The following article is a transcript of Dr. Sedlacek’s talk at the 1976 annual convention of the Foundation for Alternative Cancer Therapies.The introduction is made by Clinton R. Miller of the National Health Federation who served as Master of Ceremonies.
Clinton Miller – Our next speaker is a distinguished doctor. There are probably less than ten men in America that have his degree or his training. He is an investigator in biofeedback and Psychosomatic medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital; he is in private practice and has made a few inroads into heretofore uncharted land. He has a book being published soon, “How to Kill Stress Before It Kills You.”
Dr. Sedlacek: On this nice day, I’d like to talk a little about some unpleasant facts of life, that is, stress, disregulation and disease. Briefly, I want to go over a little about the history of what we consider the theory of stress-related diseases, which is commonly called Psychosomatic Medicine, that is, such diseases as migraine headaches, tension headaches, ulcers, colitis, hypertension, asthma, these kinds of diseases which very clearly relate to nervous stimuli, to physical disease and then organ damage and destruction.
Originally, the whole concept actually was coined by Dr. Hans Selye who is now in Canada and has been practicing for about 40 years. Before him, however, there was one other doctor I would like to mention, Dr. Walter B. Cannon,
from Harvard University who first brought the idea and concept that through our own hyperactivity of our organs and hormones that we could cause disease. He originally called this the emergency response or the flight or fight response; that is, that’s the reaction when we’re frightened, scared or preserving or attempting to preserve our life. In a fight, our systems are designed for approximately 30 to 50,000 years now to provide us with the ability to flee as rapidly as possible. Our hormones, such as the stress hormones or steroids, are put out rapidly from the adrenal glands and from our own neural activity. We are then in a position to best conserve our energy, to conserve our blood loss and to flee or fight as rapidly as possible.
We’re going to talk a little more about that emergency response. This is the response that probably is the main cause for the incidence of epidemics, of such diseases as hypertension, heart attacks, strokes and more recently, it appears,we are in the midst of a diabetes epidemic.
After he had developed the emergency flight-or-fight response, not too much happened until Dr. Selye coined the whole phrase activity to stress. He was looking for a hormone which would indicate some of the reactivity of the body and what actually happened was that he found that when he injected hormones into the body, he got stress reaction. This reaction consisted of a stress ulcer. He thought he had discovered a new hormone. When he checked his results, he found that a whole variety of stimuli could cause this kind of stress ulcer – such things as X-rays, colds, stress or pressure, excess activity, noise, all of the things that we commonly refer to as stressors; almost anything that causes us to react with emergency flight-or-fight response.
Since almost any stimuli could cause this, he felt that what was really happening was that these diseases were actually stress-related diseases. Given enough stress, enough difficulty, a person who is not able to handle it physically or mentally would cause organ damage. A stress ulcer in the duodenum, which is an increase of hydrochloric acid production, is an actual physical reaction. There are other upsets and problems in the G-I system which are often misunderstood because we are not handling stress. When you get nervous you increase your hormone output. When this situation is carried on long enough without proper intervention or regulation, it produces a condition which is called disregulation. Our system, our bodies and our minds adjust to stress and turn out more hormones which starts a reactive pattern and can cause disease and finally death, either of the organ or of the person itself.
What we’re really talking about in life and disease is distress not stress. Stress is all of the stimuli that go on around us. Distress is the actual disease or the disregulation that comes about when we’re not handling stress properly. That’s the real point of my lecture – to talk about disregulation and self-regulation. As I’ll point out later, Biofeedback is probably the newest and probably one of the best self-regulatory systems to come along so that we can healthfully regulate our bodies.
This has been the situation for the last few years; there’s been a lot of discussion about the cause of disease4 there’s been a lot of discussion about the effect of diet, the effect of exercise and the effect of drugs and surgery. These are common modes used to handle stress-related diseases.
Let me give you an example with one of our more prevalent diseases – migraine headache.
Twenty percent of the people have symptoms maybe fifteen or twenty minutes before the attack. In many cases, the night before or the day before, they feel restless, they feel an increase in appetite or they may feel a little depressed. Immediately before the attack, some people may see spots before their eyes, their hands may be cold, they may have nausea and vomiting. Then comes the headache. First there is a vasal constriction of the arteries in the head and then there is a vasal dilation. The arteries open up and cause a throbbing, painful headache. This is what most people call the migraine headache.
Now looking at it as a stress-related disease, you can see what happens. First a person is under stress. They may be nervous, excited about something, it doesn’t really make a difference whether you’re excited or unhappy. What matters is whether you can handle it or self-regulate it. If a person is nervous or excited, his arteries are going to spasm. The body tries to correct this by regulating, that is, opening the arteries which causes a painful, throbbing headache. I’ll talk later how we’ll treat it with biofeedback.
Traditionally the methods for treating this is to medicate in the initial period. When the artery is constricting, one medicates to open up the artery. In many cases though, if you are not early enough with the medication, you have to go through the headache. The common thing is to take a tranquilizer, an anti-depressant, or one of the vaso-dilator or constrictor drugs. If you’re too late, you still have the headache.
What we’d like to do is to try to get people to reduce some of the stressors. A person develops a pattern of disregulation. They develop arteries which more easily spasm. They become fearful of an attack so that becomes the stimuli.
There are other examples, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Until recently, doctors gave more and more medication. People believe that one should be treated with a pill, medication of injection. Instead of changing the conditions or regulating stressors, we look for the pill, tranquilizer or if necessary surgery.
Now that’s a little background on stress and how stress moves into distress, into disregulation and then into disease. I’ve tried to outline that with one stress-related disease, migraine headache.
