Healing Series: It’s The Combination That Works…

Brain icon  In this healing series, we have been discussing and exploring ways to encourage our bodies to heal with non-ingestive (ie not through diet or supplemental/meds) ways to heal, specifically for those of us having trouble tolerating those sorts of interventions.

However, in doing this exploration, my whole clinical approach – to any health condition – has evolved. Perhaps the ‘gift’ that this illness has given me is this realisation so I can help more people heal than ever. That’s a nice thought – although I’d still rather have come to it another way, thanks!

The Combined Approach Works Best

Anyway, what am I prattling on about? Well, it’s quite simple really: I have learned that the combination of nutritional therapy – the functional medicine, biochemical, physiological, if you like, approach to illness is crucial, but, for the best effect for most people, it must be combined with a psychological, amygdala-calming, adrenal strengthening, mindfulness, awareness type approach too.

I am more and more convinced that it’s the combination that works. Both approaches are strong in their own right, but they are synergistically-stronger when combined. It’s a powerful learning lesson for a practitioner.

Of course, this doesn’t sound like real news to a naturopathically-trained nutritional therapist like myself. And yet, I find that most therapists, myself definitely included, can get caught up in the biochemical Sherlock Holmes type chase – because let’s face it, that is a hard job in itself and involves lab testing, analysis, putting the jigsaw together etc etc – and they will often pay almost lip service to ‘sleep well, keep stress low’ etc in a very well-meaning but not often specific kind of way.

But, what I mean by combining the two approaches, for me anyway, is to put equal emphasis on the psychological side, to harness the means of using the mind to effect real biochemical, measureable changes on the immune system, the expression of genes, the glandular output and much more besides.

Add In Brain-Training

For me, too, there is an another element of the psychology approach we need to add in: brain training. The research into neuroplasticity recently is startlingly hopeful – it’s not news, of course; we’ve known for a long time that our brains (and our genes for that matter) are not set in stone, as it were, that it can change and that we can train it to help us heal.

I like to think of us sometimes as brain injury or stroke victims. We are simply re-training our brain to make new synapses, new connections that are stronger than the old ‘conditioned fear’ and ‘anxiety’ type programmes that keep us ill, much like the repetitive exercises used by brain injury and stroke victims to re-learn how to use a limb.

In other words: I am saying the gift that this illness has given me is a better insight into healing chronic illness, if you like.

Here’s my summary: it’s the combination of:

functional medicine, where you identify just what is biochemically going wrong in the body and plug those gaps. That’s where adrenal testing, infection protocols, barrier and immune approaches etc come into play..

psychological techniques such as acceptance, forgiveness, mindfulness, meditation, emotional release and not forgetting more ‘mainstream’ approaches of counselling, CBT etc when needed. All of these act to calm the system down, release any emotional causes of physical symptoms (this is the real learning right here: I never realised how important this is), change gene expression, let go of the illness…and

neuroplasticity brain-training including repetitive exercises to change fearful and illness-perpetuating thought and behaviour patterns. This is the ‘stroke’ approach, if you like: the aim is to build stronger nerve connections and literally change the way the brain sees things eg food you react to, pain you experience etc.

(Remember: I recommended this programme which combines both these latter approaches here so do check that out and do it!)

So, that’s as far as I’ve got with it anyway – I’m sure there is a lot more to learn but my approach nowadays is definitely to make those equally important. True naturopathic medicine I think for the 21st century – a blend of science and tradition. I rather like that 🙂

Not Just Me…

OK, to help reinforce this for you, I know you like to hear other people saying similar things. Here are two videos for you, both from the Optimum Health Clinic in London, who I have mentioned to you before. They specialise in ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia, so take note any of you who have that. The reason I like them is because they follow pretty much this type of approach – successfully.

Here’s a quick video where founder, Alex, is explaining a bit about the importance of combining meditative techniques with specific brain training techniques: one to calm the system down, the other to break the thought patterns:

Is meditation enough to calm the nervous system?

Incidentally, what he is referring to there from the brain technique point of view is the use of a ‘Stop’ technique. There are lots of different systems that use this – it is in effect a way of recognising a thought pattern eg. ‘I am afraid I will react to this if I eat it’ and stopping that thought right away. In my own version, I say to myself:  ‘ah, I see what you’re doing there – I don’t need to think like that now’ or simply ‘it’s OK, it’s all OK, there is nothing to worry about’. With this latter, I like to imagine my fear or thought as a worried friend and I am comforting them – bring some love to it. You’ll see; it really helps!

Other people use distraction; they think of something completely different or focus on a colour or something on the wall; it’s all about not allowing the thought pattern to continue. When you start this, you do it hundreds of times a day! I promise, I will come back to this with some specific recommendations. Personally, I found saying the word ‘stop’ too jarring and tend to choose something more positive, which worked better for me. In some people, the stop method can cause even more stress – it did for me. I had to do the meditation to calm the amygdala down first and then start with the brain training. Now I do both.

Anyway, this isn’t really the focus of today’s missive so I’ll return to it asap for you. Meantime, let’s get on..

Recovery & Hope

Next, if you recall, I suggested in a previous post that you listen at least to OHC’s recovery success stories – a powerful way of encouraging your own recovery is to hear how other, often very poorly, people have got well. Hope is a powerful thing!

So, I was interested yesterday to listen to their latest one. It is actually a very successful City chap, David Butcher, who is now chairman of the charitable trust for the clinic. He explains far more eloquently and fascinatingly than I ever could how this very approach helped him after he collapsed with ME.

He really explains how, at different times, the two functional and psychological (despite resistance!) approaches came to be so important for his recovery, which is just how I have been feeling about it. He also talks well about how we have to be our own detective in the absence of people really understanding our illness – his is ME, of course, but apply this to many chronic illnesses – multiple intolerance for a start – where there are a lot of similarities!

Have a listen anyway. the second half is more about the clinic and the research they are doing – interesting itself – but do watch the first half for his story for a good dose of inspiration…

David Butcher Recovery Story

In essence, today’s advice is: 

Consider: are you doing everything you can to get well? Are any of these approaches right for you, should you be adding them in? Have you got your combination right? If you are just focusing on the functional approach – which I know many of you are, and for good reason – think about adding equal emphasis onto the psychology side of healing too. The two together are likely to get you to your healing aim much faster.

Worth a thought, surely..

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