I recently blogged about my success in stopping my mast cell mediated histamine itch (see bottom of post) through a visualisation I came up with after reading Hay House bestselling author and Huffington Post contributor David R. Hamilton’s ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body‘. He was kind enough to answer some questions about stress and histamine as he flitted between workshops in various countries.
About David Hamilton
After completing a PhD in organic chemistry, David Hamilton spent 4 years in the pharmaceutical industry developing drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Now, author of 7 books published by Hay House, he travels the world giving talks and leading workshops that people to understand the link between their minds, their health, and their life.
The Chef – Now without discounting that people are suffering from a very real condition that is not psychosomatic – as most of us who have been through the psychiatric sausage factory approach to healing have been told – is it possible that stress is a contributing factor in the destabilisation of mast cells or inflammatory changes?
Hamilton – Yes, I would say so. Exactly how it works, I’m not sure has been nailed yet, but I’d hazard a guess that stress is a contributory factor. Stress can play a negative role in almost all serious diseases. Inflammation also plays a negative role in disease and a lot of inflammation is linked with stress. For example, the main protagonists in the genesis of cardiovascular disease are inflammation and free radicals. Stress raises levels of both. So we know that stress impacts inflammation.
The Chef – In your opinion, how do our expectations of the outcome of eating a certain food, applying a perceived toxic substance (perfume/bath product) to the skin, or the fear of anaphylaxis affect us – and can something as deadly as the most extreme allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) be a result of a negative thought chain/hyper stimulation of the amygdala? Studies have shown mast cell degranulation/histamine release/IgE response can be induced in a Pavlovian manner – by exposure to an allergen under certain conditions (lighting/music/smell). The reaction can then be triggered by staging the non-allergenic trigger of lighting/music/smell in the absence of the allergen.
Hamilton – This is an area I have always found fascinating. Yes, our expectations definitely have an effect. It’s called the ‘nocebo’ effect, which is the opposite of the placebo effect. Where the placebo effect can heal, the nocebo effect can harm. Some people can have allergic reactions out of fear or expectation, as some research has shown. I actually know of someone who did have a severe allergic reaction that was brought about by extreme fear, anxiety, and then expectation once he noticed symptoms begin, which would involve hyper stimulation of the amygdala. With him, it also resulted in a tipping point, presumably by upsetting brain chemistry, that resulted in 2 years of severe depression (depersonalization).
The positive side of all this is that if fear, anxiety, negative expectation can have such a harmful effect, then positivity, calmness, and positive expectation can have a positive effect. Inflammation, for instance, has been shown to reduce through a ‘loving kindness meditation’, which involves the cultivation of kindness and compassion. And compassion has also been linked with activity of the vagus nerve, which is the primary brake on inflammation, so here we can see a link between the cultivation of compassion and the reduction of inflammation via vagus nerve stimulation. The marker used in that particular study was Interleukin-6, but I’d hazard a guess that compassion would be impacting many more inflammatory cytokines. On a side-note, electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve has been shown experimentally to result in massive reductions in inflammation. I’m wondering if there’s any scope for researchers applying the technique to mast cell conditions, if it hasn’t already been done, that it. Worth checking out!
The Chef – What impact, if any, could mirroring have on mast cell conditions? ie the expectation that because a fellow sufferer has certain symptoms/reactions, you will have them too. If any, then what can we do about it?
Hamilton – Interesting question. It is very true that we unconsciously mirror people’s facial expressions and other muscle movements. It’s facilitated by the ‘Mirror Neuron System’ (MNS) in the brain. This feeds back into the brain so that we actually ‘catch’ the emotions of other people. It’s called ’emotional contagion’. It’s why we feel happy around happy people and anxious around those who are anxious. I’m not sure what effect this would have on mast cell conditions, to be honest. However, in the broader sense, if it’s expectation we’re talking about, seeing someone with symptoms/reactions and developing them too through mirroring, then the resulting expectations could, in theory, bring about allergic reactions in a nocebo effect fashion. Awareness is the key to stopping it. Being aware of your own thoughts, fears, and actions, being aware that you might just be mirroring, gives you a little more control because you realise that the changes are the result of your thinking. Awareness, at this point, lets you control your thinking.
The Chef – Beyond meditation, is there any merit to distraction? What’s the best way not to focus on how ill you feel when literally every inch of your body is in (perceived) distress?
Hamilton – A great way to distract that I recommend to people in a variety of different situations is ‘victory dancing’. It’s where you do a silly dance (to the best of your movement ability) that makes you smile and laugh. What’s happening is that instead of brain resources going towards the amygdala they move to the prefrontal cortex and other happy brain centres instead. This generates positive feelings and a greater sense that you can be in control of things. In time, with plenty of ‘dance’ practice, the brain will rewire and resources will ‘learn’ to go to ‘happy’ brain centres instead of towards the amygdala.
The Chef – Let’s say we’ve accepted that stress is a contributing factor, or just that we’re ready to use our mind to heal the body – where do we start?
Hamilton – First, find a practice that helps you relax a little. Some people find classical meditation works well, others find it hard to concentrate. I often recommend the ‘Loving-Kindness’ meditation because it also helps us cultivate relaxed, positive feelings and also neutralises a lot of the stress associated with other people. Basically, it involves cultivating a sense of love, kindness and compassion towards ourselves, loved ones, people who are neutral to us, and then to people who cause, or have caused us, stress or emotional pain. If you Google it you can find more precise instructions.
As well as this, people can use visualization techniques. The key here is to create an internal image (you don’t need to be a good visualizer and see in HD. We all imagine in our own ways) of the conditions. Ten people will come up with ten different images so there’s not actually a right or wrong way to do it. It’s an image or set of images that feel true for you, perhaps based on how you feel, intuition, or a description that a medical person has given you. This is your picture of ‘illness’. Then you convert it in your imagination to a picture of ‘wellness’. The secret is simply changing from illness into wellness. You can do it in any way you want, using tools, energy, light, just imagining forms changing….whatever you want, really, so long as you convert illness into wellness. And you do it over and over and over again, like every day, preferably a couple of times a day.
I highly recommend reading Dr. Hamilton’s book…it confirmed that I do play a part in my illness, but more importantly, in my recovery.
Please don’t forget antihistamine, pain killing foods can still hurt us, so please always check with your doctor before adding new foods to your diet.