Let me go on now and talk a little about what happened with biofeedback and how we all got involved with biofeedback and self-regulation.
B. F. Skinner felt that we could not regulate our bodies. B. F. Skinner felt that we had no control over our autonomic system. That’s the nervous system that enervates everything from our head through our gut. The only evidence against that was some of the yogis that said they could regulate their breathing rate, oxygen consumption through meditative techniques.
B. F. Skinner’s theories held until scientists and medical people of this country and the world felt that you couldn’t change the internal regulation of our bodies or the internal workings until Neil Mueller at Rockefeller University did some very interesting work showing that rats could change their heart rate or blood pressure.
Originally we thought these patterns worked together, that is, when the heart rate went up, you probably got an increase in blood pressure.
Well, Dr. Mueller showed this wasn’t so. If you could specifically train animals, you can train people with proper training procedures and proper equipment and proper therapy to increase or decrease their heart rate or blood pressure. And you can separate those out. You can increase the heart rate and decrease the blood pressure. You can decrease the heart rate and increase the blood pressure.
This was clearly demonstrated by Dr. Schwartz at Harvard University with male and female college students.
The point was that people can change the autonomic functions. Given proper training procedures we can self-regulate to a greater degree than thought. Psychotherapists and analysts did it at random and verbally but Mueller really developed the biofeedback system. He didn’t call it that but called it self regulation.
Since that time in the late sixties, probably some of you have heard about biofeedback, because after Dr. Mueller did his initial work, other people became very interested in brainwaves and the idea that you could feedback brainwaves and have people change their consciousness or to relax them or to have more visual images to regulate late their bodies by learning to regulate their brainwaves.
Now, about actual treatments with biofeedback. The concept is to give information back to us by our own bodies by seeing a dial or hearing a sound. The idea is to give information about our body that we are actually not aware of. With practice and skill, we are able to control or regulate our autonomic function – the internal machinery of our body.
After it was shown that you could influence and self-regulate brainwaves, the next ma°or step and first clinical treatment came about by Dr. Elmer Green at Menniger’s Foundation. He devised a simple little biofeedback machine for temperature. By putting a thermostat on the patient’s hand and feeding back the information, they could send more blood or open up the arteries in the shoulder and arm and warm the hand on command.
A research project was started with about 30 housewives and an interesting phenomenon occurred. One woman, who suffered from migraine headaches, reported that she felt she was going to have a headache, did her hand-warming techniques and the headache stopped. It was tried with about four or five other people and,again, they were able to self-regulate their migraine headache attacks.
The project was expanded to 42 patients. 25 of these were able to stop their headaches entirely by learning and practicing the relaxation techniques twice a day for about 15 minutes. More interestingly, is that the few women who did stop their home practice sessions, the headaches returned. This makes sense. What was done with the vaso-dilation hand-warming was to stabilize the arteries so they were less liable to go into spasm.
Subsequent work showed that 80% of the patients learning relaxation and biofeedback techniques could self-regulate their tension.
This concept is the basis of biofeedback. After considerable practice sessions and enough information about their symptoms or disease, they learn to self-regulate the symptoms and get them back under their own control. In time the regulatory pattern and learning pattern are incorporated into their own brain and nervous system so that the machine is no longer needed.
The work which first started with headaches has expanded to many other diseases, such as hyper-activity, Reynaud’s disease, high blood pressure, epilepsy and others. But most important is improvement of the autonomic nervous system.
We can now regulate and decrease sympathetic tone. This seems to be the cause of a lot of symptoms. So by teaching a person to specifically decrease sympathetic tone, they are able to decrease symptoms of distress signs they have.
Now, I think I’ve covered most of the work about biofeedback and self-regulation. We’re interested in the person gaining or regaining control of his own body, his own emotions and then to follow through and continue that improvement. So I say to all of you, if you are not involved with some kind of relaxation technique or meditation or biofeedback that you seriously consider it and I think it will be, hopefully, a general health policy for people instead of aspirins and tranquilizers.
About 5 years ago, Dr. Holmes and Dr. Raff out in California, wanted to make a judgment of how stress effected a person’s health. They studied people’s lives for a period of two years by having them keep a record of events in their lives and these were given a numerical scale. If the total was about 100 or 150, only about 30% developed a major change in their health. Approximately 50% of the people developed some disease or disorder if the range was about 200. If people had over 300 points, they found about 85% developed a serious health problem.
Now, Holmes and Raff are very clear about a point I made and I want to make it again. It is not the amount of stress but whether or not you are dealing with it. If you are not handling stress, it’s probably going to handle you.
WASTE IN THE COLON
American physicians have contended for decades that it does not matter whether a person has one or two bowel movements a day or only two or three a week. That view has been challenged by British and South African medical scientists who suggest that regularity may be a matter of life and death. Too few bowel movements and too little bulk in the stools may explain the occurrence of such varied disorders as heart and gall-bladder disease, diverticulosis, varicose veins, hiatal hernia and cancer of the large intestine.
The scientists conducted elaborate experiments in which volunteers in England, India and Africa had their bowel movements clocked and their feces weighed. Among the results of the study: peoples living under primitive conditions, on diets high in indigestible fibers, passed from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 times as much feces as sailors in the Royal Navy, and were relatively free of many of the diseases studied.
The ways in which low-weight, sluggish bowel movements might contribute to so many diverse diseases are complex and indirect. Diverticulosis – in which the large bowel is deeply pitted and fecal material is trapped in the crevices – appears to be directly related to a diet rich in such highly refined carbohydrates as white flour and sugar. Tumors, both benign and malignant, are related to biochemical and bacterial changes caused by long retention of feces.