Hypnosis and food intolerance - Peter Mabbutt

In recent years the field of mind body medicine (known as psycho-neuro-immunology or PNI) has been gaining wider recognition. Clinicians are now realising that the Cartesian dualist viewpoint with regard to medicine and healing (that the mind and body are separate entities that do not communicate) is no longer applicable, and that a holistic approach to the treatment of a patient is desirable.

Increasingly the patient’s emotional state, beliefs, etc. are being addressed as part and parcel of their treatment package. This not withstanding, it has been known for a long time that emotional factors play an important role in the course of disorders of the intestinal tract and that to treat conditions such as irritable bowl syndrome, food intolerance and food allergy, psychological stability and well-being needs to be attained.

From this position the realisation that other gastrointestinal disorders (as well as organic disorders in general) will benefit from the alleviation of psychological upset has become widely acknowledged, and that both positive and negative emotional factors can and do influence the functioning of our immune system (the part of our body responsible for maintaining our health). Many clinicians are now recommending that some form of psychological intervention accompany standard treatment approaches and much has been written in the scientific press detailing the efficacy of such interventions. These studies have also shown that the hypnotherapeutic approach is particularly effective in alleviating symptoms, improving quality of life, and reducing absenteeism from work.

What is hypnosis?
The use of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool has a very long history. The earliest recorded examples are found in the sleep temples of ancient Egypt where archaic hieroglyphs detail procedures that in this day and age would be considered hypnotic. (The word ‘hypnosis’ was only invented in the 1800s.) Interest in its use has fluctuated throughout the years and is currently in resurgence perhaps due to the ever expanding scientific literature detailing its efficacy, combined with the general public’s search for a viable alternative/accompaniment to so called conventional medicine.

Hypnosis is, in essence, a very pleasant and natural state of deep mental and physical relaxation that is often referred to as trance into which almost anyone can enter if they so wish. In this state a person is open to accepting beneficial suggestions delivered by a therapist (a process known as hypnotherapy) that can help alleviate a wide range of presenting symptoms.

However, for some the very word hypnosis is steeped in mysticism and many erroneous myths have arisen surrounding the subject. For example, the belief that it is akin to brain washing is far from the truth, and it is important to realise that hypnosis is not mind control. A patient in trance is not ‘under the power’ of the therapist. On the contrary, full control is maintained throughout with the unconscious mind protecting the subject, rejecting unwanted suggestions or any that are alien to a person’s ethical or moral beliefs. Essentially, hypnotherapy is a therapeutic method that allows a person to regain control over an area of their life where they feel control has been lost, thus helping to alleviate both psychological and physical symptoms.

How can hypnotherapy help?
Hypnotherapy is not a passive therapy and requires willing participation on behalf of the subject. In the area of food intolerance its application is wide ranging with the general aim being to improve a person’s quality of life, in many cases leading to the complete removal of symptoms.

A variety of approaches can be taken. For example, for those who find difficulty in abstaining from food that causes unwanted reactions, suggestions can be given that will take away the desire to eat such foods. At the same time suggestions can be given that will enhance the enjoyment of eating food that is non-allergenic. Symptoms such as diarrhoea and constipation can be alleviated through the use of visualisations and suggestions, and those who experience pain as part of their symptomology can also benefit. In fact, recent research has shown that hypnosis can effectively ‘turn off’ the area of our brain that registers suffering, in thus closing down our experience of the noxious quality of pain (1).

This is by no means the end of the story. In the June (2003) issue of Foods Matter Professor Nick Read highlighted the role that traumatic life events can play in the development of food intolerance and how helping a person come to terms with the memory of such an event can aid the management and remission of their symptoms. For these people hypnosis provides a route to successful resolution, helping to process the emotional content of the memory as well as deconditioning any learned responses that may be present as a result of that memory.

Continuing with the concept of the mind body connection, hypnotherapy can help patients regain a new and appropriate balance within their immune system through the application of PNI techniques. When intolerance occurs, an allergic reaction to the food is experienced. Simply put, the immune system will misidentify certain foods and become highly sensitised towards them producing an allergic reaction that can include physical (nausea, swelling, diarrhoea, etc) and psychological (fatigue, depression, etc.) symptoms. Research has indicated that hypnotherapy can be used to stimulate the mind body connection and help prevent such reactions.

It is now known that many neurotransmitters (chemicals that help the transmission of messages in our nervous system) that were once thought of as being restricted to activity in the brain are involved in the regulation of our immune system; also, various immunotransmitters (chemicals that modulate immune system functioning) that were thought to be restricted solely to the immune system are active within the central nervous system. This perhaps partly explains why such emotional responses as stress and trauma can exacerbate food intolerance and how hypnotherapy can be used to help a patient to develop positive emotional states that will in turn stimulate appropriate immune system functioning.

Despite the fact that hypnotherapy is a brief therapeutic approach it is not a magical panacea. However, its proven record shows that it is effective in the treatment of food intolerance and can be used either as a ‘stand alone’ intervention or in conjunction with other integrative and medical approaches.

(1) Faymonville ME, et al, Neural mechanisms of antinociceptive effects of hypnosis, Anesthesiology, 92(5):1257-67, 2000

Peter Mabbutt is Director of Studies at the London College of Clinical Hypnosis.
He can be contacted on 020 7473 2946
To find a qualified hypnotherapist in your area contact the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis on 020 7402 9037 www.bsch.org.uk

First published in 2003


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