Depression and Childhood Trauma

Welcome to the Gates Brain Matter Minute



Randall Gates D.C., D.A.C.N.B.
Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist




In today’s newsletter:

  • Health Article – Depression and Childhood Trauma
  • Supplement Highlight – Zinc Boost
  • Recipe – Egg Roll in a Bowl


Depression and Childhood Trauma

Through the study of neural biology research, it has been discovered that  depression is a multifactorial, multimodal illness where many different systems in your body are seemingly affected in remote areas of the body – not just the brain. Your gut, fat tissue, and hormones can play a role in depression.

However, when you expose a child very early in life to adverse circumstances whether it’s physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or any types of abuse, their brain begins to change.

Multifactorial causes of depression
Let’s take a look at some factors that can cause depression.

1. Gluten. There are connections between people who are sensitive to gluten and it being primarily associated with depressive symptoms rather than gastrointestinal symptoms.

2. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The immune system attacks the thyroid causing dramatic  emotional and cognitive changes.

3. Obesity. Your fat cells can produce a lot of inflammation that can negatively affect your brain.

4. MTHFR or methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. This is a gene mutation in the C677T variant that can cause depression. MTHFR is the inability to process folic acid or vitamin B9. If you can’t process inactive folic acid and make it active, that affects your brain’s ability to produce serotonindopamine, and norepinephrine.

5. Glutamate. Glutamate is the most powerful excitatory neurotransmitter released by nerve cells in the brain. Chronic stress affects glutamate and causes our brain cells to spin out of control and then go into a dormant state.

6. BDNF or brain derived neurotrophic factor. It is a neuropeptide that affects your neurons’ vitality. BDNF makes your neurons grow and be more robust. Exercise can dramatically affect low BDNF. Some people with BDNF have a polymorphism.

7. Childhood trauma. For some people, childhood trauma may be one factor that will come into play during a time of high stress. Abuse or maltreatment not only affects the likelihood of developing depression but also the probability for developing irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and anxiety later in life. Why does this happen?

Temporal lobe: The fight or flight center of the brain

In order to understand how the brain changes during childhood trauma, it is important to understand the two areas of the brain that are affected by early childhood trauma or abuse.

The image below shows the inner part of the temporal lobe, the limbic system. The amygdala is the fear center and the hippocampus is the memory area. This is the “center of the onion” when it comes to the biology of depression.

Amygdala: Your fear center. The amygdala is about the size of an almond and resides within the inner part of the temporal lobe.

Hippocampus. Your memory area. The hippocampus looks like a tail. The hippocampus is so important because it is one of two areas in your brain that makes new brain cells all the time. Approximately 700 new brain cells grow and develop in your hippocampus every day!

Hippocampus as a garden

In order to grow a thriving garden, it is important that we have sunshine, water and fertilizer in that garden so it grows. We don’t want Roundup® in the garden or some sort of pesticide that is going to kill the plants. Like a garden, our brains are the same.

In the brain, the pesticide is cortisol. Chronic stress due to childhood trauma turns on the amygdala and activates it to talk to the pituitary in the hypothalamus region.

Then, the pituitary sends signals down to the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. These hormones then feed back to the frontal lobes which negatively affects the frontal lobes and creates a less than ideal environment for growing new brain cells in the hippocampus. 
This amygdala to pituitary to adrenal to hippocampus communication produces way too much cortisol (adrenaline). Adrenaline is a hardwired connection within our spinal cord and autonomic nervous system.  This reaction to a perceived sense of fear is called fight or flight.

The fight or flight response

A fight or flight response is a physiological reaction that causes systems to send signals to each other thereby setting off how your brain responds to a situation, which your brain perceives as a threat. When a perceived threat or stress becomes chronic, a person may develop depression.  

Adrenaline responds to your fight or flight situation. Glands then produce high levels of cortisol, which adversely affect the development and growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. This is especially harmful for children in the development of depression.

When a child continuously exposed to bad circumstances, abuse, and traumatic events, the fear center in their brain enlarges. The amygdala continues to enlarge for the rest of that child’s life span.

This child will produce different levels of cortisol than someone who wasn’t exposed to childhood trauma. That is because of what’s going on around them. It is not anything they are doing wrong; it is just the circumstances are not optimal.

Treatment-resistant depression is real
Is hippocampal atrophy reversible?  Yes! 100%. Antidepressants have been shown to reverse hippocampal atrophy. Natural supplements are also showing promise in reversing hippocampal atrophy.
However, a large percentage of patients with depression have treatment-resistant depression. They take antidepressants, cycle between one, two, or three medications and still don’t feel well. Psychiatrists and neuroscientists have been digging into the neurobiological mechanisms to understand  why some people respond well to antidepressants and others do not.
It is important to remember that the causes of depression have many factors as listed previously in the article.  If you are not responding to medications, there are a multitude of possible reasons.

