With a growing number of people experiencing long COVID symptoms, researchers are increasingly looking to chronic conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia for answers. One possibility for offering these patients relief, says Ashok Gupta, clinic director of The Gupta Program, is using novel “brain retraining” techniques.
After experiencing chronic fatigue himself, Gupta says, “My 20 years of research combined with the latest findings about neuroplasticity, lead me to believe these conditions are ultimately caused by abnormalities in brain function, which can be reversed using revolutionary brain retraining techniques.”
Gupta calls this “Amygdala and Insula Retraining.”
Currently, an independent randomized controlled trial is underway to evaluate the effectiveness of The Gupta Program for treating “long haul” COVID. Additionally, other independent phase 2 and phase 3 clinical trials will soon launch to test The Gupta Program against other possible treatments for ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, MCS/mold illness and long haul COVID.
Brain Neuroplasticity Explained
Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, functionally and physically, by forming new neural connections. It’s a process that happens throughout life, and it’s what allows the brain to develop from infancy to adulthood.
Neuroplasticity is the process for permanent learning, such as language or learning to play an instrument. It’s also what makes the brain resilient.
Neurons are the brain’s nerve cells. Their neuroplasticity is how the brain can learn new skills, as well as compensate for disease and injury. The cells adjust their activities in response to new experiences, environment changes, behavior, thinking and emotions.
How does brain neuroplasticity affect your overall health?
The repetition of every action, emotion or thought reinforces a neural pathway, says Gupta. “We create new connections between neurons when we experience something new. Our brain is rewired to adapt to the new circumstance.”
This is true for the immune system as well, says Gupta. Each repetitive neural pathway forms a new way of being, which can be helpful or harmful. Repeated frequently enough, neural pathways can change how the brain works. “This is a process that not only happens on a day-to-day basis but is something we can actively stimulate and encourage. In our hypothesis, we are taking advantage of the neuroplastic aspects of our brain to directly retrain unconscious nervous and immune system responses,” says Gupta.
Gupta explains that chronic illnesses like long COVID, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) are Neuro-Immune Conditioned Syndromes (NICS).
Neuro: they involve the nervous system and the brain.
Immune: they have an over triggering of the immune system.
Conditioned: the brain’s response is a learned overreaction.
Syndrome: the resulting effect is a collection of symptoms that are particular to each person.
While symptoms of chronic illnesses may occur all over the body, Gupta believes the source is caused by abnormalities in a brain structure called the amygdala and the insula.
It’s the amygdala’s job is to protect the body from potential threats. Research for this area of the brain traditionally focused on physiological or emotional threats. However, recent research is showing that the amygdala and insula are involved in protection mechanisms and conditioned immune responses related to chemical and immunological threats as well.
How chronic fatigue syndrome led to research in brain neuroplasticity
Gupta’s research in how neuroplasticity can affect the nerve and immune system began when he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. His journey to heal was the catalyst for his life’s work in developing “The Gupta Program.”
As an undergraduate student in Cambridge, Gupta visited India and picked up a stomach bug, “Delhi belly,” as they call it in the UK. He returned to England and assumed he’d recover. Instead, he says, “It got worse until I hit a brick wall. I just couldn’t get out of bed.”
Doctors diagnosed him with myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). He learned there is no cure, its cause is unknown and some people struggle for decades.
“Imagine being told that in your early 20s? I said to myself, I’m going to do whatever it takes to get over this illness. And if I get better, I will dedicate the rest of my life to helping others with this condition,” says Gupta.
Gupta studied medical journals, books and brain neurology, taking what he learned and applying it. “I managed to retrain my brain through hypotheses and got myself 100 percent better,” he says.
He published his findings in Medical Hypotheses in 2002. He has since spent the last 20 years researching and refining this explanation.
Gupta has dedicated his career to treating patients with chronic conditions, like CFS, with the holistic health method he developed using neuroplasticity brain retraining techniques.
Understanding the unconscious brain to treat chronic diseases
While dietary, activity level changes and supplements can all help to improve chronic fatigue symptoms and other chronic illnesses, Gupta says the brain is a “black box” at the core of so many illnesses.
“It’s very difﬁcult to measure what is going on in the brain,” says Gupta. “The physical body is what mainstream medicine is good at measuring and ﬁxing. Our brains and nervous system are wired into every organ and cell that tells the body what to do. But now we’re saying what happens if it’s actually software problems, not hardware problems?”
Gupta explains that when the brain gets stuck in “software bugs,” it causes downstream symptoms in the body that lead to a lack of homeostasis. “The purpose of neuro-plasticity brain retraining is to bring your brain and your nervous system back to its factory setting, its default setting. So it resets all these little bugs, and in that state, our bodies naturally heal from so many different conditions.”
Symptoms from many different conditions are often caused by an overreaction of the nervous system and immune system. For example, the flu can cause headache, nausea, exhaustion and dizziness. The symptoms are actually caused by the immune system responding to the virus, rather than the virus itself.
Knowing this, says Gupta, is “highly empowering because that’s our own reaction. So if we can moderate the reaction, then we can bring the body back to balance.”
The amygdala and insula hypothesis
Gupta’s medical research seems to indicate that some chronic conditions are neurological in nature. They may be caused by abnormalities in a brain structure called the “amygdala” and the “insula.”
When it comes to some chronic conditions, Gupta says the amygdala and insula become conditioned to continually over-stimulate the body. This is because during an initial trauma, such as an acute virus, the amygdala can learn to be hyper-reactive to any symptoms detected in the body.
From then on the amygdala and insula in conjunction with other brain structures, continually over-stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and the immune system.
Causes of chronic fatigue, long COVID and chronic pain
The first step for someone experiencing symptoms of long COVID, extreme fatigue or chronic pain is to get examined by a doctor because there are many possible causes for symptoms.
