The Neuroscience Behind Hypnosis Part 2: The 5 Brainwave States

Did you know that your brain is actually a highly complex, well-tuned electrical engine?

It’s true! Your nervous system—which includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves—communicates through fast-moving electrical signals all throughout your body.

Researchers display the electrical activity happening in the brain as brainwaves, and there are five main brainwave states.

Better understanding these five states can help you go deeper into meditation and hypnosis to gain a sense of inner peace, reprogram old habits and beliefs, and more effectively balance your mental health.

In this blog, I’ve invited a certified hypnotist and colleague (Emma Ehrenzeller, CH) to go deeper into the connection between hypnosis and neuroscience.

Be sure to check out Part 1 to learn the basics of hypnosis! https://community.wholistics.health/are-you-mesmerized-yet-an-introduction-to-hypnosis/

What are the five brainwave states?

There are five brainwave states that we float in and out of each day, and two of them relate heavily to meditation and hypnosis.

Gamma: Gamma is the fastest brainwave state; this means that the brain is more active and creating more electricity!

In the gamma state, the mind is concentrated and likely doing complex problem solving or learning new information. In gamma, you’re highly alert and using a lot of brain power to complete the task at hand.

Beta: The beta brainwave state is the next fastest state, right behind gamma.

When you’re in everyday conversations, doing your taxes, writing a letter, or just getting through the workday, you’re likely in beta. Beta is the state you’re in during everyday consciousness; it’s when you’re alert and focused, but not necessarily hyper-concentrated on a task.

Alpha: With alpha, things begin to slow down. The alpha brainwave state correlates with “relaxed, passive attention” (Abhang, 2016).

In other words, when you’re on autopilot or doing a mundane task, your brain is in alpha. You’re focused and conscious, yes, but you’re also zoned out. When you’re enjoying a walk outside, taking part in a hobby like knitting or pottery, or on a break after a long meeting, you’re likely in alpha.

Theta: Theta is the middle ground between consciousness and unconsciousness. It’s the moment when your alarm goes off and you’re not fully awake, but also no longer sleeping.

Apart from that drowsy state in the morning and evening, we also enter theta when we’re doing repetitive tasks or are immersed in our imagination. Daydreaming and driving for long stretches on the highway often put people into the theta state.

In theta, some people can more easily access their creativity or “flow state,” since their conscious, thinking mind has turned down in volume. Theta can also be accessed through hypnosis and deep meditations, which we’ll dive into in a moment.

Delta: Finally, delta is the slowest brainwave state which we go into when we’re asleep and fully unconscious. We remain in delta when we dream, but our brainwaves slow even further when we are in dreamless sleep.

Hypnosis & Brainwaves

Someone in hypnosis is typically in the alpha or theta brainwave state, depending on how deeply they are relaxed.

Dr. Jan Philamon, who holds her PhD in Psychology, calls the alpha state the “gateway to the subconscious,” while she describes the theta state as the “realm of the subconscious” (Philamon, 2022). 

In other words, when you enter the alpha or theta state, you are able to begin changing the habits and beliefs stored in your subconscious, and break out of old patterns that are keeping you stuck.

People who have gone into the alpha or theta state to alter old patterns through hypnosis have been able to…

And more! And the exciting news is that you don’t have to rely on a hypnotist to access the alpha or brainwave state and tap into your subconscious—you can explore this work on your own time.

How can I access the alpha or theta brainwave state?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a common technique hypnotists use to bring their clients into the hypnotic state (alpha or theta brainwaves). PMR is the process of scanning your body and relaxing each muscle, starting from your face going all the way down to your toes.

Research has shown that PMR is an effective technique for boosting mental and physical feelings of relaxation, especially when coupled with guided imagery and breathwork (Toussaint, 2021). These three in combination essentially build a typical hypnosis session. 

