46. Rewiring the brain with Annie Hopper

How to rewire the limbic system and change the brain’s structure and function.

Episode 46 with Sarah Cormode and Annie Hopper, who leans forward with her head in her hand.

When we sense danger, our limbic system causes us to react in order to stay safe. This system can become impaired, causing a reaction even when we are no longer in danger. In this interview, Annie Hopper explains limbic system impairment and shows us that the limbic system can be retrained, moving us into a state of rest and repair.

Wired for Healing

Annie Hopper is a limbic system rehabilitation specialist and founder of the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS). She is also author of the book Wired for Healing: Remapping the Brain to Recover from Chronic and Mysterious Illnesses.

The perfect storm

Annie created the Dynamic Neural Retraining System, or DNRS, after experiencing a cascade of symptoms that started in 2004. She had recently moved her office, resulting in exposure to chemical fumes as well as mold. These exposures, along with exposure to wildfire smoke and previous traumas created a “perfect storm” for developing limbic system impairment.

“I knew that there was an overlap between many different conditions, many chronic and complex health conditions… I started looking at brain research that really was a key for me in recognizing that the common denominator for a lot of these chronic illnesses was overactivation of certain areas of the brain that were located in the limbic system.”

Annie Hopper

Multiple symptoms, little relief

Following these exposures, Annie developed chronic joint and muscle pain, muscle twitching, insomnia and anxiety and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She went on to develop multiple sensitivities to scents and started to avoid situations that would trigger her symptoms. Annie’s symptoms continued, even after seeing multiple specialists and following all of their recommended treatment protocols, including heavy metal detoxification, dietary changes and psychological counseling.

“The symptoms [of limbic system dysfunction] can vary from person to person… what people might notice are changes in autonomic nervous system function, so the automatic functions of your body such as heart rate… breathing issues or digestion issues. Some people might feel fatigued or they might be more sensitive to various different sorts of stimuli (like chemicals, light, sound, touch or food). Symptoms can also include brain fog, headaches, chronic pain, chronic inflammation, immune system conditions…irritability, anxiety, depression and a lot more.”

Annie Hopper

Getting to the root cause

When Annie developed electromagnetic field sensitivity, she was unable to live in her own home. She knew that her symptoms were related to her brain and nervous system and began to research everything she could to find answers. Through her own observations, she determined that her brain was not processing sensory information correctly. When she learned that the sense of smell was related to the limbic area of the brain, she logically determined that she needed to dig deeper. Eventually, Annie came across the work of Dr. Norman Doidge. 

Putting it all together

In his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doige reported on interventions that led to dramatic changes in brain function, and resulted in substantial improvements in physical ability. Annie explored the work of many of the experts described in the book, and recognized that they had helped people regain function through brain retraining. Insights discovered from her research lead Annie to create the DNRS program.

“I always say that the brain is a pattern recognition organ, right, so if you look at it in that way, it actually makes things make a lot of sense, and when you recognize that the brain has just been stuck in this fight, flight or freeze response… it’s just not your fault. Your brain got stuck in a trauma response, so the focus becomes, how do we get the brain out of the trauma response?”

Annie Hopper

Limbic system impairment

Annie points out that limbic system impairment can result in symptoms related to the autonomic or automatic body functions. There can be changes in heart rate, breathing and digestion, as well as fatigue, chronic pain, chronic inflammation, and mental health issues. Limbic system impairment can cause sensitivity to chemicals, light, sound, and touch along with a myriad of other symptoms. Annie created a self-assessment survey on the DNRS website to help people determine if their symptoms could be related to limbic system impairment. 

The five pillars of DNRS

Annie explains that the DNRS program consists of five pillars to recovery, and highlights the importance of addressing all five pillars. The first pillar is aimed at understanding the link between your brain and your condition. Pillar two is all about learning to recognize old neural pathways that keep us in a state of survival and create new neural pathways by shifting thoughts, emotions and behaviours. The third pillar is a step-by-step DNRS practice which includes speech, movement and visualization to shift our hormones and neurotransmitters from those of the stress response to those of growth and repair. The fourth pillar is a desensitization technique which involves incremental training to change the brain’s threat reaction to specific stimuli. Pillar five is aimed at elevating our emotional state, sending signals of safety that regulate the autonomic nervous system. 

Ongoing support within the program

The DNRS program also consists of support services, such as the Living DNRS program. In that online platform, groups meet under the guidance of a certified instructor to share their experience of applying the five pillars of the program in their daily lives.

Stuck in fight, flight or freeze

To explain limbic system impairment, Annie refers to the brain as a pattern recognition organ. It can get stuck in a fight, flight or freeze response and Annie asserts that this happens through no fault of our own. She points out that, once this is understood, we can begin to create conditions that will move our brains out of the trauma response.

DNRS for Lyme 

Can the DNRS program help people who have Lyme disease? Annie estimates that thousands of people with Lyme disease have experienced a reduction in their symptoms through the DNRS program. She refers listeners to the testimonials page of the DNRS website to explore several Lyme related success stories. Annie presents DNRS as an option for addressing neurological health as it relates to chronic Lyme disease.

DNRS for long Covid

The DNRS program has also been implemented by people with long Covid. Throughout the pandemic, Annie began to recognize that people were experiencing symptoms of limbic system dysfunction. People who were diagnosed with long Covid share their testimonials about the positive results they have experienced in the DRNS program. Annie recounts the case of a physician from Sweden who had a severe and debilitating case of long Covid and experienced a dramatic recovery after practising the DNRS program. She notes that there are many people on the DNRS Global Community Forum who found their way to the program in an effort to heal from long Covid. 

Ongoing research

The Karolinska Institute in Sweden is the home of two research studies looking at the effectiveness of the DNRS for patients with severe long Covid and POTS, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. Annie reports that early findings of these retrospective studies are very positive. The University of Alberta has also applied for funding for a clinical trial to examine the impact of the DNRS program on health-related quality of life in people with long covid and chronic fatigue. 

Annie’s message of hope

Annie sends a message of encouragement and hope to our listeners. Thank you Annie for painting a picture of the DNRS program for our listeners and for continuing to support people in their recovery from limbic system impairment!

Learn more about the Dynamic Neural Retraining System.

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