Nutritional Therapy for Trauma

nutritional therapy

There are a number of interventions and treatments available to aid trauma recovery, some clinically proven and others anecdotally praised. CBT, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, and other forms of psychotherapy are widely used, as are prescription medications to manage trauma-related symptoms, like anxiety, depression, and insomnia[1]. Managing symptoms is a priority for those suffering, as symptoms can be debilitating and deeply affect one’s personal life in terms of career, education, social life, and relationships.

However, one significant element of restoring health which is often overlooked is proper nutrition. Our bodies work by consuming fuel, which is used to support the functioning of every bodily system. The quality of the fuel we use matters, just like the quality of fuel we use for a car makes a difference to how well it functions.

The body should be the healthiest it can reasonably be as the healing process is unfolding, so the person can begin to feel that emotional freedom in a healthy body. Nutritional therapy can help to achieve a healthier balance between both the body and the mind, setting a strong foundation for recovery.

 

Trauma and Stress

 

PTSD and trauma-related issues typically involve elevated levels of stress[2]. Traumatic events can overwhelm our nervous system, sending us into fight or flight mode to ensure our survival, and keeping us trapped in a threat response when we freeze[3] (shutting down as a last resort if fight/flight is not viable). Our response to the threat – which may have been a natural disaster, a motor accident, or physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, neglect, or anything else that compromised our sense of safety – can become stuck within the body. The high levels of stress experienced at the time may not subside but instead live in the body, resurfacing as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, poor concentration, sleeplessness, physical ailments and illness, and impaired social functioning. Traumatic stress wears down the mind and body, so it is essential that, while getting the professional help we need to heal, we support the body as much as possible.

 

Psychotherapy and Medication as Traditional Treatments

 

Psychotherapies and medications are amazing tools we have in our toolkit to work towards healing trauma. They have allowed many trauma survivors to find some relief from their symptoms. However, trauma is a complex issue and approaches that work well for some may not work as well for others. It will also vary depending on the severity of symptoms and an individual’s capacity to do the healing work.

Trauma is deeply held and releasing it takes courage and strength. A nutrient-rich balanced diet is key to supporting the individual in both mind and body to take the necessary steps forward on the journey to health.

 

The Power of a Healthy Diet

 

A healthy diet is well known for contributing to good physical and mental health[4]. Managing physical and mental health is challenging for those suffering from trauma, so the body must have the fuel it needs to function.

Chronic stress – like that experienced in the aftermath of trauma – breaks down healthy tissues in the body.[5] To counteract the breaking down of tissues, as well as inflammation that occurs as a result, the body needs to be provided with certain nutrients to function effectively.

We can do this by adopting a healthy diet, which involves:

  • Eating regular meals: This helps to maintain blood sugar levels and prevents the body from sending signals to the brain that food is scarce, thereby reducing stress signals.
  • Increasing intake of Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega 3 fatty acids, like those found in salmon and tuna, nuts, seeds, and plant oils, have inflammatory properties, reducing inflammation in the body caused by stress.
  • Eating foods that are rich in protein: Protein-rich foods support tissue repair, help to regulate blood sugar, and are key for the production of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), thus supporting cognitive function.
  • Increasing intake of magnesium: Magnesium promotes healthy nerve and muscle functioning and helps to relax tight muscles. This is particularly helpful for reducing the negative impact of stress on the muscles of the body.
  • Increasing intake of antioxidants: Antioxidants help counteract the effects of oxidative stress on the body, which is commonly linked to anxiety.
  • Limiting stimulants: Stress can be reduced by limiting intake of stimulants like caffeine. Too much intake of stimulants can lead to disruption of sleep and increase the release of stress chemicals in the body.
  • Optimising hydration: Hydration is key for both digestive and cognitive function, as well as effective cell functioning.

 

Nutritional Supplements for Stress Reduction

 

While it is important to follow a healthy diet incorporating the basic guidelines listed above, traumatic stress can affect us in such a way that we may find it difficult to even think about food. Not only does stress suppress the appetite, or alternatively cause us to eat more with disregard for the quality of that food, but for some trauma survivors, food itself can be a trigger. Others, for example those who have lost their homes due to natural disasters, may not have access to a functioning kitchen, making it harder to get the right nutrients.

Trauma treatment can be supported by an increased intake of nutrients, and not just through food. Following the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011, many people were affected by loss of loved ones, their homes and even jobs.

Studies took place examining the levels of stress in the earthquake survivors, with participants made up of members of the general population[6]. Three groups were studied – one which was not given any nutritional supplements, one which was given a B-Complex supplement, and one which was given a supplement containing over 30 vitamins and minerals.

The B-Complex group showed a significant reduction in stress after two weeks, which was maintained at four weeks, and decreased significantly over one year.

The group with the nutrient-rich supplements showed greater decreases in stress than the B-Complex group at two weeks, four weeks, and one year.

Both groups that received supplements showed a much greater reduction in stress than the control group, implying the important role of nutrition in recovering from stress.

 

The Relationship with the Body

 

Eating the right food promotes a healthy relationship between you and your body. Trauma recovery involves coming back into the body in the present, instead of being stuck in the past. When you treat your body well, it serves you.

Consider the ‘Ben Franklin effect’: “If you want somebody to like you, get them to do you a favour.” This is based on the idea that, even if the favour is seemingly insignificant, there is an underlying message sent that the favour must have been done because the recipient was liked. If you can do your body a favour by providing it with natural, nutritional foods, you will come to feel that your relationship with your body is a little more compassionate.

 

Get in touch about nutritional therapy

 

If you have a client, or know of someone who needs support through trauma recovery, and could benefit from nutritional therapy, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and out-patient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long lasting recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).

 

 

Sources:

[1] nhs.uk. 2018. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

[2] Bremner, J Douglas. “Traumatic stress: effects on the brain.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience vol. 8,4 (2006): 445-61.

[3]  Schmidt, Norman B et al. “Exploring human freeze responses to a threat stressor.” Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry vol. 39,3 (2008): 292-304. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2007.08.002.

[4] MD, E., 2015. Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain On Food – Harvard Health Blog. [online] Harvard Health Blog. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626> [Accessed 7 August 2020].

[5] Mariotti, Agnese. “The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication.” Future science OA vol. 1,3 FSO23. 1 Nov. 2015, doi:10.4155/fso.15.21.

[6] Nutrition & Mental Health. “Nutrition for Trauma and PTSD.” YouTube, 20 Nov. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVRUQ6Cv8Wg. Accessed 7 Aug. 2020.

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