Trust is Like Opium

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Health Coaching is about collaborating with clients to overcome chronic illness, stress-related illness and autoimmune disease.Health Coaching is a holistic approach to treat the untreatable. Drawing upon neuroscience, NLP, cognitive behavioural sciences, modern medicine and traditional medicine, it is an eclectic but methodical framework for recovering health. At the heart of it is the neuro science of health.

A significant part of the road to health recovery for the chronically ill and those with auto-immune disease is centered around the concept of trust because at the heart of their illness is a loss of trust in their cells and physiology to consistently function in the way they are designed to.  Their cells have become random and radical in their response to nutrition, biochemistry and neurochemistry as well as unpredictable in their output.

Trust is one of the cornerstones of health because without a solid sense of it, we are challenged to feel safe about our body’s ability to maintain wellness.  Safety is the second most important need in Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” psychology theory. If we don’t feel safe then we are pre-disposed to experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental emotional disorders that can create changes in our neurochemistry, causing us to release higher levels of adrenalin, noradrenalin, cortisol, pro-inflammatory cytokines  (Interleukin 1, Interleukin 6, Tumour Necrosing Factor) that can go on to drive disease and inflammation.

The unconscious process of trust is alive, moving and changing and it’s about that precise moment when we let go and have faith and knowledge that our cells just work.  Trust as a process describes the kind of relationship we have to the unknown when we can’t control. The luxury of it is that we aren’t even cognizant to our body working because there is no need, this then frees us up to focus on other things. Trusting your body is when your conscious and subconscious mind can let go of scanning your bodily processes for inconsistent function.

In a way, it is a primal process having evolved from the moment of conception when we were just one replicating cell that then went on to build a magnificent human being.

When we have been sick or recovering for a long time, our ability to trust our cells and our body can become split.  Due to our own personal accrued evidence of our body malfunctioning in some way, we can trust some of our cells, yet others we can’t. For example, my client Steve (name changed for privacy) has irritable bowel syndrome. Steve can trust that his lungs will expand and contract, his heart will beat, his leg muscles know how to walk, if he cuts himself he has faith that he will stop bleeding but he doesn’t trust his gut to be able to digest food without pain, he isn’t sure what kind of stress levels will trigger his bowel, he doesn’t trust his colon to be able to hold onto his stools until he is able to get to a toilet. Steve lives in a constant state of distrust, alert and vigilant to what is happening in his digestive system and at the ready for the next attack of pain or bowel urgency. Steve’s state of alert keeps his adrenalin and cortisol elevated, which stimulate the bowel urgency and also upscales inflammation. This gives rise to repetitive self-question of “Will I ever get better?”

Both trust and distrust are not created in an all or nothing way, rather it is a consistent and incremental practise of learning about our cells and body and how they respond to the triggers that come into contact with it.

More recently, medical science is discovering the neurochemistry that occurs when a person is in a trusting state.

Chen et al have demonstrated that oxytocin appears to be secreted in association with the experience of empathy, trust and belief(1). It is also stimulated in response to parasympathetic activity (breast-feeding, eating, digestion, defecation), stroking and massage. Hurlemann et al have shown that oxytocin effectively enhances dopamine secretion(2).  Dopamine facilitates happiness amongst other things.

According to neurogastroenterology, oxytocin influences the digestive system as much as it influences the brain. Our gut is often referred to as our second brain. Read my article here. Oxytocin has been proven to cool gastrointestinal inflammation to alleviate food sensitivities, autoimmune disorders and candida infections. When oxytocin levels are stable and elevated, the physical body benefits as much as the mind. Oxytocin reduces levels of cortisol in the body and lowers blood pressure. (3) Oxytocin and the receptor site for oxytocin have been found in the intestinal tract. (4) Oxytocin improves gut motility and decreases intestinal inflammation. (5) Because of trusts’ involvement with oxytocin,  trust is like opium to our body.

In health coaching Steve to recover from irritable bowel syndrome, there was an emphasis on recalibrating his neurochemistry by working with his distortions in his perception of the events, situations and people in his life that he referred to as stressful. Central to this was an exploration of his level of trust with his body, trust with his stress response and other areas in his life where his sense of trust has been eroded in some way.What we know from Health Coaching is that commonly, some of these central themes not only show up in the health context but also seep into other areas of the person’s life where they may become less trusting of people, life, themselves, their future etc. Steve developed a mindset where he had transformed his perceptual distortions such that he wasn’t stressed by the old triggers; he learnt how to trust himself to remain confident and able to speak up for himself calmly in the moment. This caused adrenalin, cortisol, noradrenalin to drop and dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin to increase, which is the neurochemistry of wellness.

When we have lived with a long-termor incurable illness and our trust has been eroded, learning to trust again is a significant goal for health recovery.Developing a solid mindset of being able to trust your cells is one aspect of learning to run your brain to run your body.  For more ideas on running your brain to run your body, read here


  1. Chen, F. S., Kumsta, R., von Dawans, B., Monakhov, M., Ebstein, R. P., & Heinrichs, M. (2011). Common oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) polymorphism and social support interact to reduce stress in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 50, 19937– 19942.
  2. Hurlemann, R., Patin, A., Onur, O. A., Cohen, M., Baumgartner, T., Metzler, S.,
    Dziobek, I., Gallinat, J., Wagner, M., Maier, W., & Kendrick, K.M. (2010). Oxytocin enhances amygdala-dependent, socially reinforced learning and emotional empathy in humans. The Journal of Neuroscience, April 30,14, 4999 –5007.
  3. K Uvnas-Moberg, et al. Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth and healing. Z Psychosom Med Psychother. 2005;51(1):57-80.
  4. MD Gershon, et al. Expression and developmental regulation of oxytocin (OT) and oxytocin receptors (OTR) in the enteric nervous system (ENS) and intestinal epithelium. J Comp Neurol. 2009 Jan 10;512(2):256-70.
  5. B Ohlsson, et al. Oxytocin is expressed throughout the human gastrointestinal tract. Regulatory Peptides. 2006 Jul; 135 (1-2): 7-11.

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