Functional medicine expert, Chris Kresser, helps to shed light on how to rewire the brain to treat complex chronic illnesses in his interview with Annie Hopper, the founder of the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS).
Listen to the interview by playing the following video, or read on for a summary of how brain retraining has unlocked a new frontier in medicine and the treatment of conditions such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivity, fibromyalgia, long-covid, and more.
The Brain Rewiring Expert: Introducing Annie Hopper
One of the most crucial topics that’s caught the medical world’s attention recently is the role of the brain’s limbic system in various chronic illnesses. Chris Kresser has personally witnessed the dramatic improvements of patients who have used Annie Hopper’s Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) to “rewire” their limbic system and recover from treatment-resistant, life-upending illnesses. He describes DNRS as a “top-down, self-directed neuroplasticity-based approach to rewiring chronic illness disease patterns in the brain.”
Annie Hopper’s personal journey and the insights from her DNRS approach provide hope for countless individuals looking for answers that they could not find within the traditional medical frameworks.
From Personal Trauma to Neuroplasticity Pioneer
Chris begins his interview with Annie by inviting her to share her powerful narrative. He knows the significance of personal health journeys in understanding and innovating healing modalities.
Annie had been a counselor and published writer on emotional wellness while living in Kelowna, British Columbia. When she moved to a new office, her health began deteriorating due to exposure to industrial chemicals and mold. Describing her experience, she said, “Perfume no longer smelled like perfume. It smelled like some kind of toxic bug spray, and it felt like I was being poisoned by things in my environment.”
Despite numerous treatments from both allopathic and alternative avenues, Annie found no lasting relief. Her decline led to severe reactions to even mild scents or wireless electronics. She was so reactive that she could no longer live in her own home — she moved into a tent since living outdoors was the only “safe place.”
Her challenges went beyond medical definitions and typical treatment protocols. Her experiences, which she describes as “science fiction-like,” drove her determination to find lasting solutions.
A pivotal moment for Annie was when asked herself, “How come somebody else can walk down the laundry detergent aisle of the grocery store and not go into convulsions? There’s obviously something really wrong with my nervous system or the way that my brain is interpreting sensory information.”
The Brain’s Potential for Change
This realization sent Annie on a quest to research the limbic system – the part of the brain responsible for the sense of smell (among other key things). Her research showed an over-firing of the limbic system’s threat-detection mechanisms could be responsible for overlapping symptoms across multiple conditions like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and depression.
Her research further led her to Dr. Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself, a deep dive into the world of neuroplasticity – the brain’s innate ability to change. Inspired by the knowledge that self-directed exercises can change brain structure and function, Annie posited, “If this part of the brain is stuck, what if we get it unstuck?”
Neuroplasticity: The Possibility of Rewiring Your Brain
The concept of neuroplasticity has revolutionized our understanding of the brain’s capacity to be rewired. It’s an exciting field with broad implications for recovery from various conditions.
Chris Kresser chimes in on the duality of neuroplasticity. Life experiences can lead to unfavorable changes in the brain’s structure and function, as was Annie’s unfortunate reality. However, this plasticity also indicates a promising capacity for the brain to heal and adapt positively, a foundational belief behind DNRS. As Chris eloquently put it, neuroplasticity is the “double-edged sword” where we have the potential to change the structure and function of our brain for better or for worse.
Annie Hopper’s journey from a patient to a pioneer would reveal the deep relationship between the limbic system, trauma, and chronic illness.
Limbic System Impairment: The Target of Brain Rewiring
According to Hopper, any trauma can result in limbic system impairment. This trauma can range from viral or bacterial infections, chemical or mold exposures, emotional or psychological stress, and even excessive exposure to electromagnetic frequencies (EMF). Often, a combination of these can create a ‘perfect storm’ leading to limbic system malfunction.
However, Chris highlights that the modern understanding of trauma has evolved. Instead of it being black and white, trauma now gets perceived as a spectrum, where a broader understanding has started emerging in scientific literature.
Chronic Illness is Not “All in Your Head”
A significant issue that patients with chronic disorders face is the belief that their illness is merely psychological or even imagined. But as Hopper passionately states, this is neither a psychological illness nor the fault of the patient. The illnesses originate from actual changes in the brain resulting from trauma.
She explains that toxic substances like mold can profoundly impact the brain. There’s substantial research showing how such toxic injuries can alter the brain’s structure and function. With the brain being the control center of the body, any malfunction in the brain will impact multiple systems.
