Endorphins lessen Lyme disease symptoms right now
Pleasure - the language of immunity
On Halloween Day I had the pleasure of recording a podcast with the lovely Cindy Kennedy. Cindy runs the website www.livingwithlyme.us. She is a nurse practitioner who has late stage Lyme disease herself, and now works to educate and help others manage their care. (My recording with her should go live sometime in January.)
Cindy asked how meditation has helped me fight Lyme disease. I explained that while all of the treatments I have tried for Lyme have helped over time, (lots and lots of time), the only one that helps immediately is meditation. If I feel like crap, I lie down and meditate. It absolutely never fails to reduce my symptoms and elevate my mood. So why is this? The answer is, among other mysteries, endorphins.
Neuropeptides connect the brain and immune system
Scientists have known for a while that the brain secretes neuropeptides. Neuropeptides are protein chains that act on neural tissue, fitting into specialized receptors in the brain, and creating feeling states and other physical changes. Some of the most well known neuropeptides are endorphins.
Endorphins are the body’s own natural opiates. They fit into the same brain cell receptors that pharmaceutical opiates use, and their effects are similar. Endorphins lessen pain and increase pleasure. (They are responsible for the famous “runner’s high”.)
What was discovered more recently by badass research goddess Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion, is that the immune system also both secretes and receives endorphins. This was big news for the scientific community, who at the time believed that only the brain used neuropeptides, since they are associated with emotional states.
Thanks to Pert’s groundbreaking research, we now know that the immune system and the brain are not really as separate as previously believed. Communication composed of neuropeptides, including endorphins, flows back and forth between the two all the time. In fact, Pert discovered that the immune system contains receptors for every neuropeptide currently known to science.
I recently heard a song with the lyrics, “Feeling good about feeling good…feeling bad about feeling bad”. This illustrates part of what the brain and the immune system get up to in communication with each other. If Lyme disease has me feeling sick physically, there is always an emotional component that comes along for the ride. I feel bad about feeling bad. And the feeling of waking up in the morning with the innate joy of health filling us? Let’s hear it for feeling good about feeling good! There is a constant flow of communication between the brain and immune system, and endorphins are part of feeling good.
Low Dose Naltrexone for Lyme disease
Has anyone else been hearing about Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) these days? I haven’t personally tried it (yet), but I have been reading about it. Naltrexone is a drug that blocks opiate receptors. It is used in high doses to keep these receptors blocked, in order to prevent addicts from being able to get high. If the Naltrexone is filling receptors, the actual opiate cannot, and the user can’t feel the high.
Naltrexone also blocks action of the body’s natural opiates, endorphins. With LDN, a patient takes only enough to block the receptors briefly. The body thinks its endorphin supply is too low, and ramps up production. As the drug wears off, there is an abundance of endorphins available for use in the system. Taking the drug at a low dose floods the user with their body’s natural opiates.
LDN has been shown to help with autoimmune disorders, especially Hashimotos. I have two clients using LDN successfully for this. It is also being explored for Lyme disease, with some success. No one seems to understand fully why this is, but it seems endorphins must not only feel great, but heal. Perhaps they help the immune system self organize. If you are interested to learn more, try this article on LDN for Lyme disease by none other than Cindy Kennedy.
Meditation releases endorphins
We can flood ourselves with endorphins anytime we like, from home, for free, without LDN or heading out for a half marathon. All the things that we associate with happiness release endorphins. Sex, laughter, exercise (even mild exercise), and also, meditation. In fact, meditation has been proven to release all kinds of neuropeptides associated with pleasure and happiness, including serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, DHEA and GABA.
This gives those of us with chronic illness power. No matter how exhausted you are, you can meditate. No matter how much money you have, you can meditate. You can use meditation to act directly on your immune system, using its own language to self organize your immune system, and stimulate health and well being.
Meditation changes cell structure
In 1990, a researcher named Howard Hall proved that self hypnosis and guided visualization could physically increase the stickiness of white blood cells, making them more effective. Not only do our thoughts and feelings create neuropeptides, they can actually change the structure of our cells.
I experience this every day in my work teaching, and in my own meditation. If I ask a client to imagine her lung tissue relaxing as she breathes, we can both feel the tissue soften. If I visualize my immune cells strengthening and kicking some Lymie ass for me, I feel them respond. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that meditation can cure Lyme (maybe for a Sufi?), but we do have some power and control.
Meditation tools for chronic Lyme
You can meditate by repeating a calming or healing phrase in your mind while you deepen your breathing. Create a phrase that resonates with you at that moment, relaxing and calming you. Sometimes I just choose a single word to repeat to myself, such as bliss. Repeat the word, feeling your breath flow, until your body relaxes completely and you feel a change in your emotional state.
You can also use guided meditation, especially if you are wiped out or brain foggy. I wrote my Immune Strength meditation precisely for this reason. If my kids bring home a cold, (which always messes with my Lyme symptoms), this meditation helps me recover more quickly. It guides you through a visualization of your bone marrow, where your white blood cells are born, helping you feel your warrior immune cells flowing into your blood stream, protecting you and keeping you safe.
Next time you need some endorphin support, just lie back and meditate. You don’t have to do it perfectly. Any relaxation is beneficial. You are healing every time you practice, feeling good about feeling good.
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Wishing you Fall leaves, and crisp clean air,