Are you a highly sensitive person? Or do you have a microbiome issue? The truth is that a lot of times what we think of as sensory processing disorder or a sensory sensitivity or high emotional sensitivity (“being an empath”) might actually be a side effect of having an imbalanced microbiome.
This is not to say that the concept of a highly sensitive person is completely without validity. I do believe that there is a spectrum of sensitivity that is normal to have in your nervous system, meaning that there is some natural variation in innate stoicism. Some people are more resilient to stress and some people are a little more sensitive. There may be genetic mutations that incline some people to be more like “warriors” and some to be more like “healers”. We need people in our society with highly sensitive senses who could do scouting, be a lookout for predators approaching from far away. So again, there is a natural spectrum, people with variations in their level of sensory and emotional sensitivities.
That being said, when we get to the level where people are having issues functioning in their day to day life- when they are having a significant sensory processing disorder that is making them unable to engage with the world to be in contact with certain textures or eat certain foods, these may be a predisposition for being on a sensitive side of the spectrum that has been exacerbated by a microbiome and toxicity issue.
When we have imbalance of bacteria or other microbes, as they overgrow they produce a lot of toxic compounds through their life cycle. These toxins coming from the microbial overgrowth signal directly to cells in our nervous system and up into our brain, and it is very agitating to our nervous system. This adds a lot of excess “noise” to our sensory system and our perceptions of textures, tastes and smells becomes imbalanced. Faulty and congested sensory signals from the imbalance in our microbiome creates falsely intense experiences.
Interestingly, these sensory issues tend to target things that would actually benefit the person’s health. Some people will say that when they eat something like broth, meat, or eggs, it is actually almost painful to them. They will describe the flavor as “paint thinner” or the texture like “broken glass” or “rubber”- things that most people would never describe it as. It is not a coincidence that people with sensory issues often have a problem with meat, which is one of the most healing foods for your nervous system and your immune system. Other foods many people have sensory problems with are ferments and vegetables, which again, contain a lot of really wonderful nutrients for the body for overall health.
Similarly, a lot of people with sensory issues have a hard time with their fingers or their feet wet or dirty, or they may be very sensitive to light or music, like being outside in the sun for a long period of time or being in groups of people singing or dancing is really overwhelming and distressing to them. Again, these are the kinds of things that are most healing when it comes to resetting the microbiome and to promoting health of the immune system and the nervous system. Instead, what are people with these problems are attracted to tend to be processed and refined sugars and carbohydrates, dim indoor rooms, and social isolation- things that repress the immune system and fuel bacterial overgrowth.
We can see that when people have this microbiome disruption and their whole sensory system is congested – it’s creating these false cues in terms of how they’re perceiving textures and tastes and overall preferences. What it’s doing is it’s pointing them away from the foods and experiencing that would be healing and rebalancing, and it’s pointing them towards the foods and the experiences that would be healing.
When we work to reset the microbiome, the first thing we do is take out sugar and refined carbohydrates, usually the things people with sensory sensitivities are most drawn to. We take out things like bread, milk and sweetened yogurt, and we get people outside in the sun, we get people exposed to natural water, get people exposed to soil. We get people eating nourishing meats and broths and vegetables and ferments- all the things that are very healing to the body and the nervous system. But if you have that microbial hijack of your sensory sensitivities, you are going to be averse to these things. It is really important that we recognize this when we are trying to go about changing our daily practices and our lifestyle- the preferences we think we have are not actually our own. They’re not coming from our human body and our human brains.
This also includes emotional sensitivities. People who cry very easily or get their feelings hurt very easily often have this microbial overgrowth. These toxins can congest the liver’s detox pathways. The liver is then in a state of constant congestion, trying to keep up with detoxifying an overloaded body. In this case, what gets put on the backburner are our own hormones and our neurotransmitters, which also need to be detoxified at the end of the day! Every night when we sleep, we have to detox all the stress hormones and stimulating neurotransmitters that we’ve accumulated through our experience in the day. We need to clear those out in our sleep and if our liver is already overloaded with other toxins, we’re not going to clear that out and we’re going to be living our lives in a state where we have excess stress hormones and neurotransmitters floating around in our body, causing us heightened emotional sensitivity and feeling constantly overwhelmed.
I hope this is something you consider: are you a highly sensitive person, or is this maybe a microbiome and liver congestion issue? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. With this question, we might do a little bit of investigation into what might not actually be true cues or true perceptions of the world. We might start to take our power back from this hijack that’s happening in our body to regain our true sense of resilience and vitality!