Annie states, “This is not a psychological illness… It’s not their thoughts or their feelings that are creating the illness. There has been a real brain trauma… It’s a toxic injury. It affects so many different systems in the body.”
Chris adds a compelling perspective: “If it’s in your head, everything else is in your head too.” Every experience we undergo is filtered through our brain, a testament to the undeniable impact the brain has on our overall well-being.
There’s no experience we have that isn’t mediated by the brain. A field called psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology has been exploring these connections for decades. However, the broader medical community still largely remains unaware of its significance.
Defining Limbic System Impairment
The brain’s limbic system contains a group of structures that are involved with emotion, learning, memory, and the body’s stress response. It helps us process information from our sensory organs and then interpret experiences as safe or unsafe. Given its critical function, disturbances to its natural rhythm can lead to debilitating conditions. But what triggers these disturbances?
“Anything can cause limbic system impairment. Viral or bacterial trauma, chemical exposure, mold exposure, emotional or psychological stress, excessive EMF exposure… a combination of these can create the perfect storm.”
Conditions typically linked to limbic system impairment include:
- Long Covid
- Multiple chemical sensitivities
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Chronic Lyme disease
- Food sensitivities
- EMF sensitivities
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic pain
Signs of Limbic System Impairment
As the conversation continued, Chris asked neuroplasticity pioneer Annie Hopper how one can detect symptoms of Limbic System Impairment.
For someone wondering if they might be dealing with limbic system impairment, there are characteristic signs. Annie emphasized that a comprehensive self-assessment questionnaire is available on their website.
Annie gave examples of some questions that are found in the self-assessment:
“Do you experience brain fog or inability to concentrate or focus? Do you suffer from chronic joint or muscle pain? Are you noticeably irritable, anxious, or upset when you’re around specific stimuli?”
Chris shared that, based on his experience, the patients who don’t respond to conventional treatments or those whose conditions keep recurring might be dealing with limbic system impairment. This belief stems from the understanding that an entrenched pattern in the nervous system might be producing the symptoms and the downstream dysfunction.
As he put it, ”A patient with whom all of the treatments that we would expect to work do not work, or they can’t even tolerate the treatments because they’re so sensitive… I often suspect limbic system impairment.”
Annie Hopper agrees with this assessment, suggesting that if treatments are continually failing or provide only short-lived relief, there’s a high likelihood that the root nervous system dysfunction remains unaddressed.
Advancements in Understanding the Limbic System
Despite the compelling findings on limbic system impairments, there remains a significant gap in mainstream consciousness. Annie sheds light on ongoing research, particularly studies from McMaster University and the University of Alberta, to further demystify the nuances of limbic system impairment.
Delving into the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS): The Ultimate Guide for How to Rewire Your Brain for Physical Healing
Chris began this segment of the discussion with an inquiry into the very roots of DNRS, seeking to unravel the journey Annie undertook from personal realization to developing a groundbreaking approach.
Annie recounted her intimate experiences, saying, “I turned into this completely-terrified-of-the-world-and-everything-in-it person who was completely shut down. The only thing that I was thinking about most of the time was about my survival.”
Annie’s emotional transformation, from a ‘happy-go-lucky’ individual to someone unable to access joy, was a stark indication of the trauma loop her brain was trapped in. Curiously, despite having resolved past traumas, her brain consistently regressed to them, reinforcing her realization of its stuck pattern.
The Mechanism of DNRS
Amidst this context of physical and emotional suffering, Annie embarked on a journey to recalibrate her brain patterns. From this journey emerged the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS). Annie developed this system based on the practices and exercises used to rehabilitate stroke patients, and she also drew from the works of a number leaders in the neuroplasticity field like Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and Dr. Ramachandran.
Annie remarked, “When feeling triggered, I would do specific exercises that would include visualization and elevating my emotional state… and I would notice that my sensory perception would change slightly.”
A pivotal moment occurred when Annie realized that her brain retraining efforts were working: she was able to rectify her distorted sense of smell, a symptom untouched by other treatments. “When my sense of smell started to normalize, I knew that I was onto something.”
DNRS employs specific movement and visualization techniques and techniques to elevate your emotional state while feeling triggered. However, the essence of the program is more than that. It helps you understand the nuances of how the brain is involved in your chronic symptoms, how an impaired brain affects your experience of life, and how to establish healthy brain patterns to promote optimal health.