With COVID-19, some patients experience their body’s overreaction to symptoms. In extreme cases, this is what causes a cytokine storm, where excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines leads to widespread tissue damage. This can result in multi-organ failure and death.
Gupta says this happens when “the brain believes we may not be able to ﬁght off COVID-19. So it over responds, creating the inﬂammatory response.”
For others, who might have had mild cases of COVID-19, their bodies can continue to experience symptoms of long COVID.
In some cases of long COVID, as well as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, a patient will hear that there’s nothing more traditional medicine can do. Then, says Gupta, the probable cause of exhaustion, fatigue and pain is being caused by the patient’s own nervous system and immune system.
The nervous system, immune system, brain and body itself is a “survival machine,” says Gupta. Surviving is the number one priority so we can pass on our genes to the next generation.
In the case of a virus, like COVID, the immune system works to ﬁght off the virus. For some people with a weakened immune system, it’s possible for the brain to “err on the side of caution, unsure about ﬁghting off this particular virus,” says Gupta.
“Now imagine in that moment, the brain makes a decision that survival is more important than wellness. Once it ﬁghts off the virus, there’s a legacy where the brain says, ‘just make sure I survive.’”
When this is the case, any little condition or experience that reminds the brain of COVID-19 can trigger the immune system or nervous system. “The brain is now overstimulating the nervous system and the immune system, creating ﬂu-like symptoms in the body.”
Those symptoms now become conditioned stimuli, or triggers for the body or brain. “The symptoms double back to a hypersensitive brain that says perhaps we’re still in danger from that virus or that infection,” says Gupta.
Hypersensitive immune system leads to cycle of chronic illness symptoms
Triggering the nervous system and immune system can cause muscle aches and pains, exhaustion, post exertional malaise and more. These symptoms are then detected by a hypervigilant, hypersensitive brain causing a vicious cycle where the brain responds to the body and the body responds to the brain.
“The inputs and the outputs of the system have become connected. So now we don’t need an external virus or infection or chemical to create this lack of homeostasis,” says Gupta.
The body becomes trapped in a vicious cycle both at a localized level and a centralized level. The pain signals get magniﬁed, and the pain networks become hyper-sensitive. In some cases, something that actually isn’t that painful may be magniﬁed in the brain.
Pain in the body where it has no obvious organic cause and all other routes are exhausted may mean neuro rewiring is required to reset the body.
Gupta’s team just published the ﬁrst ever randomized control trial on the effects of neuroplasticity brain retraining on fibromyalgia in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. The study indicated that a novel neuroplasticity treatment program could be an effective treatment for fibromyalgia.
After an eight week intervention there was a close to a 40 percent reduction in ﬁbromyalgia scores, while there were zero effects in a control group engaging in relaxation techniques. For pain, anxiety and depression there was a 50 percent increase in functional capacity.
Gupta says they’re now looking for the phase three trials.
Conditions that can be treated by neuroplasticity brain retraining
The main conditions that can be treated by neuroplasticity brain retraining tend to be chronic fatigue syndrome, ﬁbromyalgia and long-haul COVID, says Gupta. In addition to that, the method can be used on conditions that have been triggered by something external. Examples include mold illness, chemical sensitivities and food sensitivities.
According to Gupta, neuroplasticity brain retraining helps patients with the following conditions who haven’t found relief from traditional medicine:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Long-Haul COVID
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
- Electric sensitivities
- Mold Sensitivities
- Pain Syndromes
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Using neuroplasticity brain retraining to treat food sensitivities
Gupta says neuroplasticity brain rewiring can help with severe food allergies and sensitivities. The brain is a survival machine. When a person goes through a stressful, sensitizing event, there tends to be alterations in the gut. When stress goes directly to the gut, a person feels tightness and tension there. Gupta explains this causes a reaction where the gut is constantly evaluating whether a food is good or bad in this altered state where a person isn’t feeling their best. “Many people ﬁnd that their food sensitivities keep increasing.”
The challenge, says Gupta, is once the initial anxiety ebbs, there’s a legacy of the event in the gut. “That’s what we’re retraining to say we no longer need to be sensitive to that food.”
Over time, the person is able to improve.
How neuroplasticity brain retraining exercises work
Studies show that practices like meditation and deep relaxation techniques lower pain by reducing the sensitive pain networks.
For The Gupta Program, Gupta’s team draws from many areas of coaching and therapy, including Neuro-Linguistic Programming, meditation, Time Line Therapy, breathwork, parts therapy, visualization and more.
Gupta says The Gupta Program is helpful for those without chronic illness as well, especially for people dealing with stress. Generally when people have low energy, they consider changing their diet or exercising more. But worry is one of the biggest drains on energy. Just by worrying, even sitting at a desk all day can leave a person exhausted by the end. “They get exhausted from that mental churning and that mental worry,” says Gupta.
For this Gupta recommends a technique that helps people maintain energy levels even with persistent negative thoughts. He calls this “The New Groove Technique.”
Here’s how it works to rewire the brain from the negative thoughts
1) Stop: Notice a particular repetitive thought pattern. Interrupt the thoughts by repeatedly saying stop, singing or even laughing out loud. Anything that breaks that particular pattern will work.
2) Surrender: Take a slow deep breath in and then breathe out while imagining someone who represents love. Surrender that emotion and thought by imagining it’s being absorbed by a representation of love.
3) Shift perspective: Reframe by considering how to look at the situation differently.
4) Substitute: Choose a new way to feel about the thought with this new perspective.
Throughout this neuroplasticity exercise to reduce a negative thought, Gupta recommends breathing slowly and deeply with a smile. This helps the body and mind relax more, which is Gupta’s goal for every person he supports.
For more information about The Gupta Program go to www.guptaprogram.com.