freeze response spend very little time in it. Learn more about the benefits of the parasympathetic state and why it is necessary to address IBS.

When Trauma has Made it Unsafe to Feel Safe, What do We do? Neuroception, Vagal Efficiency and Neuroplasticity – How Does Polyvagal Lens Influence Trauma Work?: Global high-intensity activation is directly impacted by neuroception. Learn more about neuroception here and how it impacts the function of the vagal nerve, which directly impacts gut health.


C60 – Is thought to be the most powerful antioxidant yet known. C60 protects the body from oxidative stress, which is the main cause of cellular damage. By scavenging free radicals and reducing oxidative stress, C60 allows the body to heal naturally. This allows you to focus on healing your body from stored trauma!

Magnesium Sleep  With magnesium being one of the most common deficiencies from chronic stress and in mental health, this is a must.  Magnesium is involved in over 300 reactions in our body, which makes sense that it’s the first to take the hit when we are stressed.  You feel better, sleep better, and connect with others better when we have our magnesium reserves replenished.      

Products I recommend from this episode

Comment Etiquette:

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Drop your thoughts below about the episode! I want to hear from you.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for the podcasts. Very interesting. I am a prime candidate to learn about this given my significant history of PTSD, I feel a great deal was the result of in-utero trauma, as my mother had Rubella during her pregnancy. I think I should start with these podcasts and go from there. The 21 Day Foundation would probably be good too, but I have lived with chronic depression, and anti-depressants don’t help much. I think attention to the gut may be first for me, and this is where I think it all started, with issue of attachment. I think, unless you advise otherwise, I’ll start by listening to these podcasts and then go back for the 21 Day foundation.

  2. Thank you very much for this very useful and helpful podcast, Dr. Aimie! I learned a lot. I am thankful you are sharing your valuable knowledge with others!

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