Author Archives: Leigh

About Hypnosis for Medical Support

Hypnosis is essentially a self-help skill.  When I offer hypnosis for medical support, I am offering clients help in using their own healing ability.  Simply, this happens through the power of our minds to affect the functioning of our bodies.

A quick Google search for “hypnosis with surgery” brought up a meta-analysis from 2002, by GH Montgomery et al.  “The results indicated that patients in hypnosis treatment groups had better clinical outcomes than 89% of patients in control groups. These data strongly support the use of hypnosis with surgical patients.”

The same Google search brought up a wonderful editorial, The Mind Prepared: Hypnosis in Surgery, by David Spiegel of the Stanford University School of Medicine, published in 2007 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.  In it, Spiegel describes work done with cancer patients whose preparation for procedures included hypnosis. He says, “adjunctive hypnosis substantially reduces pain and anxiety during surgical procedures while decreasing medication use, procedure time, and cost. If a drug were to do that, everyone would by now be using it.”

In a group of women undergoing breast biopsy or lumpectomy, a 15-minute pre-procedure hypnosis session “was sufficient to produce a statistically significant reduction in the use of propofol and lidocaine; yet despite this, patients in the intervention group reported less pain, nausea, fatigue, discomfort, and emotional upset [emphasis added] than did patients in the control group.”

In addition to the hypnotized patients’ better experience, “the use of hypnosis also resulted in a cost savings of $772.71 per patient, due largely to shorter time in the operating room—an average of 10.6 minutes. [emphasis added]”

With these results, why isn’t everyone using hypnosis? It’s a good question, isn’t it, especially now that science is documenting some of the benefits hypnosis can bring.

Talking about hypnosis and the brain

In getting ready for my next series of weight control classes at Whatcom Community College, which starts next Monday, April 9, I decided to revise the handout I use to introduce participants to hypnosis.  When we—meaning hypnotists and hypnotherapists—talk about hypnosis, we usually talk in terms of the conscious mind and the subconscious (or unconscious) mind, borrowing the language from the practice of psychotherapy that originated with Freud.

By the way, Freud learned hypnosis from Charcot, a French neurologist.  Early in his career, he used hypnosis (without the use of suggestion) to elicit information from his patients; apparently his success with this method was the basis for his pursuing the “talking cure,” what came to be known as psychoanalysis.

We use the language because it works well to describe what we experience in hypnosis: the conscious mind quiet, the body at rest—and remarkable insights that can emerge from that quiet state.  So we go on to talk about hypnosis this way:

Hypnosis allows us to work within our subconscious mind, to explore and release negative thought patterns, to overcome habits, behaviors, symptoms—the subconscious is in charge of these things.

Your conscious mind is your logical, reasoning mind—that’s its job: logic and reason. It’s not the logical mind that keeps us in old habits that we’d like to change. If it were, all we’d have to do to make significant changes is change our minds—and we all know that’s just not how our minds work.

I’ve mentioned before that I love the analogy of the rider and the elephant that Jonathan Haidt uses in his book The Happiness Hypothesis.  He says,

I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.

I think we can all relate to that.  We’ve all had those experiences: reaching for the dessert we don’t really want, or failing to follow through on something we think—we know—we ought to do.

It seems clear that some of these problems are related to the way our brain has evolved, from the first basic hindbrain/midbrain/forebrain (brain stem and sensory organs), then the development of the limbic system, including the hypothalamus (basic drives and motivations), the hippocampus (memory), and the amygdala (emotional learning and responding). And finally, another newcomer, the neo-cortex, a layer over the limbic system.  The neo-cortex is all about mental processing—thinking, planning, decision-making.  So the evolutionary progress is from the “involuntary” processes to the realm of will.  (I put involuntary in quotes because in hypnosis we can influence those involuntary functions.)

I think it’s interesting to see that science is beginning to shed some light on how these regions of the brain communicate.  I recently heard an interview with Daniel Seigal, who is working on the premise that the communication between these areas of the brain is essential to healthy functioning of the individual, and ultimately between individuals.

He says,

For the brain, integration means that separated areas with their unique functions, in the skull and throughout the body, become linked to each other through synaptic connections. These integrated linkages enable more intricate functions to emerge—such as insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. A result of integration is kindness, resilience, and health. Terms for these three forms of integration are a coherent mind, empathic relationships, and an integrated brain.

