Overcoming Allergies: A Body Mind ApproachDidi Vergados September 1, 2007
Allergies have become a growing problem for millions of people in North America. In the United States during the past 12 months The Center for Disease Control has reported a staggering 26.4 million adults and children diagnosed with hay fever. According to The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from all types of allergies. Allergies are the 5th leading cause of disease in the US among all ages and the 3rd most common chronic illness in children under 18.
Allergies can be elusive and misunderstood. They are unpredictable insofar as: we can have allergies as children and outgrow them; we can develop allergies that come and go at different times in our lives; or we can acquire new allergies later in life that at first may be subtle, but later on turn deadly. Allergies can become severe enough as to cause anaphylactic shock – making one’s throat swell to the point where death can result within minutes in the absence of an epinephrine shot.
Allergies are developed as a result of our immune systems marking out substances such as pollen or cat dander as if they were harmful viruses or pathogens. Once the immune system has marked out a substance as harmful, it springs into action when we come into contact with it, producing an allergic response and releasing chemicals, such as histamine, in an attempt to rid the body of this perceived invader.
So why does our immune system react to harmless substances such as pollen and cat dander as if they are dangerous? One theory may be that at the time many of us develop allergies, especially as teens and adults, we are going through a major change or experiencing high amounts of stress and pressure. Because of the added stress we are experiencing, our immune system becomes hyper vigilant for what it perceives as dangerous and begins to mark out substances, even harmless ones, in an attempt to protect us. This can be likened to the hyper-sensitive emotions and moods that we experience during this time. Just as our immune systems develop less tolerance, so also we too have less tolerance and patience for people and situations that we could manage previously, perceiving them as hazardous to our wellbeing.
CONDITIONING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, the study of the mind, the neuro-endocrine system (nervous and hormonal system), the immune system and how they interact with one another have shown that the immune system can be conditioned. Like Pavlov conditioned his dogs to salivate when they heard a bell, the immune system too can be conditioned to become compromised, as well as produce an allergic response. It was quite by accident that the discovery was made.
In 1974 psychologist Robert Ader was attempting to condition rats to have an aversion to saccharine flavored water. What he ended up with though was completely unexpected. In order to teach the rats to have an aversion, every time they were injected with a nausea inducing drug they were given the saccharin flavoured water. Later on, when the rats were given saccharine flavoured water alone, researchers began to notice that the rats’ immune systems were compromised and they would become sick and die off. What was realized during this experiment was that the drug they were injecting to cause nausea was also an immunosuppressant. Later on when the rats drank only the flavoured water, their immune systems associated the water with a weakened immune system, as if they had been injected with the immunosuppressant. Hence the discovery was made that the immune system was programmable and could be conditioned. Later on experiments more specific to conditioning allergies came along.
In one study guinea pigs were made sensitive to a specific chemical thus developing an allergy to the chemical. They then were repeatedly exposed to that chemical at the same time as they were exposed to a specific odour. Later on when the odour alone was introduced to the guinea pigs, they would experience an allergic reaction complete with a release of histamine as if the allergen was present.
ALLERGIES AND THE MIND/BODY CONNECTION
So how much influence does our mind have over our allergies? In 1886 a physician named MacKenzie was treating a woman with an intense allergy to roses. MacKenzie had placed an artificial rose in his office. To his surprise and amazement, upon entering his office, his patient went into a full allergic reaction when she saw the rose not realizing it wasn’t real. Later experiments in the 1950s were able to confirm that visual images could trigger an asthmatic or allergic response thus demonstrating that one’s beliefs and expectations around allergies can play a role in the body’s reaction. We also see this in the case of people with multiple personalities. Some of their personalities have allergies and some do not.
An interesting study demonstrating this fact was carried out by two Japanese researchers who used hypnosis to both manifest and take away allergies. Physicians Ikemi and Nakagawa hypnotized subjects and told them they were placing a toxic leaf like poison ivy on their skin, but instead applied a harmless leaf. They observed that the subject under hypnosis manifested the symptoms of red and irritated skin, as if being exposed to a toxic leaf. They then did the opposite, they told the subjects they were placing a harmless leaf on their skin but instead placed a toxic leaf on their skin. The subjects showed a dramatically reduced allergic reaction to the toxic leaf. In re-educating the immune system to respond to allergens in a healthy way expectation plays a large role.
THE ALLERGY PROCESS & RE-EDUCATING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
In 1987, Robert Dilts, a Neuro Linguistic Programmer and founder of The Allergy Process learned through experimentation that our immune systems are trainable. Just as they can be conditioned to develop an allergy, they can also be re-educated to respond in a healthy way to what was once marked out as a harmful substance.
The process of re-educating the immune system is a mind-body process that utilizes both expectation and remembered wellness in order to give one’s immune system the experience of reacting to an allergen in a new and healthy way.
Remembered Wellness is a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson (founder of the Mind body Medical Institute and associate professor of medicine at Harvard medical School). According to Dr. Benson we are all able to remember the peace, calm and confidence associated with health and happiness. This memory is not held merely on a psychological or emotional level, but also on a physical level within the body.
The Allergy Process helps us to call upon existing memories from former experience of remembered wellness as a means to create a new strategy of healing for the immune system to model. In gathering a resource one must access remembered wellness through calling upon the memory of a time when they once where able to tolerate the allergen, or, if the allergy has been with the person for so long that they cannot remember a time when they could process the allergen effectively then a new resource is created through using a counter example. A counter example is something that is similar to the allergen in many ways but not the allergen itself.
The therapist then guides the client through a mind body process so that this new way of being can be memorized on the psychological, emotional, physical and immune system memory level in order to give the immune system a new strategy and experience as a way of responding to what was once was the allergen.
The Neurolinguistic approach towards allergies also addresses old holding patterns held in the body at the time the allergy was created. These holding patterns can be a result of past trauma or intense emotional and stressful experiences. The Allergy Process in combination with retraining the immune system also facilitates the release of these holding patterns in order for one to heal.