Some versions of PMR also encourage you to tense the muscle group before relaxing it to show your brain and body the difference between the tension and relaxation. The YouTube video below guides you through this process:

After the PMR, you can simply relax, or you can practice different self-hypnosis techniques, such as repeating positive affirmations to yourself, or visualizing yourself reaching your goals or taking on a new habit.

When I tried hypnosis over a decade ago for stress management, the hypnotist guided me into PMR by having me visualize slowly going down a flight of stairs to a calm place – I still remember how relaxing and zen it felt!

Want to get started with a hypnotist? 

There are many hypnosis associations nationally and internationally.

To find a reliable hypnotist, ensure they have a form of certification. The National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) and Hypnotic World both have reputable training programs.

Titles can range between associations, but Certified Hypnotist or Certified Consulting Hypnotist are standard for those who have undergone foundational hypnosis training, and various board certifications are also possible for more experienced hypnotists as well. 

To find hypnotists through the NGH, click here: https://www.ngh.net/request-form/

To find hypnotists through Hypnotic World, click here: https://www.hypnoticworld.com/hypnotherapists/

Sources:

Abhang, P. A., Gawali, B. W. and Mehrotra, S. C. Abhang, P., Gawali, B., & Mehrotra, S. (2016). Technological Basics of EEG Recording and Operation of Apparatus. Introduction To EEG- And Speech-Based Emotion Recognition, 19-50. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-804490-2.00002-6

Crawford, H. J., & Barabasz, A. F. (1993). Phobias and intense fears: Facilitating their treatment with hypnosis. In J. W. Rhue, S. J. Lynn, & I. Kirsch (Eds.), Handbook of clinical hypnosis (pp. 311–337). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10274-015

Elkins, G., Jensen, M. P., & Patterson, D. R. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 55(3), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140701338621

Fisch, S., Brinkhaus, B. & Teut, M. Hypnosis in patients with perceived stress – a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med 17, 323 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-017-1806-0

Grégoire, C., Faymonville, M. E., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Jerusalem, G., Willems, S., & Bragard, I. (2021). Randomized controlled trial of a group intervention combining self-hypnosis and self-care: secondary results on self-esteem, emotional distress and regulation, and mindfulness in post-treatment cancer patients. Quality of life research : an international journal of quality of life aspects of treatment, care and rehabilitation, 30(2), 425–436. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-020-02655-7

Philamon, J. (2022). Brain Waves and Hypnosis. M1 Psychology. Retrieved 20 April 2022, from https://m1psychology.com/brain-waves-and-hypnosis/

What is the function of the various brainwaves? (1997, December 22). Scientific American. Retrieved 20 April 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-t-1997-12-22/

Toussaint, L., Nguyen, Q. A., Roettger, C., Dixon, K., Offenbächer, M., Kohls, N., Hirsch, J., & Sirois, F. (2021). Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2021, 5924040. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/5924040

Nature’s Brilliance — Food as Medicine

How 6 Natural Foods Have Impacted Modern Medicine

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is attributed to Hippocrates and although he did not see food and medicine as the same, it’s indicated from his writings that diet and lifestyle are central to health. 

But ancient cultures have used food as medicine for centuries, dating all the way back to the Egyptians who used various plants to treat everything from animal bites to mental health issues. Similarly, Chinese Herbalism and Indian Ayurvedic medicine are rooted in eating different foods to manage or cure different illnesses.

Pharmaceutical companies took notes from these ancient cultures and developed new drugs from the active compounds found on land and sea. My PhD thesis was on the synthesis of an anti-cancer compound that was extracted from natural plants – how cool is that?

This blog will highlight the wonders of nature – I’ll cover six foods and how they have impacted modern-day drugs.

 

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Whether it’s a green Granny Smith or a shiny Honeycrisp, apples have been integral to the research on drugs to balance blood sugar levels.

Apples have always been known to be great for managing blood sugar due to their fiber content, but a newly discovered compound in apples has actually led to the development of a new diabetes drug.

