So, I read…a lot. And often I come across some very fascinating and useful concepts! I’m going to confess that my biggest challenge is condensing these into short blog posts and videos, because…there’s just so much. Today, we’re talking about a research paper that was published at the end of last year, revealing a fascinating, effective, and very available way to help your HPA Axis and gut bacteria, and much more!
For a bit of a review, our HPA axis is Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal, and its significance is that it is what “calibrates” your stress response; your fight/flight/freeze response (FFF). This is important because your HPA is what controls your autonomic system. We know that this response is programmed early in life, even before you were born-its first influence was the stress level of your mother!
Following childbirth into your first several years of life, any trauma, stress or major emotional upset affects the HPA axis and programs how your autonomic system will respond to future stresses. Watching parents fight, getting bullied by other kids, and similar early life events all get recorded and define who we are as adults. Remember that, because we will come back to it.
When the HPA system is altered, this alters gut bacteria populations as well. These alterations in the gut bacteria microbiome have been tied to the probability and extent of developing conditions such as autism, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression, schizophrenia, as well as neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s.
These disease changes occur in part because the changes to the gut microbiome cause inflammation, change levels of the brain’s neurotransmitters, and in fact change the actual genetic expression of the brain (which is called epigenetic change).
The realization that the gut microbiome has so much influence on the brain has led to researchers studying how to modify or treat diseases by working directly with the gut microbiome. From Parkinson’s to obesity, the new microscopic puppetmaster has been revealed.
Through life, our diet, brain function, microbiome, and immune system dance together, building functional patterns that define our health, function and who we become.
What can we do about it?
Because one of the original building blocks of this issue was early life experiences, this is the starting point. It’s also important to realize that major life stressors that occur in adolescent or adult life have a profound effect on the microbiome as well. What do all of these events have in common? We have memories of them, and those memories trigger our HPA programmed responses. Psychology researchers Matt Hudson and Mark Johnson have described these traumatic events as emotional memory images (EMI). Their research found that when we are challenged with questions or situations, our eye movements and facial micro-expressions give away that instant where the subconscious is accessing the EMI. These EMI’s are what the brain’s subconscious uses to see what HPA response to deliver, and that HPA response is basically how stressed do you get and how does it affect your health.
The researchers found that if we can interrupt that EMI, we can disrupt the HPA response and reprogram it to a more benign function. This is quite possibly one of the shortest, briefest psychology interventions of all time as it only takes an instant! The concept is an evolution of cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR, which also worked at reprogramming the response to earlier stressful events. The difference is that with the split-second unlearning (SSU) model, you don’t have to actually remember the memory, as your eye movements betray when you’re finding it in your subconscious, and that’s all that is needed. This is helpful when considering that much of the programming happens before birth and in the first few years of life, and most people don’t retain active memories of that time. But…the subconscious does!
The intervention technique can be taught to a person to act as therapist, but the researchers took it a step further and created a phone application that tracks your eye movements and does it for you. There’s a link to the application website in the links below if you’d like to try it out.
If you would like to work more on your HPA axis and microbiome, I have other tools as well, such as testing to identify the bacteria in your gut microbiome, and neurotransmitter testing to see how imbalanced your nervous system and HPA axis are. It’s also a common subject for me to discuss with patients during virtual Zoom health consultations. I’m also working on a new website that will allow patients to purchase labwork and supplements directly from the website, with at-home test kits mailed to you.
So, until next time-take care of your symbiotic gut organisms!
Richard Matthews DC DACNB
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