He goes on to reflect on the new knowledge that “awareness can shape the connections in the brain toward integration,” and the ways that interpersonal relationships shape our brains throughout our lives.  He says, “we can actively ‘inspire each other to rewire’ our internal and interpersonal lives.”  And he does mean rewire—he’s talking about our ability to build new synaptic connections within the brain, reshaping our thinking, our awareness—our reality.

I’m inspired!  And I believe the new research is revealing some of the mechanisms that underlie the power of hypnosis to make connections between what we’ve called conscious and subconscious parts of our minds, and our selves.

Learning about pain control (and other wonders) at the Hypnotherapy Academy in Santa Fe

I am just back from an amazing 2 weeks at the Hypnotherapy Academy in Santa Fe. I took an intensive class in medical support hypnotherapy, and I learned so much more about helping people access their own inner ability to heal.

To clarify, medical support hypnosis, or medical hypnotherapy, is not a medical procedure or practice. Instead, it is the use of hypnosis to support medical treatment. (Hypnosis itself is essentially a self-help skill, which it is my privilege to facilitate for my clients.) I’ve spent the last couple of weeks learning and practicing hypnosis techniques to support treatment for a host of conditions–arthritis, diabetes, IBS,  to name just a few.

One of the most exciting things was learning about helping people with chronic pain.  The power of our minds to control our experience with pain is amazing.  In class last week I was able to help people control sensations in their hands, including developing full anesthesia (no sensation at all)!   I’m really looking forward to using these techniques with clients.

Coming back from the holidays . . .

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday—all about friends, family, and food. I love a feast! And I kind of overdid it this year, which I guess is partly the point of a feast. High points of the dinner: the eggplant and cornbread stuffing, and the pumpkin pie with homemade cinnamon ice cream. And leftovers—poached eggs over the leftover stuffing for breakfast—oh my! Oh well.

We also had a family birthday just after Thanksgiving. So it will come as no surprise to hear that I ate more than I usually do. And perhaps more to the point, I ate more butter, more cream, more eggs—all that rich, high fat stuff. Looking at the list, I don’t regret one iota of it. However, I am finding myself very aware of all the reasons that I don’t eat like that everyday.

In fact, it’s been nice coming slowly back to our more normal routine (as the leftovers disappear), and nice too to have some new healthy things to enjoy. After listening to the interview with Dr. John LaPuma that I mentioned in my last post, I got ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine from the library. I learned something from his chapter on satiety that I’ve been using over the last few days.

Apparently, our bodies have a different reaction to water than we do to foods that are full of water. When we drink a glass of water, it filters right through our systems. But when we eat a food that is full of water (lettuce, vegetable juice, soup) our bodies treat it like food and digest it more slowly.

One of my challenges is that I tend to munch in the evenings, from the time I start making dinner. The last few days, I’ve been drinking a glass of spicy vegetable juice before I make dinner, and I do notice a difference. It tastes and feels satisfying. It has another benefit, too. I’ve noticed that since I’m not distracted by hunger, it’s easier to pay attention to what I’m doing, and when I sit down to dinner, I’m more relaxed and ready to enjoy the food.

Food for health

I’ve just listened to an interesting interview with Dr. John LaPuma on culinary medicine, which he describes as blending the art of cooking with the science of medicine.

Note: I typically take the science of nutrition with more than a grain of salt (groan), but I like this. It’s probably because it offers affirmation for some of my deeply held prejudices about food—particularly when nutritional fads appear to contradict common sense about food.

You may have seen him on TV (I haven’t, but that’s not surprising since I don’t get much exposure to TV). His books are Cooking the RealAge Way, The RealAge Diet, and ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine.

He said, “I found that I didn’t know what to tell patients in the office about their own weight or their own health that had to do with lifestyle. . . . I went to cooking school to learn how to make a healthy diet taste good.”

He talked about bio-availability—the concept that our bodies’ absorption of nutrients depends on other what other nutrients are present.

Curcumin is thought to be responsible for much of the anti-inflammatory action of turmeric, which is a common ingredient in curries. But you only absorb the curcumin if black pepper is also present, because a component of black pepper is piperine, which increases the bioavailability of the curcumin. You don’t absorb much curcumin without piperine.

Or lycopene in tomatoes—you absorb four times the amount of lycopene if you cook the tomato than if you eat it raw. (Lycopene seems to be preventive for prostate cancer as well as heart disease.) And you increase that bioavailability even more by using a little olive oil—or any other healthy oil.

When you add avocado to a spinach salad, you absorb about seven times the lutein, which protects against acute macular degeneration and cataracts among other things. You don’t get that kind of absorption without fat in the salad, or if you use a low-fat or non-fat dressing.

