This article is part of the IBD Index. Last updated on May 5, 2022.
The Dynamic Neural Retraining System, or DNRS, is one of those programs that appears to toe the line between “this is totally miraculous” and “this is total bullshit.” How could someone possibly go from, say, being wheelchair- and house-bound, and only able to eat a few foods, to being totally and completely healthy, just by doing some mental exercises?
It sounds like magic, but this is the promise of neuroplasticity. It’s not easy, but it’s powerful. And for many with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, it could be the missing piece – the reason that all of the drugs and diets and supplements haven’t worked, despite great effort and dedication.
Table of Contents:
What is DNRS?
How does DNRS work?
Do people with IBD have limbic system impairment?
Can DNRS work for ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease?
How much does DNRS cost? Is it worth it?
What is the Dynamic Neural Retraining System?
The Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) is a program of targeted mental exercises, affirmations, and visualizations that was designed using the principles of neuroplasticity to “rewire” the brain.
It was created by Annie Hopper in the process of healing herself from severe multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), electric hypersensitivity syndrome, and fibromyalgia. In the DNRS course, she explains how her conditions had become so severe that she had to live in a tent and then on a houseboat, because she was too sensitive to chemicals and EMFs to live in her house.
Anyone who is familiar with MCS and related chronic illnesses knows that there isn’t much that Western medicine can do to help, and many doctors will even act as if the patient is exaggerating or making up their symptoms, because they cannot find anything physically wrong with their bodies.
DNRS is built on the premise that behind all of these “mysterious” chronic illnesses is something Annie calls “limbic system impairment.” Per the Queensland Brain Institute, “the limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviors we need for survival: feeding, reproduction and caring for our young, and fight or flight responses.”
The idea behind limbic system impairment is that the brain is interpreting harmless environmental stimuli (for instance, perfumes, EMFs, foods, sounds, or even social interactions) as life-threatening, leading to very real physical reactions. Annie frames it as the brain being stuck in “fight or flight” mode, but I don’t think that quite captures the complexity.
But in any case, it’s very clear that traumatic experiences of all sorts (whether physical like a car accident, biological like a viral infection, or mental/emotional trauma) can “rewire” the brain in maladaptive ways. DNRS was designed to reverse that.
How Does DNRS Work?
This page on the DNRS website covers what you can expect from the program. I’d recommend watching the video on the page – I found it very helpful to understand the principles behind the program.
DNRS works using the principles of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change and adapt in both structure and function in response to experience. Although it probably seems obvious now that the brain can change (how else would we learn new things?), the concept of neuroplasticity is relatively new, and wasn’t widely discussed until the mid 1900s.
I find it easiest to think of the brain like any other part of our body. Like a muscle or a bone, it changes and adapts in response to our environment. And like a muscle, it has certain patterns and pathways that it relaxes into when we aren’t exerting intentional effort (slouching, anyone?).
However, with intentional effort, we can act out new patterns and pathways. Like exercising our muscles, it’s hard and takes focus and concentration, but with enough consistent repetition over time, these new patterns and pathways become our default. Just as our muscles can eventually maintain good posture out of habit, we can retrain our brains to maintain adaptive signaling and thought patterns out of habit, too.
Do People With IBD Have Limbic System Impairment?
So that’s cool and all, but do people with IBD actually have limbic system impairment? The common conception of IBD is that it’s a body disorder, not a brain disorder, and under that paradigm, DNRS seems totally irrelevant.
However, it’s well-accepted now that IBD involves – among other things – a maladaptive immune response to commensal flora in the intestine. And the immune system is, of course, controlled by the brain (albeit unconsciously). In that sense, IBD certainly fits into a framework of “maladaptive response to harmless stimuli” as a result of patterns of nervous system activation.
I plan to delve far more deeply into the relevant science in another post, but for now, you can check out this 2019 review article: The role of the autonomic nervous system in the pathogenesis and therapy of IBD. I’ve also talked about this topic some in my article about vagus nerve stimulation for IBD.
Essentially, maintaining balance between the branches of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic) is crucial for maintaining proper homeostasis. The sympathetic branch is responsible for mounting the body’s defenses (including inflammation) in threatening situations, while the parasympathetic branch is responsible for turning off that response and returning the body to a state of growth and repair.
Therefore, sympathetic overactivity or parasympathetic underactivity can lead to unresolved inflammation and other effects of chronic stress.
We have evidence that disrupted autonomic balance is involved in IBD. And the limbic system regulates the autonomic nervous system. So whether or not you choose to use the term “limbic system impairment,” I think it’s highly likely that most people with IBD have some type of nervous system imbalance that is contributing to ongoing disease processes, and that therapies targeting the limbic system could address that imbalance.
Can DNRS Work for Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease?
DNRS was designed for and is primarily marketed towards people with chronic illnesses such as multiple chemical sensitivities, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, PTSD, anxiety, POTS, and chronic Lyme disease; essentially, the patient population that Western medicine has the least to offer.
My current thinking is that the ideal IBD healing protocol would include some type of neural retraining (not necessarily DNRS) along with other modalities like diet, environmental optimization, and other targeted therapies. The paradigm I’ve recently adopted for thinking about chronic illness is that one must create a healthy environment, and then adapt to it. We tend to focus on the former; brain retraining addresses the latter.
How Much Does DNRS Cost? Is it Worth It?
The online program is $350. I’m not sure how much the in-person seminars cost.
Is it worth it? Hard for me to say, because I haven’t been able to compare it to any other brain retraining programs out there; this just happens to be the one I came across first, so it’s the one I bought.
Here are my personal reservations about the DNRS program:
- the online program itself is a bit haphazard and outdated, and I struggled to get the videos to play at times and have had some trouble logging in
- your $350 only gets you access to the program for one year, rather than lifetime access, and they also try to upcharge you to buy additional videos
- it’s designed for people with MCS and similar illnesses, not IBD
However, they do offer a money back guarantee, and will refund the full $350 after six months if you haven’t experienced benefits from the program.
I personally think the purchase was worth it, because despite the above-listed shortcomings, I’ve found the framework it offers invaluable. That said, I have no idea whether a different brain retraining program might be better.
If you’re on the fence, I’d say go for it. If not this specific program, one of the other brain retraining programs available. (And if you try a different one, tell me about it!)