Childhood stomach aches linked with adult depression; the Hashimoto’s hypothyroid connection

Childhood stomach aches adult depression anxiety

Many dismiss childhood stomach aches as a normal part of growing up. However research shows that chronic childhood stomach aches could result in anxiety and depression later in life. From what we know about gut health and immune health, it’s feasible this could also play a role in developing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism later in life.

A Stanford University researcher found that gastric irritation early in life could pave the way for lifelong psychological problems. Of course, not all childhood stomach aches will lead to adult depression and anxiety; genetic makeup and when the stomach aches occur developmentally are also important factors.

Researcher Pankaj Pasricha, MD, notes that 15 to 20 percent of people experience chronic pain in the upper abdomen, and are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than their peers.

Gut and brain hardwired together

Dr. Pasricha points to the connection between the gut and brain as an explanation for psychological issues related to childhood stomach aches. The gut has its own nervous system—similar to that of the brain—and is hardwired to the brain by the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs from the brain to the internal organs. As a result of signals transferred back and forth, disturbances in the gut can impact the brain.

To test whether chronic childhood gut problems could lead to anxiety and depression later in life, researchers performed experiments on baby rats, irritating their stomachs for six days.

Study shows early gut problems lead to adult anxiety

Researchers found that these rats showed significantly more anxiety and depression than their peers. They also had higher levels of stress hormones. It was concluded that the early gastric irritation permanently altered their brain function. However, when the researchers inhibited the release of stress hormones in the affected rats, they behaved more normally.

The Hashimoto’s hypothyroid connection

Studies also link high levels of stress hormones with immune imbalances that can trigger or flare up an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Additionally, stomach aches often indicate a gluten intolerance, and studies have established a link between gluten intolerance and Hashimoto’s disease. Also, researchers today increasingly link depression and anxiety with inflammation. All of these factors point to imbalances in the immune system that increase the risk of autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Addressing gut-based anxiety and depression

A number of studies show that chronic inflammation rewires the brain to become more sensitive to stress. This causes one to become “stressed out” very easily and suffer from disorders such as anxiety and depression.

So what can you do? First (if you have children), think preventively. Take colic and chronic stomach aches seriously. Intolerance to certain foods, such as gluten or dairy, is often the culprit. Other possibilities include bacterial infections, yeast overgrowth, or parasites.

Bearing all this in mind, the most important first step is to remove the inflammatory triggers that perpetuate the stress. Of course, if you have Hashimoto’s you should eliminate gluten from your diet completely. Beyond that, an anti-inflammatory diet is a great way to start. However you may need additional support—such as a gut-cleanse and repair—to unwind inflammation affecting both the brain and the gut.

Chronic stress also leads to depleted and imbalanced brain chemicals, called “neurotransmitters.” Neurotransmitters regulate our moods, function, and even our personality. And because the gut has its own nervous system, neurotransmitter imbalances also lead to poor digestive function.

My office can recommend specific nutritional therapies to help unwind stress, restore gut health, improve brain chemistry, and manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. If your child complains of stomach distress, it’s important that you address the problem right away, in order to reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and immune imbalances later in life.

Dr. Joni Labbe

About Dr. Joni Labbe

Dr. Joni Labbe is a board-certified clinical nutritionist specializing in science-based nutrition with a focus on women's health issues. She has successfully helped pre-menopausal and menopausal women regain and maintain their health since 1995. Dr. Labbe is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Selling book Thyroid & Menopause Madness and It’s Not Just Menopause: It’s Your Thyroid. She is also a professional speaker, radio personality, fitness expert, and former host of “Healthier Way With Dr. Labbe.” Dr. Labbe is one of the country’s leading authorities on thyroid disorders, including Hashimoto’s disease. Dr. Labbe has also authored numerous articles and blogs on health, nutrition, and thyroid health, as seen in Naturally Savvy, Thyroid Nation, and Fox News. She is a Board Certified Clinical Nutritionalist, Doctor of Chiropractic, and has post graduate training in Functional Neurology, Functional Endocrinology, Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis, and earned a Diplomate and Fellow in Nutrition from the American Association of Integrative Medicine.