Serotonin metabolism: This is very important, factors such as MTHFR affects your brain’s ability to produce serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Cortisol: It can affect how serotonin is processed in the hippocampus and neurogenesis.

Stress: Reducing stress will help adequately heal your hormones. Testosterone and estrogen are very important and often neglected for patients who suffer with depression.

 Inflammation: Inflammation comes from your fat cells and gut microbiome and is also associated with having a gluten reaction. It can also be a result an immune response to your thyroid.

Research reveals consensus of childhood stress and depression
In my practice, many times my patients will ask me where I get some of my research information, because oftentimes they are unaware of certain effects between stress and depression. That is why I cite research articles for their review. It’s very important to understand why you are suffering from depression. Below are a few really nice reviews on depression, hippocampal shrinkage, and childhood trauma.

1. A review in the Journal Neuron (Duman, et al., 2019) states that “studies demonstrate that depression and chronic stress exposure cause atrophy of neurons in cortical and limbic brain regions implicated in depression.” 1
2. Another published review in Trends – Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (Santos, et al., 2018) states that “major depressive disorder seems to be associated with global hippocampal volume atrophy . . .  .”  So, depression is associated with your hippocampus shrinking.

3. Neuropsychopharmacology states that researchers looked at hippocampal atrophy. “The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire was administered to estimate experiences of childhood maltreatment. Childhood maltreatment was consistently associated with hippocampal volume loss in both, patients and healthy controls.” 3

Whether or not you have depression, if you have been exposed to childhood trauma, your hippocampus has a probability of being smaller than someone who was not exposed to childhood trauma.

At Gates Brain Health, we can help you with your depression

At Gates Brain Health,  we address depression by promoting neurogenesis (new brain growth) in the hippocampus with neuroplasticity based exercises that help your brain shut off its stress response. Hippocampal atrophy is reversible.

Duman, Ronald S., Sanacora, Gerard, Krystal, John H. Altered Connectivity in Depression: GABA and Glutamate Neurotransmitter Deficits and Reversal by Novel Treatments. (2019 April). Journal Neuron..

 Antônio Oliveira Santos, Marcelo, Soares Bezerra, Lucas,  Marinho Ribeiro Carvalho, Ana Rita, Mertens Brainer-Lima, Alessandra . (2018, Oct/Dec.) Global hippocampal atrophy in major depressive disorder a meta-analysis of magnetic resonance imaging. Trends in Psychiatry and Psychology.  http://doi: 10.1590/2237-6089-2017-0130

Nils Opal, Ronny Redlick, Peter Zwanger, Domink Grotegerd, Voker Arolt, Water Heindel, Carsten Konrad, Harald Kugel, and Udo Danlowski. Neuropsychopharmacology (2014) 39, 2223-2731. American College of Neuropharmacology. Hippocampal Atrophy in Major Depression: A Function of Childhood Maltreatment Rather than Diagnosis?


Transcribed and written by freelance writer Jamie Ward from Learning Live with Dr. Randall Gates on YouTube® by Dr. Randall Gates, D.C., D.A.C.N.B., Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist.

At Gates Brain Health we help you get to the root of your health issues.

Supplement Highlight
Zinc Boost

Zinc Boost

Zinc is a mineral essential to both normal health, optimal cellular function and healthy immune function. Zinc is necessary for immune cell function and cell signaling. A zinc deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system.

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Recipe of the Week

YES, you can still have a delicious egg roll without the wrapper. Try it for yourself! 


For The Egg Roll In a Bowl

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil (or coconut oil for AIP)
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 12 oz coleslaw mix
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 2 tbsp green onion, chopped

For the sauce (optional)

  • 1/4 cup coconut cream
  • 1 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • Pinch of sea salt


  1. In a large skillet, brown the pork on medium heat and lightly season with salt and pepper. Once cooked, set aside. Discard the fat.
  2. Using the same skillet, heat the oil on medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic and ginger until fragrant and the onion is translucent.
  3. Pour in the coleslaw mix as well as the apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos. Season with the remainder of salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. Saute for 4-5 minutes or until the cabbage reduces in size and the carrots soften.
  4. Reincorporate the cooked pork and stir to combine. Saute for another minute to reheat.
  5. Remove from heat and topped with green onion and optional sauce (see below).

For the optional sauce

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Serve over the bowls.

Recipe Courtesy of  Michelle, Unbound Wellness


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Disclaimers: No copyright infringement intended. This is not intended as medical advice. Please check with your doctor before making changes.

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