How I Learned About the Limbic System
It was late February, and I was on a call with a doctor I was working with to help me heal my gut. I had recently taken a test to understand what foods I was reacting to and she was going over the results with me. She delivered the bad news: I’d have to go on a lectin-free diet for six weeks. I’d have to cut out a number of my favorite foods to see if my digestion markers would improve.
I didn’t want to hear it; I’d been on countless diets, protocols and plans over the last ten years trying to finally solve my ongoing health issues related to digestion and fatigue. Every new diet, supplement or plan started with some mixed feelings. I’d start out hopeful that if I just followed the diet to the “T” and stayed positive, that I would finally get well. I’d make some improvement in my test results over a period of a few weeks, but ultimately, my symptoms wouldn’t improve. And being on such restrictive diets only made my overall outlook gloomy. I couldn’t join in with my friends as they ate whatever they wanted and I’d spend hours shopping and preparing boring food that I didn’t want to eat. I must have spent thousands of dollars on various doctors and healing protocols over the years.
So, her news didn’t hit me well. I didn’t want to go on another restrictive diet without knowing that it would cure me once and for all. But the next thing she said peaked my interest. She told me that I should look into DNRS. I didn’t know what she was talking about. She told me that it is a brain retraining program that some of her patients had done to heal their limbic system and response to food. I was pretty skeptical to say the least, but I felt I had nothing to lose. She said the people who had finished the program were less reactive to foods and got better faster. That’s all I needed to hear. I signed up that same night. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew it sounded different, and it sounded promising.
Throughout my journey into using neuroplasticity to heal my chronic illness, I’ve learned a lot about the brain and limbic system. When I started the program, I had literally no idea what the limbic system was. I had no idea that my many years of illness were triggered by various trauma and that I was prolonging the symptoms and my suffering based on the way I reacted to my symptoms.
So What is the Limbic System?
The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls the autonomic nervous system. Its structures include the hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala and hippocampus. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is regulated by the hypothalamus and controls our internal organs and glands, including such processes as pulse, blood pressure, breathing, and arousal in response to emotional circumstances.
The ANS is subdivided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When activated, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) controls the endocrine glands to prepare the body for emergency action. SNS activation causes the adrenal glands to produce epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), which results in the “fight-or-flight” response. The fight-or-flight response involves increased blood flow to the muscles, increased heart rate, and other physiological responses that enable the body to move more quickly and feel less pain in situations perceived to be dangerous.
Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system (PN) functions when the body is relaxed or at rest; it helps the body store energy for future use. Effects of PN activation include increased stomach activity and decreased blood flow to the muscles. Excerpted from Lumen Learning, Biology of Emotion.
You may have heard of the term “fight or flight effect” before. Or, more correctly “fight, flight or freeze.” In our early days as humans, we had to run or freeze when we encountered something dangerous, like a lion running after us. We survived because of the fight or flight effect. But, in today’s world, it’s rare that lions are chasing us. Nonetheless, deadlines trigger us and so does sitting in rush hour traffic and chronic stress in our everyday lives. And being stuck in “fight or flight” causes an increase in cortisol and other stress hormones, damaging our health.
To summarize, the limbic system is the part of the brain we’re trying to impact to get us back into “rest and digest” state by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Once our bodies are in “rest and digest” for a period of time, the body can take over and heal on its own.
How Do You Get a Limbic System Impairment?
There are many ways to get a limbic system impairment (LSI) – or an acquired brain injury. “Impairment may be caused from physical injury (head or neck trauma), toxicant injury from chemicals, electromagnetic fields/radiation, bacteria, viruses, fungi, exposure to moulds and or/ psychological or emotional stress.” Source: Wired for Healing, Annie Hopper, 2019. Some people acquire a brain injury over time, and some have one major event that causes it.
So, it may look different for different people.
One person may have a big exposure to mold or a toxic chemical and that’s enough to trigger a LSI. Another person may have a series of triggering events like: a car accident, Lyme exposure, emotional trauma, Epstein-Barr virus, etc.
The limbic system stops working properly and things that wouldn’t trigger a normal person start causing major reactions for an individual with LSI. People can start reacting to foods, chemicals or even electromagnetic frequencies in bizarre ways. They no longer tolerate things that were once safe for them and their quality of life diminishes rapidly.
How to Heal, Once and for All
1) Identify whether or not the limbic system has a part in your health condition. There are symptom questionnaires you can take out there that will let you know if you may have a limbic system impairment. You can also do an assessment of the chemical, emotional and physical trauma (head or neck injury) in your life and see if there may be a correlation with your illness. It helped me to make a timeline of my illness and other major health/life events in my past to come up with a picture of how I got sick.
2) If you do have a limbic system impairment, consider starting a brain retraining program. Some to look into are: Dynamic Neural Retraining SystemTM, the Gupta program, Joe Dispenza meditations, etc. These programs give you a structured approach to brain retraining and summarize multiple sources of information to give you the best result. They are based on the principle of self-directed neuroplasticity (that you can change the structure and function of your brain).
3) Work on your limiting beliefs around your illness. As I’ve come to realize throughout my healing, most people with chronic illness develop a form of PTSD due to living with their illness for a long period of time. This may be triggered because their illness causes them to lose their quality of life and they can no longer do what they once were able to. People with limbic system impairment try to avoid more symptoms and also develop patterns of behavior (avoidance and isolation) as coping mechanisms. They heal by overcoming the stories and core thoughts they have around illness and what they can and can’t do. They have to start acting as if we they healed and slowly convincing their brain that in fact, they are ok.
4) Educate yourself. There are multiple books and resources out there on neuroplasticity and brain retraining.
A few good ones are:
- “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” and “You are the Placebo” by Joe Dispenza
- “Wired for Healing” by Annie Hopper
- “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge
- Chris Kresser Podcast: How to Rewire Your Brain Using DNRS, with Annie Hopper
The more you understand about the brain and neuroplasticity, the more you realize that you can heal as well. And believing that you can heal is the first step to overcoming LSI.
5) Get support. Healing an acquired brain injury on your own is not easy to do. I worked with a coach during my healing process and she helped me answer questions that I had and sped up my healing. I also worked with a life coach when I felt ready to expand my life in bigger ways and step into my power as an entrepreneur.
6) Realize that healing takes time. Yes, some people heal in a matter of months. Others take longer. Don’t judge your healing against other people’s journeys. Everyone has a different healing timeline because everyone has a different history and different factors that led to their illness. Let go of the self-judgement and just be grateful that you’re now on your path to healing. Also, healing is not a linear process. There will be ups and downs, this is totally normal. Have faith, and trust the process.