Food Sensitivities, Autoimmune Disease and Unhealed Trauma—Is There a Connection?

Studies have shown that chronic stress affects everything from your gums to your heart and can lower your immunity to everything from the common cold to cancer. In the 1930s researcher Hans Selye first coined the term “stress” to describe the damaging effects that the stress hormone cortisol had on the long-term health of rats. The rest, as they say, is history.

Cortisol overload is one of the main players in the stress-illness connection, although it plays a necessary role, with other hormones such as epinephrine (“adrenaline”) and norepinephrine, in helping us cope with short-term threats. These hormones boost heart rate, increase respiration, and increase the availability of glucose (cellular fuel) in the blood, thereby triggering the famous “fight or flight” reaction. However, cortisol simultaneously shuts down or slows down digestion, reproduction, physical growth, and some aspects of the immune system.

When occasions to fight or flee are infrequent and threats pass quickly, the body’s stress thermostat adjusts accordingly, but problems occur when stress is chronic, as the ACE Study proves with childhood trauma. Chronic stress can cause the brain and body to get stuck on the fear response and continually perceive stress even if it isn’t really there.

That’s what happened to my client, a 30-something woman I’ll call “Cindy.”

Barbara Allan’s brilliant work has shown us that there is indeed a gut-level connection between food sensitivities, leaky gut syndrome, and auto-immune illnesses. “Cindy” came to me because she was 80 pounds overweight, couldn’t attract or maintain a healthy relationship with a man, and had major emotional baggage from a critical, emotionally abusive father and a passive-aggressive mother.

As we worked our way through the layers of trauma, fear, hurt, shame, humiliation, rejection, sadness and abandonment embedded in her body/mind, one day she mentioned an allergy reaction to onions and tomatoes that she’s had since childhood.

I glanced at the intuitive reading I had done for her a few weeks earlier and noted recurrent themes of anxiety, feeling unsafe to “be,” a desire to be invisible, needing to be perfect etc. I said, “Tell me… what was it like at the dinner table growing up in your house?” She grimaced and replied, “Generally, chaos.”

I asked her to bring to mind a typical traumatic memory of chaos at the dinner table and she came up with a memory from about age 12, where her brother said something her father didn’t like so the father stood up, began screaming threats and profanity and swept half the dishes off the table. I asked her to rate the emotional intensity of that memory in a number from 0-10 with 10 being very intense and to name the emotion. She said in a trembling voice, “10 and it’s dread and terror.” I said, “Where do you feel that dread and terror in your body?” She pointed to her stomach, abdomen and throat. “Do you remember what was on the menu that night?” “Spaghetti.”

Using the EFT Movie Technique to shield her from the pain of re-living that scene, I said, “If that incident was a movie, what would be the title?” She answered, “The end of the world.”

We did several rounds of EFT acupressure tapping which took about 15 minutes until the movie, narrated by her and guided by me, was down to a zero and the blocked fear energy in her torso and throat released. I asked Cindy to replay the scene in her mind like a videotape from start to finish, and to stop and tell me if any of the scenes still had a charge. She closed her eyes for a long moment. When she opened them she looked confused and a bit bewildered. She said, “It’s like looking at a movie I’m not in. It feels detached and sort of distant. My father’s mouth is moving, but nothing is coming out!”

I refilled Cindy’s water glass and observed that spaghetti sauce is made with tomatoes and onions. Two weeks later Cindy reported that as a test she ordered Italian food at a restaurant, and had no allergic symptoms.

I don’t know of any research on this point, but in my experience with hundreds of traumatized people, moments of extreme shock and/or trauma imprint on the body/mind like a multi-dimensional stamp. Certain people, objects, sounds, foods and other stimulus become part of the trauma memory. Vietnam veterans commonly report anxiety when they hear a helicopter. A woman sexually abused by her father was allergic to wool because there was a wool blanket on her bed at the time of the abuse. The brain apparently imports the 3-D memory and sears it into a brain flooded with stress chemicals that cause an auto-repeat trauma response or allergy when the same or similar stimulus is experienced, until that trauma is neutralized.