Vitamins D, E, A and K are all fat-soluble. He recommends that people who take their vitamins at breakfast make sure they have a little bit of healthy fat at breakfast. (The fat in an egg yolk, for example, is enough.)

Probiotics help you better absorb all B vitamins except for folic acid, which is vitamin B9. So if you have kefir or yogurt with probiotics for breakfast, you absorb six or seven times more of your B vitamins than you do without them (except for folic acid).

He also talked about a pretty comprehensive sounding USDA study (50 years of data) that shows the average supermarket vegetable is anywhere between five and forty percent lower in magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc than those harvested fifty years ago, due to our focus on increasing yields.

He says, “In selecting for high yield, you basically select for higher carbohydrate content in vegetables with little assurance that any of the other nutrients – the thousands of phytochemicals that are part of a vegetable . . . all increase at the same time.”

He agreed with the interviewer that locally, sustainably, organically grown food is likely a healthier option, saying that the organic vegetables have more phytochemicals and antioxidants because they have to fight off disease more aggressively. But he also said “any vegetable is probably better than a Twinkie.”

In other words, the really important point is that anything we can do to get half our food in vegetables is good for us—whether that’s organic, fresh, frozen, or whatever.

He did however, have a list of foods he’d recommend buying organic over conventional:
• Conventional milk has antibiotic residues and high levels of progesterone and progesterone-related hormones
• Peanut butter because of the aflatoxin on conventionally-grown peanuts and the fungicides with which they are sprayed
• Ketchup because it has triple the lycopene in organic form than conventional
• Apples because they are commonly sprayed heavily even before harvest and then stored for three to six months (and we eat a lot of them)
• Potatoes because they have such thin skins; pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides go through thin skins much more easily than they do thick skins

He also had some suggestions for the meat-eaters among us:
If you simply dunk your meat—that is, fish, chicken, beef, or any other muscle meat—into a marinade, you cut the carcinogenic heterocyclic amines by seventy-seven percent. And adding higher oxidant herbs like rosemary increases HCA protection even more. For ground meat, he suggests marinating it or using a dry rub for the same benefit.

His other suggestion for people who typically eat meat every day is adopting some vegetarian days—finding delicious recipes using beans or a pasta recipe that is rich in other plant proteins.

But his main message is one I heartily agree with: it’s small, simple changes that make it easy for people to change the way they eat.
“Could you have guacamole instead of full-fat sour cream? Could you order fish instead of beef? Could you eat nuts – tree nuts – instead of chips? Could you try one new food? Could you change the size of your plate so that it’s six inches with a rim?”

Which brings me to another point he made about the dangers of paying too much attention to the latest diet advice: We are so carb-paranoid these days that many people won’t eat beans, and yet beans are both a good source of carbs and a good source of protein and many of the phytonutrients. And the darker the bean, the higher the antioxidant and flavonoid composition, so you get an extra anti-inflammatory and antioxidant boost that way.

And fat. Let’s face it: we are afraid to eat fat. That might be good in the case of processed foods, especially if you’re looking at tortilla chips or cookies. But it isn’t true for something like guacamole. It isn’t true for healthy fats like nuts that derive many of their calories from fat, but have important cardiac effects and important effects against the development of diabetes in particular.

Healthy fats in general are important in the treatment of diabetes, in lowering cholesterol levels, reducing risk of heart disease, and for metabolic syndrome. Typically we don’t get enough good fat for good health. We need Omega 3 fatty acids, the polyunsaturated fats that are so prevalent in coldwater marine fish like sardines, herring, rainbow trout, and salmon.

There are other sources of Omega 3 fatty acids: krill, the organisms fish eat to get Omega 3s, and plant-based Omega 3s found in flax, walnuts, and purslane (my favorite weed).

These Omega 3 fatty acids have really important effects lowering triglyceride levels and preventing pancreatitis/attacks of pancreatitis, in preventing sudden death from heart disease, reducing pain in osteoarthritis and reducing certain forms of mood disorders, particularly mild anxiety.

It’s good to know that overcoming our fear of food has major health benefits, isn’t it?

Certain foods linked to long-term weight gain

The headline above is from an article in the National Institutes of Health’s Research Matters, on a recent Harvard School of Public Health study by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and Dr. Frank Hu. It’s encouraging to see some recognition that weight gain and loss are not simply a matter of balancing calories in and energy out.

Highlights of the article:
Weight gain is associated with poor sleep, and also with TV-watching. Weight loss is associated with eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt–especially yogurt! “The idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked,” Hu says.