Discovered in the 2010s, the active compound in apples is phlorizin. The compound is found in unripe apples as well as apple tree bark, and it’s now used in drugs to help balance blood glucose levels in people living with diabetes.

 

Yam’s Medicinal Qualities

Yams are known for being sweet potato’s less popular cousin who gets to shine on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But did you know a compound in yams, specifically Mexican yams, has provided a multitude of medicinal benefits?

In the 1930s, researchers found the compound diosgenin in Mexican yams. Diosgenin was first used in the advent of birth control pills in the 1960s. In the years to follow, developers found that the compound was also effective to decrease inflammation for people with arthritis and dermatitis.

The Mexican yam derivative, diosgenin, is still used in drugs today, though it is more likely to be made in a laboratory than extracted from yams themselves. The holidays remain a yam’s time to shine!

 

Willow Bark’s Medicinal Qualities

Willow bark may be less commonly seen in day-to-day life, but if you have a willow tree in your yard, you may encounter it regularly!

In the 1820s, salicin was discovered in the bark of several varieties of willow trees. Since then, its uses have blossomed, providing anti-inflammatory as well as pain relieving effects. Its derivative, salicylic acid, is commonly used in the treatment of acne.

Salicin was also the original source of aspirin, one of the most commonly used pain relieving agents today.

 

Barley’s Medicinal Qualities

Barley is a grain that serves as a base to many foods: cereals, bread, beer, whiskey and more. Barley is a good source of carbohydrates and energy (and a buzz when in alcohol form), and has also opened doors for researchers to develop new drugs to assist with dental surgery.

Within Barley is a compound called gramine, which scientists found in the 1930s. Research on gramine led to the discovery of isogramine, which was then used to design lidocaine.

If you’ve ever gotten a tooth pulled, the dentist likely used lidocaine. We have barley to thank that a trip to the dentist can be (relatively) painless!

 

Peppermint’s Medicinal Qualities

Anyone have any gum? Well, a stick of gum likely doesn’t include peppermint’s active compound, though it takes on the minty flavor.

Peppermint is one of the longest used herbs for its medicinal qualities. Ancient cultures and today’s pharmaceutical companies alike have used peppermint to decrease joint pain, soothe itching on the skin, and manage hives (specifically hives connected to a condition called urticaria).

The compound in peppermint resulting in all of these health benefits is menthol, which is more of a household name as far as drug compounds go. Menthol directly sourced from peppermint is still in use today! BenGay is a commonly used topical pain reliever that uses menthol for pain relief.

 

Chili Pepper’s Medicinal Qualities

Chili peppers add more than a little (or a lot) of spice to your food. They’ve also made leaps and bounds in various pain relief medicines!

In the 1870s, scientists discovered the compound capsaicin in chili peppers. This is actually the same compound that makes your mouth burn when you eat something spicy!

In the medicinal context, however, capsaicin has been used in topical creams to relieve pain, especially for people suffering from osteo-arthritis and nerve pain from the shingles.

“Nature is so smart it put the medicine inside the food”  

Nature has created a plethora of fruits, herbs, and veggies that have been used to support health for centuries, in ways beyond providing basic nutrition. The best part? This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Researchers are currently exploring how herbal remedies, traditional medicines, and other compounds in everyday foods can open the doors to life-changing medicines. If you want to dive deeper into how food is used as medicine, check out the BBC article linked here for more information!Please note: this information is shared out of interest and not as a replacement for current medical treatment or as any medical advice. If you have any of the conditions mentioned in this article, please consult your doctor for medical advice.

Let them eat cake? Merci, Non!

I listened to another great podcast featuring Dr. Steven Gundry, a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon and New York Times bestselling author of The Plant Paradox and Plant Paradox Cookbook

Dr. Gundry explains what sugar is, why it’s harmful and some options for substituting it.  