The Core Components of DNRS
While the brain rewiring exercises are straightforward, their application in the context of limbic system rehabilitation proves to create profound changes in health outcomes.
She further elaborated on the core principles using an acronym that illustrates the program’s organized and systematic approach to limbic system rehabilitation. The program’s structure is laid out so strategically and simply that it is easy to understand, follow, and implement. This is one of the key advantages of DNRS, since many of its users have some impairments to their cognition, capacity for focused attention, and/or energy.
As Annie navigated her way from being her own ‘guinea pig’ to developing a comprehensive program, DNRS stands as a beacon of hope for many. Its methods, rooted in robust neuroplastic principles, offer a tangible pathway to address limbic system impairment that is the root of many chronic illnesses. The DNRS program empowers individuals to reclaim control over the neural patterns impairing their wellbeing, and consequently, their lives.
Exploring the Nuanced Role of the Brain in Environmental Sensitivities
Chris’s clinical experience underscores the recurring theme that traditional treatments often don’t fully address the underlying neurological patterns present in chronic diseases such as environmental illnesses. “We’ve treated people with environmental illness for many years,” Chris shared. “Standard approaches can be helpful, but in many cases, they’re either not helpful at all or not enough.” It’s not an understatement to say that for many, the missing piece has been a focus on the brain itself, particularly the limbic system.
In many ways, Chris’s observations are a testament to DNRS’s potential efficacy. Drawing from his experiences, he recounted, “I first learned about DNRS from a patient… and we were seeing situations where… after just three or four months of DNRS, [the patient] started having normal bowel movements for the first time in her life.” This is powerful because it shows that the brain, when harnessed correctly, has the potential to aid recovery in ways we’re only beginning to grasp. The narrative surrounding DNRS is replete with such testimonies, and while they should be interpreted with care, they certainly underscore the potential of this method.
Beyond Positive Thinking: Rewiring an Overactive Brain
Annie Hopper shed light on another critical component, the harmful cycle of avoidance. The fact is, many individuals who are hyper-sensitive to certain triggers often find themselves in a state of perpetual avoidance. As Chris aptly noted, “avoidance itself can actually perpetuate the cycle… neurons that fire together wire together.” The more one fears and avoids something, the more one solidifies that neural response. But as Annie clarified, breaking this cycle isn’t merely a matter of willpower or positive thinking. It requires a systematic neural reprogramming, which is what DNRS sets out to provide.
As Annie stated, “It’s not simply just changing your mind about something.” The program isn’t about wishful thinking, denial, or simplistic optimism. Instead, it’s rooted in understanding and rehabilitating a very tangible aspect of our physiology: the brain’s structure and function.
In essence, DNRS offers individuals with treatment-resistant chronic illnesses a roadmap to addressing the brain’s role in their body’s extreme reactivity. This neuroplasticity-based system challenges current medical conventions and broadens the lens through which we understand these complex conditions. Both Annie and Chris’s insights emphasize that while the journey to recovery is multifaceted, understanding and rehabilitating the brain’s role can be a game-changer for many.
How DNRS is Different Than Psychotherapy, Meditation, or Mindfulness
Chris and Annie go on to delve into the significant distinction between practices like DNRS, traditional psychotherapy, and mindfulness.
Hopper emphasized the essence of focusing on positive emotions, which lays the foundational framework for brain rewiring. It’s a stark contrast to traditional psychotherapy that often revisits past traumatic events, which may not be beneficial for those with limbic system impairment. Hopper explains, “Talking about past trauma can actually reinforce the neural circuits that are at play with the impairment itself.”
Hopper further highlighted a crucial distinction between DNRS and typical meditation. While many meditation forms ask participants to observe their thoughts and emotions without getting attached, DNRS takes a more active approach. The program teaches how to intentionally redirect thoughts and emotions, not merely observe them.The practice doesn’t simply acknowledge thought patterns; it redirects them, encouraging the brain to take a different pathway, moment to moment.
Rewiring the Brain: An Evolving Approach to Health & Wellness
Building on Hopper’s insight, Kresser made an intriguing observation about the evolving perspectives in healthcare, noting how many psychiatrists are now exploring neuroplasticity as a tool for addressing depression and anxiety. He remarked, “It’s really cool for me to see these insights coming from different places and being applied in different ways.” The heightened understanding of neuroplasticity’s potential is reshaping the way we approach health, disease, and overall quality of life.
