In our weekly Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.
If you would like Jack to assist you in any areas of your life and relationships, fill out this form. He will respond to your questions through this column, normally published every Tuesday.
I have a lung problem. I’ve never smoked in my life, but this condition seemed to get worse in my forties. It’s called interstitial pneumonitis.
I’m on steroids, which I’d prefer not to be taking. I also go to the gym and do breathing exercises at home. I try to eat healthy, as I have many food intolerances, but I feel that if I could somehow soften the alveoli of my lungs, this would make breathing so much easier. Apparently in healthy lungs, these consist of soft tissue, but in my case, they’re hard.
I also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I have a hot cup of chicken stock each morning to help with this, but I’ve just found out I have an intolerance to curry powder and this wasn’t helping my IBS. I’ve just made some sauerkraut with the hope that if I can eliminate the bad bacteria from my gut, this may also help my intolerances. Hoping you can help…
Barb, 70, New Zealand
Thank you for your question. The issues that you wrote about obviously have no easy answers. And unfortunately, as we age, our bodies do break down and lose their ability to function and recover from illness as easily or as well as they once did.
Interstitial lung disease
However, as you stated in your question, you’re suffering from interstitial pneumonitis, which is an acute, patchy inflammation of the alveolar walls (interstitium).
Interstitial pneumonitis is a subcategory of disease that falls under a general category called interstitial lung disease (ILD). The various forms of interstitial lung disease all include a thickening of the interstitium, which is an anatomic structure in the lung that provides support to the microscopic air sacs (alveoli). Tiny blood vessels travel through the interstitium, allowing gas exchange between blood and the air in the lungs. The thickening of the interstitium can be due to inflammation, dense masses of granulation tissue (also known as scarring), or edema, which is the buildup of extra fluid in the lungs.
Interstitial pneumonitis is often diagnosed when other autoimmune conditions, or conditions in which the body’s immune system attack healthy cells, are present.
You also stated that you’re being treated with steroids. The type of steroids often used in treating ILD are called corticosteroids. This class of steroids treats ongoing inflammation, which can cause further damage and scarring within the lungs. Corticosteroids reduce the activity of the immune system, thus reducing the amount of inflammation in the lungs and the rest of the body.
Overall, if I understand correctly, you have a condition in which chronic inflammation is affecting your lungs in a way that restricts your breathing capabilities. Breathing difficulties such as this are often the result of scarring, as well as the delicate alveoli becoming hardened, which decreases their ability to take in enough oxygen. From your question, it sounds like you’re asking if there may be any other treatments you can use to help aid your medical treatment process.
My first response when helping treat cases with an underlying medical condition is to ensure that you’re following your medical doctor’s treatment guidelines. This is of the utmost importance.
The negative effects of stress on the healing process
That being said, more and more studies are demonstrating the positive effects of supplemental psychological and spiritual services in treating individuals with chronic illnesses—see Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs by Nancy E. Adler and Ann E. K. Page (2008).
Patients who are depressed, anxious, or experiencing ever-increasing amounts of stress often don’t respond to medical treatments as well as those who aren’t experiencing these disorders. In fact, retrospective studies found that a high proportion (up to 80 percent) of patients reported increased amounts of extreme stress before disease onset.
Furthermore, research suggests that increased stress can worsen the effects of autoimmune diseases, thus increasing the harmful effects of the inflammation process. Many patients find themselves in this vicious cycle. However, research again suggests that a patient’s ability to manage their stress and other harmful psychological states can increase the effects of their medical treatment.
The use of hypnosis in treating burn patients
An article in the 1955 issue of TIME magazine tells the story of psychiatrist James McCranie, psychologist Harold Crasilneck and surgeons Morris Fogleman, Ben Wilson and Jerry Stirman.
According to the article, a group of burn patients weren’t doing well. They refused to eat or exercise, demanded increasing amounts of narcotics and suffered from skin grafts that wouldn’t heal. The team of doctors then decided to follow the lead of psychiatrist James McCranie and started using hypnosis with the patients. According to the article, many of the men experienced extensive improvements in both their mental and physical health. Ewin wrote about the use of hypnosis in treating burn patients and states the following:
Hypnosis is of inestimable value in the care of burns from onset to discharge. In the first 2 to 4 hours postburn it diminishes the inflammatory response that causes progression of a burn from first to second degree, or from second to third degree.
How stress influences disease
Science Daily published “How stress influences disease: Study reveals inflammation as the culprit.” In this article, the authors cover some research studies that suggest psychological stress can impact the body’s ability to regulate inflammation and even promote the development and progression of disease.
The authors quote Carnegie Mellon University’s Sheldon Cohen, who states that when we’re “under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well.”
Hypnosis to treat IBS
Miller and Whorwell also found that using hypnosis to treat patients with inflammatory bowel disease resulted in 60 percent of patients stopping corticosteroid use; furthermore, 26.6 percent were in complete remission and 53.3 percent had only mild symptoms.
Hypnosis as an effective tool in helping the body regulate itself
Before I even try to explain what hypnosis is, I’ve often found it helpful to provide some evidence that hypnosis does appear to have a measurable effect on people’s health.
I know the benefits of hypnosis firsthand. Whenever I experience a lot of stress for a prolonged period of time, my body’s ability to control its inflammatory system becomes compromised, resulting in a great deal of back pain arising from two back surgeries I had nearly 20 years ago.
Hypnosis became a very effective tool I used in trying to help my body regulate itself and effectively manage inflammation. I went on to earn my certification in Clinical Hypnosis and have used it many times with clients suffering from various physical ailments.
What is hypnosis and how does it work?
The truth is, we really don’t know. Many theories assert that hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness—which it can be. We do know that a person’s brain waves are altered when they’re in a hypnotic state.
Many believe that a person under hypnosis is in a deep state of sleep, which is what it can feel like, but many researchers believe a client, when hypnotized, is actually in an enhanced state of awareness. In this state, the conscious mind is suppressed and the subconscious mind is revealed. It is hypothesized that having access to the subconscious mind enables a person to make alterations in subconscious bodily functions, like the inflammatory process.
The issues that you mentioned in your letter—the lung disease in combination with an autoimmune disease, as well as your IBS—are all significantly affected by stress and inflammation. My suggestion would be to speak with your doctor about adding hypnotherapy to your overall treatment. I really do believe that just the sense of relaxation and calmness that accompanies hypnotherapy will prove beneficial in and of itself.
If you’re able to find a quality hypnotherapist, you may be able to start more effectively regulating your body’s inflammatory response, resulting in greater overall health improvements.
A study by Schoen and Nowack (2012) suggested that participants who listened to a 30-minute hypnosis CD did experience reductions in inflammation, so perhaps simply investing in a hypnosis CD could prove beneficial. However, I don’t believe that listening to a CD can replace the overall benefits an individual can gain by working with an experienced hypnotherapist.