“Brain retraining for MCS”: Possible explanations for improvements
Some people think that if it gets results, the explanations provided must be right. In the case of Ashok Gupta’s Gupta Amygdala Retraining and Annie Hopper’s Dynamic Neural Retraining System, their explanations are unlikely to be right, for the reasons I’ve given in previous posts. Here are some possible explanations for the improvements (including a small number of full recoveries) that some people have reported.
1. Component of these programmes might help people manage stress. Stress can exacerbate many medical conditions, for example asthma, and reducing or managing stress can improve symptoms. People with MCS often have very stressful lives, because of difficulty working, finding a healthy place to live and/or getting support and cooperation from other people, including family members. However, stress doesn’t initiate asthma and reducing stress doesn’t totally cure it (see http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/stress-asthma) and the same is likely to be true of stress and MCS.
2. Mindfulness meditation is a component of these programmes. It is known to help with, but not cure, a number of medical conditions. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_on_meditation#Western_therapeutic_use_and_MBSR.
3. Some people may have physically recovered more than they realised because they haven’t retested recently. The improvement that they attribute to the programme may be due to years of avoiding chemicals and foods they are sensitive to and possibly also nutritional supplements.
4. Some people may have physically recovered but continued to feel anxious about chemicals. For example, Debra Larsen, an Australian woman who had MCS, was treated at the Environmental Health Center – Dallas for five months and then lived in an imported porcelain and steel bedroom back in Queensland. There is an article about her giving birth to her daughter in her “bubble”, in the Australian Women’s Weekly July 1990. It says, “One day, Debra’s doctors say, her life might change. Her DDT levels have now dropped dramatically.” Another article, ‘Bubble Woman Bursts Out’ from Woman’s Day 27 August 1991, mentions that as well as living in her porcelain and steel bubble she had daily saunas, followed a strict organic diet and was treated with antigens. The article quotes alternative therapist Chris Greene (who used Neuro-Linguistic Programming and various other therapies) as saying, “With environmental illness, once the allergy is cleared, you still need to remove the learned behaviour which makes a person faint at the smell of petrochemicals or vomit when he eats certain foods.” Debra said, “Chris came along at a point where I knew that I was well but not getting anywhere. My mind was still protecting me. It was saying ‘These are the things you have to fear’.”
Other people have recovered from MCS without any treatment for “learned behaviour” or for anxiety. They are not an integral part of MCS – people can have psychological issues after any medical problem. For example, someone who has had a heart attack might be afraid to exercise, even though their doctor says it would be good for them.
5. Anxiety can be a big problem for some people with MCS and can cause physical symptoms. These programmes appear to be designed to treat anxiety, particularly anxiety about chemicals (see my previous posts on this subject).
Anxiety can be a symptom that occurs as a reaction to an exposure to a particular chemical. In this case avoiding the chemical would be the best treatment. However, sometimes people with MCS are unable to identify and/or avoid chemicals they react to. Techniques that reduce anxiety may help relieve this type of anxiety to some extent, although they wouldn’t help with other reactions to chemicals.
The stress of life with MCS can make some people very anxious, and learning how manage stress and reduce anxiety may improve general health and wellbeing. Also, anxiety is common so it is likely that some people will be unfortunate enough to suffer from both anxiety and MCS. Because of the overlap in symptoms, a reduction in anxiety and the physical symptoms it causes may look like an improvement in MCS.
6. Hyperventilation can cause a range of symptoms (see, for example, http://www.bettermedicine.com/article/hyperventilation/symptoms) and has been proposed as a psychophysiologic (i.e. psychosomatic) mechanism in MCS. See Leznoff A (1997) ‘Provocative challenges in patients with multiple chemical sensitivity.’ J Allergy Clin Immunol. 99(4):438-42. http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(97)70067-8/fulltext. This study excluded people whose MCS symptoms didn’t match those of hyperventilation, which isn’t mentioned in the abstract. However, they did find some people with self-reported MCS who hyperventilated. By reducing anxiety these programmes may reduce hyperventilation. Alternate nostril breathing, which Gupta teaches (http://www.thecanaryreport.org/2011/12/01/gupta-programme-session-6-technique/) may be particularly effective for reducing hyperventilation.
7. Misdiagnosis. More people are anxious about chemicals these days and there is a lot of ignorance and confusion about MCS, so misdiagnosis is likely to happen sometimes. It’s possible that some people reporting that their MCS has improved with brain retraining never had MCS, but only suffered from anxiety and/or hyperventilation.