True Holistic Healing: DNRS, Community, & Coaching
Eager to spread the word, Hopper introduced the DNRS resources available for those curious or in need. The official website, RetrainingTheBrain.com, offers a plethora of information. Additionally, her 2014 book, Wired for Healing: Remapping the Brain to Recover from Chronic and Mysterious Illnesses serves as a comprehensive guide to the DNRS methodology. As for the program itself, it’s available as an online program, with optional support services to improve your understanding or help you to tailor the program to your individual needs.
In discussing the holistic approach to healing, Kresser emphasized the value of the Certified DNRS Coaches. He recommends his patients take advantage of this additional service offered by the DNRS organization because, “Changing entrenched brain patterns is particularly hard… when you start to change them, they feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar.” With experienced coaches, participants receive the much-needed support in navigating these unfamiliar terrains.
Chris highlights the impact this additional support has on outcomes, “I’ve just noticed with my patients, the ones who get coaching and support and have a support network, their whole family is on board in supporting them in their DNRS practice, they get better results.”
Hopper also mentioned a free online community forum associated with the DNRS program, noting its active participation of thousands of members. Such a platform provides not only information but also support and encouragement, which Hopper feels is crucial for recovery. She mused, “If we can, we want to have supportive people in our environment that are really engaging with us in a positive way during our rehabilitation process.”
Is Brain Rewiring Too Good to be True?
Highlighting the transformative impact of DNRS, Kresser confessed that, initially, some of the program’s success stories felt “too good to be true.” But a deep dive into the science behind DNRS and understanding of limbic system impairment brought clarity and credibility to the system’s results.
Hopper acknowledged this perception, adding, “It really is hard to have hope when you’ve been sick for that long. But this is an entirely different approach. So for those people who have been sick for a really long time, I would say don’t lose hope and give the program a try.”
For many, this journey with DNRS isn’t just about recovery; it’s about reclaiming hope, embracing empowerment, and charting a course towards a healthier, happier life.
Hope is a recurring theme in their conversation. Hopper’s passion for her work is evident. “It fills me with joy that I can’t even express,” she says, speaking of the thousands recovering through DNRS.
Kresser concludes by underscoring the power of hope and the importance of understanding the science behind DNRS. Through firsthand experiences with his patients, he has seen the transformative impact of the program. He says, “Just having the understanding that you can take control of some of these conditions and the symptoms by rewiring your own brain is really empowering for a lot of people.”
In the realm of health and recovery, the promise of neuroplasticity and the work of experts like Annie Hopper illuminates the path forward, showcasing the brain’s remarkable ability to adapt, recover, and thrive.
About Chris Kresser
Chris Kresser is a globally recognized leader in the fields of ancestral health, nutrition, and functional and integrative medicine. He is the creator of the ADAPT Framework, a holistic approach to health and wellness, and the founder of the Kresser Institute, which offers functional medicine training and resources for healthcare practitioners. Kresser has written several books, including “The Paleo Cure,” and “Unconventional Medicine: Join the Revolution to Reinvent Healthcare, Reverse Chronic Disease, and Create a Practice You Love.”
He is known for challenging the status quo of conventional medicine while offering evidence-based alternatives. Through his writings, podcasts, and educational programs, he has informed and inspired many to take a more natural and holistic approach to their health.
About Annie Hopper
Annie Hopper developed the Dynamic Neural Retraining System in 2008. She achieved full recovery from “unexplained” illnesses by implementing her own daily program of brain-based rehabilitation, which focused on “rewiring” faulty neural pathways in the brain. Since then, the DNRS program has been recommended by doctors worldwide, and has helped thousands of others “retrain the brain” to regulate a maladapted stress response and recover from an impressive variety of “mysterious” chronic symptoms and syndromes. Hopper’s popular book, Wired for Healing: Remapping the Brain to Recover from Chronic and Mysterious Illnesses, has sold over 35,000 copies.
As a sought-after speaker on limbic system impairment and neuroplasticity, Hopper has spoken at many medical conferences and private speaking engagements, educating doctors, patient groups, and health ministry officials about the link between brain function and chronic illness. Hopper has presented to the Canadian Brain Injury Association, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, the Institute for Functional Medicine, the International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illnesses, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association, and the Parliament House in Helsinki, Finland.