My life has dramatically changed over the past several years. I've spent 6,000-8,000 hours 'hacking' my body and brain, in order to reclaim my life.
It's been a very difficult journey, as the brain is resistant to change and the severity of my medical problems were profound. I had become sensitized to just about every food, allergen and chemical. The severity of my reactions was life-threatening, as proven through single-blind testing of a variety of foods, allergens and chemicals in my doctor's office.
After 12 years of declining health and increased sensitivities, I was advised by my doctor that the best I could hope for was to stabilize my medical condition by living in an isolated cabin in the woods. This meant a life of severe isolation, very seldom leaving the cabin to seeing my friends and family.
My life was very difficult. I barely saw another human being for 4 years. I was in near-constant pain, my diet was severely limited, and my mind was clouded by severe cognitive impairment. My life was isolated, tortuous, and bereft of hope.
I had been searching for some rational explanation for what was happening to me for over a decade. I consulted with dozens of doctors and specialists, including a week's worth of testing and probing at the prestigious Mayo Clinic. I asked my doctor to pull copies of medical journal articles for me, I studied and read and asked and inquired. I did everything I could to find an answer! What I found is that there was no scientific theory to explain how the body can become sensitized to a wide variety of foods, chemicals and allergens.
(While some psychologists claimed that they could treat these sensitivities, their theories were incomplete and their treatment methods were ineffective. Stating that 'If we can't discover a physical cause then it must be psychological' is not a valid scientific theory, and 'slowly expose someone to the substance they're sensitized to until their body gets used to it' doesn't work any better for peanut allergies than it does for solvent sensitivities).
Research into these sensitivities indicated that they may be part of a class of confounding medical conditions ranging from chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Pall defined the cause of these medical conditions as:
1. Short-term stressors that initiate cases of multisystem illnesses act by raising nitric oxide and/or other cycle elements.
2. Initiation is converted into a chronic illness through the action of vicious cycle mechanisms, through which chronic elevation of peroxynitrite and other cycle elements is produced and maintained.
3. Symptoms and signs of these illnesses are generated by elevated levels of nitric oxide and/or other important consequences of the proposed mechanism, i.e. elevated levels of peroxynitrite or inflammatory cytokines, oxidative stress, elevated NMDA and TRPV1 receptor activity, ATP and BH4 depletion and others.
4. Because the compounds involved, nitric oxide, superoxide and peroxynitrite have quite limited diffusion distances in biological tissues and because the mechanisms involved in the cycle act at the level of individual cells, the fundamental mechanisms are local. The consequences of this primarily local mechanism show up in the multisystem illnesses through the stunning variations one sees in symptoms and signs from one patient to another.
-- Source: Martin Pall, The Tenth Paradigm
Dr. Pall came up with a testable theory to explain how the body could become sensitized to a wide variety of foods, chemicals and allergens. <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0041008X10001444" target="_new">There is some proof that his theories are valid</a>, at least in part.
However, the treatment regiment prescribed by his theory did not alter the progression of my medical condition. In retrospect, simple interruption of the NO/ONOO- cycle through the use of antioxidants and mitrodchondrial support supplements was not sufficient to cure my severe sensitivities.
Therefore, when I learned about 'amygdala retraining' as a possible method to cure chronic fatigue syndrome, I recognized that the same methods used to successfully treat chronic fatigue syndrome might also apply to chemical and food sensitivities. I was one of the first guinea pigs who tried using these amygdala retraining techniques on my chemical and food sensitivities.
According to Ashok Gupta, the amygdala mediates the brain's response to potentially dangerous external stimuli:
"The amygdala is responsible for detecting threats to the body, and initiating appropriate responses to mitigate those threats. The insula modulates sensory experiences and information about the physiological state of the body. During a particularly stressful period in someone’s life, the amygdala is on high alert responding to emotional and physical threats. If the level of alert of the amygdala is particularly high, and the person is exposed to a toxin at the same time, a conditioned trauma can occur in the amygdala in association with the insula.
This conditioning occurs because when the amygdala is on high alert, it is very prone to learning new fears and sensitivities. Even if the original toxin did not present a threat to life, the amygdala will “err on the side of caution” in it hyper-anxious state, in order to protect the body.
From then on, any exposure to the original chemical, or any chemical which holds a vague resemblance to the original trigger, will initiate an over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system by the amygdala and hypothalamus, as well as specific reactions to mitigate the threat of the toxin.
This conditioning means that the whole circuit becomes hard wired, and chronic. The brain continually over-responds to any chemical or odour which reminds it of the original sensitising chemical. On top of that, the brain may generalize even further and begin to react to other very different chemicals, if it begins to get signals from other parts of the brain that this is an appropriate response.
In summary, MCS is a conditioned response of the brain to a chemical it thinks is dangerous. It is a mistake that the brain makes and creates an over-protective response."
-- Source: Ashok Gupta, Gupta Programme.
I was a successful guinea pig, meaning that I experienced significant progress in reversing and eliminating my sensitivities while using Gupta's program.
However, Gupta's amygdala retraining techniques are very difficult to implement:
It's very difficult to gather the willpower to do these techniques over and over again when you're sick; you simply want to curl up in a ball, and sleep it off.</li>
These techniques require significant amounts of repetition; you keep doing them over and over and over again, until your neural pathways are modified. It's difficult to implement this program while doing anything other than focusing 100% on your healing, for at least 6 months. (And that wasn't an option for me! :)
The brain is highly resistant to change, and comes up with a variety of excuses for why you can put this off. Based on the limited data set of people I know who have also used this program to rewire their brains, they improve and then quickly reach a plateau ... and then their progress slows significantly. It's very, very difficult to rewire your neural pathways. Your brain is very good at convincing you that it's too hard to keep going, that the program can be delayed, that you're well enough already, etc.
Over time, the amygdala retraining program can become less effective. Amygdala retraining seems to be necessary, but insufficient, for full recovery. I supplemented my amygdala retraining with EFT (emotional freedom techniques), mindfulness meditation, a variety of techniques that I invented myself, as well as a lot of self-introspection. Each of these techniques addressed <strong>part</strong> of my sensitivities, but each technique also had a diminishing marginal return. Doing the exact same thing over and over again means that you'll eventually hit a plateau.
The best analogy I've come up with to explain the difficulty of implementing this program is to imagine that you've had a stroke, and you've lost the use of your right arm. You receive a DVD set in the mail that explains how to rewire your brain, how to 'route around' the damaged portions of your brain, so that you can use your right arm again. Now -- go implement this program on your own, without the benefit of a physical therapist or doctor. And let us know when your arm is working again! :)
When I write about neurohacking on this blog, and when I write about how you can use these same techniques to create change in yourself, it comes from a lot of practical experience. The changes in my life have been miraculous and transformative. They've been integrated into Meliora Meditation.
These days, I'm focused on health issues like 'joy' and 'body composition'. It's a much, much, much better place to be! :)
Source: Novel Disease Paradigm Produces Explanations for a Whole Group of Illnesses, Martin Pall, http://www.thetenthparadigm.org/index.html
Source: The Gupta Programme, Ashok Gupta, http://www.guptaprogramme.com/mcs-multiple-chemical-sensitivity-treatment/
Originally written on 2013-10-12