Here are the highlights:

  • The average American eats around 153 pounds of sugar a year which is the size of a baby giraffe!
  • There are multiple forms of sugar: glucose, fructose, lactose are all sugar molecules.
  • Table sugar is sucrose which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
  • High fructose corn syrups are ~45% glucose and 55% fructose.
  • Many studies have been conducted indicating that fructose is worse than glucose and is the culprit in causing a fatty liver and elevated cholesterol levels. Bottom line: Sugar is sugar is sugar.
  • Most people do not realize the effect that sugar has on the gut microbiome. Bad bacteria and fungal species like candida yeast thrive on sugar. Good bacteria prefer complex sugar molecules with fiber as it’s easier to ferment.
  • Gundry believes that rationing sugar and flour during WWII was one of the reasons why diabetes and heart disease plummeted around the world during that period.
  • When you grind up whole products like wheat into flour, your body more readily absorbs them; that is why the glycemic index of white flour (85) is higher than white table sugar (58)!
  • Sugar takes a toll on our immune system. Research conducted by Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel Laureate showed that any type of sugar consumption (including orange juice) suppresses white blood cell function by 70% for up to 6 hours.
  • Everyone knows about the dangers of saturated fat and cholesterol BUT most cholesterol is manufactured in our body. And elevated cholesterol comes from sugar consumption. How? Sugar is converted into the first form of fat which is triglycerides (TG). TG in turn are carried by cholesterol. Hence, the more sugar you eat, the more TG you make and the higher your cholesterol level.
  • Gundry says that TG is one of the most important markers of coronary heart disease. And NO – having TG levels of 150 is NOT normal contrary to what the lab reference ranges indicate. You need TG levels of 40-50 to be optimal. Go get your TG checked!
  • Sugar is an incredibly addictive substance: Did you know that rats will choose sugar over cocaine if given a choice?
  • Why is getting off sugar so difficult? Because two-thirds of the human tongue’s surface is dedicated to tasting sweets and this was for survival reasons – to gain weight in the summer to store fat for the winter.
  • Gundry is not a fan of fruit either – modern fruit has been hybridized to be bigger and sweeter. And now fruit is available 365 days a year when it is meant to be eaten only in season
  • If you are eating fruit out of season, he recommends “reverse juicing”: buy organic fruit, juice it and throw away the juice! Just eat the pulp which has fiber and rich polyphenols and nutrients. You can mix the pulp in yogurts or put it in shakes.
  • Sugar is hiding everywhere – brown rice syrup, glucose, fructose, agave are all other words for sugar, so don’t be fooled by what’s on the label.
  • Here’s a shocking metric to see how much sugar you may be consuming in a serving:
    • Take the total carbohydrates per serving and subtract the fiber = number of net carbohydrates
    • 1 tsp of sugar has 4 grams of carbs
    • So a slice of bread with 21 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fiber (16g net) is like eating 4 tsps of table sugar! Making a sandwich? That’s 8 tsps!
  • It is best to retreat from sweets – sugar is hidden in products that don’t even taste sweet.
  • Here’s the skinny on sugar alternatives and why Dr. Gundry says you can have your cake and eat it too:
    • Sucralose (Splenda) is a must avoid. A study conducted at Duke University showed that one packet of Splenda killed 50% of the gut microbiome (the good kind)
    • Honey, coconut sugar, agave are all sugars. If substituting with honey, have only several teaspoons a day – and stick to local or Manuka honey
    • Allulose, monk fruit and stevia are good sweetener alternatives that do not spike glucose.
    • Allulose also contain prebiotic fiber which feeds the gut. Look for non-GMO allulose at the market or online.
    • Stevia is a good substitute but has some bitterness. You can try the Sweet Leaf brand Stevia which is blended with inulin (the sugar in chicory and a great prebiotic).
    • Yacon syrup is another option but has been known to raise triglyceride levels so best not to consume much

What I took away from this podcast? Remember Marie Antoinette’s famous quote: “If the people have no bread, let them eat cake”? I say neither!

Here is the podcast:

https://drgundry.com/healthy-sugar-alternatives/