Newsletter #9 Neuroplasticity Inspiration and Hope

Inspiration & Hope
          I just finished reading the wonderful new book by Dr. Norman Doidge called  “The Brain’s Way of Healing.”  It follows up his ground-breaking book  “The Brain That Changes Itself” with the latest research in the field of neuroplasticity and I was enthralled with this information.
For many years, the medical profession has viewed injury to the brain and to the nervous system as basically irreparable damage. Patients with traumatic brain injury, stroke, MS, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease were given little hope that they could recover, or improve, once the diagnosis had been made. For those with chronic inflammatory illnesses such as Lyme disease with its coinfections and mold toxicity, those who presented with pseudoseizures, dyskinesias and even cognitive impairment were often told that they would have to learn to live with it.
However, our experience with treating chronic inflammatory illnesses did not gibe with this idea: the vast majority of patients who recovered from Lyme disease and mold toxicity usually had complete recovery of their cognitive abilities and complete healing of their neurological complications.To me, this seemed to clear up the basic question of whether or not the nervous system had been damaged, or simply inflamed by the underlying cause. If there had been damage, I reasoned, you would not see the complete and rapid recovery that we see in most of our patients as they get well, so this must be simply inflammation. Dr. Doidge raises another possibility now, which is that the nervous system and brain are capable of finding new pathways and alternative neurological networks to restore normal function and this process of healing can take place rapidly, once the proper stimuli are introduced. From the patient’s perspective, I’m not sure it makes much difference which (or both) of these hypotheses is correct: the bottom line is that the possibilities for healing the nervous system are enormous and that we should be excited about all of the new methods that are currently in development.
Dr. Doidge focuses on several well-developed methods of stimulating the brain to heal. These include visualizations, the use of a variety of stimuli including specific wavelengths of light, and sound and electrical frequencies He includes many patient presentations, which he personally reviewed in detail, to help us to see what is possible.
In the field of visualizations, he reviews the research of Michael Moskowitz, MD, a pain specialist who developed specific ways of working with pain. This technique requires a commitment and clarity of mind, but has been helpful in allowing hundreds of patients to become pain free after years of chronic pain. The basic concept is that when pain is experienced, rather than attempt to suppress the pain or run from it, the individual learns to picture the neurological pathways that process pain, and every time pain is experienced, the patient “leans into it” by keeping the pain that arises focused on the visualization of rewiring the pain pathways in the brain. This process is in close agreement with how we understand the physiology of chronic pain: certain circuits in the brain have become “stuck” and are, in essence, self-stimulating, and we are using the power of visualization to encourage the brain to switch to new circuits, shutting down the old/painful ones.
Annie Hopper studied Dr. Doidge’s work when she developed her program of limbic retraining (DNRS) which we find so helpful in quieting an over-excited nervous system that has become unusually reactive to chemicals, sound, light, touch and EMF’s (electromagnetic fields). Using a series of visualizations and exercises, some of my most sensitive patients have been able to relatively quickly become much less reactive and thus become able to address the specific treatments that created their sensitivity in the first place (usually mold toxicity or Lyme disease/Bartonella, but other toxins and infections can trigger these severe sensitivities).
Along similar lines, he reviews the experiences of John Pepper, who learned to control his Parkinson’s disease by focusing on his movements, in great detail, smoothing them out as he walked by staying conscious of those movements. The wide-based and jerky gait that makes walking so difficult for patients with Parkinson’s disease became almost normalized. Although this did not cure those patients, their ability to move more comfortably allowed them to have much more comfortable and productive lives. Using a similar process, Moshe Feldenkrais developed a whole system of awareness of movement that has been especially helpful in helping to heal patients with neurological illnesses.
He then reviews the research of Fred Kahn, MD, a vascular surgeon who became fascinated by the healing effects of specific frequencies of light. He spent years developing the Bioflex Laser Therapy program which first utilizes red light frequencies which prepares the tissues for deeper healing, the infrared frequencies (which penetrate deeper into the body)
and help to decrease inflammation and unblock swelling and pain.
Especially exciting to me was the chapter on PoNS, a device developed at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Tactile Communication and Rehabilitation Laboratory. Essentially they have created a wafer-thin electrode which is held on the tongue, while specific exercises are provided to each patient to individualize their healing. The electrode appears to send electrical stimuli to the brain which stabilizes brain waves and allow them to fire together, in unison. One of the neurological issues common to all of these illnesses is what Dr. Doidge calls “noise”. When neurological tissues become inflamed or overstimulated, they fire more randomly and the brain is unable to make sense out of this electronic noise. By getting the neurons to get back into a state of entrainment, healing can take place. With the electrical stimulation, each patient couples rehabilitation exercises designed to awaken the whole functional system, quiet sensory noise, stimulate balance, motor movement and mental focus.
Other forms of electrical stimulation, not specifically referred to in this book, can be of great value as well. Frequency specific microcurrent (FSM) and low energy neurobiofeedback systems (the LENS) are modalities that I have found to be extremely helpful in assisting the nervous system to heal from chronic inflammatory disorders.
Last, but not least, Dr. Doidge describes the remarkable work of the French physician Alfred Tomatis, who discovered how sound can be used in healing the brain and nervous system. He developed the Electronic Ear which allows the ear to focus on particularly sounds and filters others out. He discovered that certain sound frequencies allow the muscles of the inner ear, the stapedius and the tensor tympani, to relax (from a hypervigilant state) which allows more of the healing higher frequencies to be processed which allows patients to listen better, which in turns stimulates the brain to process information better. This has proven to be particularly effective in helping children with autism, ADD, ADHD, sensory and auditory processing disorders (including dyslexia) and I suspect would be of benefit to many of our patients with cognitive issues secondary to inflammation.
I would encourage everyone to read this book. It makes crystal clear that multiple methods of healing the brain are possible. Healing is not limited to the methods described, but clearly any form of neurostimulation, used correctly, has the possibility of assisting an inflamed or compromised brain to heal. Light, sound, touch, movement, visualization, electronic devices, smell and taste have the capacity to engage the nervous system and create a shift. The field of neuroplasticy is in its infancy but the possible applications are almost limitless.