Can Hypnosis Help You Quit Smoking or Lose Weight? – Pt. 2 with Dr. Mike Dow

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

The connection between your mind and your body is extremely powerful. If you can learn to harness this connection, you can make drastic improvements in your life. In the second part of Hypnosis Week, Dr. Daniel Amen is joined by author Dr. Mike Dow to discuss the surprising way you can use your mind to help heal your body.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit

Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're in hypnosis week and I'm here with Dr. Mike Dow.

Let's talk about some of the uses. Some of the appropriate uses and maybe some of the inappropriate uses. They're many myths about it like you lose control. I mean I've been doing it for 40 years, over a thousand patients, nobody loses control. You'll do something against your will. I've never had that happen although I'm not giving people -- and you probably aren't giving people -- the suggestions to do bad things.

Dr Mike Dow: That's right.

Dr Daniel Amen: Never heard of that.

Dr Mike Dow: False memories. That it's going to create false memories. Absolutely not. Unless I would lead you in to something. You and I are never going to want somebody to believe something that's not there of course.

Dr Daniel Amen: And memory's tricky because you can make up memories.

Dr Mike Dow: Of course.

Dr Daniel Amen: And that's one of the reasons they actually took hypnosis out of courtrooms.

Dr Mike Dow: Yes. That's right.

Dr Daniel Amen: Because they found the memories were not always accurate.

Dr Mike Dow: That's right.

Dr Daniel Amen: And I think that's fair to say.

Dr Mike Dow: But it's also the-

Dr Daniel Amen: The mind is a meaning machine and it creates things all the time.

Dr Mike Dow: Which is also why in police line-ups, it's double blind. So the policeman who's there with you doesn't know who their number one suspect is because he's going to look at you and say, "So do you think it's Witness number two?" That policeman's ... Even the tone of that policeman or policewoman's voice is going to lead you into saying, "Maybe it is Suspect number two." So yes, there's a reason why that suggestibility, it is something to notice but the brain isn't going to just ... I think people are a little bit afraid of that that it's going to, "Oh. I'm going to plant some memory of Santa Claus breaking into my home and robbing us when we were seven." Well that's not going to happen right?

Dr Daniel Amen: Let's hope not. So where is it helpful? It can help people stop smoking.

Dr Mike Dow: Absolutely.

Dr Daniel Amen: It can help them with weight as long as it's part of a rationale weight program right? You're not going to be eat everything you desire just because you've been under a trance that will magically make it happen. But it certainly can support it.

Dr Mike Dow: Absolutely.

Dr Daniel Amen: I've seen it really be helpful for pain syndromes. I also think it's incredibly helpful for sleep.

Dr Mike Dow: Yep.

Dr Daniel Amen: All of these things. You know I think on a really basic level when you look at a ... And another thing you're going to be doing for me here at Amen Clinics is looking at a qEEG and looking at my brain waves. At a very basic level, hypnosis is simply slowing the brain waves down from-

Dr Mike Dow: We don't know. We're going to find that out.

Dr Daniel Amen: Hopefully.

Dr Mike Dow: We'll find that out.

Dr Daniel Amen: Hopefully. [crosstalk 00:03:59] meditation fooled us. Meditation actually sped them up.

Dr Mike Dow: So we think of delta, sleepy waves. Theta, daydreaming waves. Alpha, relaxed but focused. Beta, focused. High beta, anxious. Well I haven't heard of gamma waves which are super fast. But when people go in meditative states they're gamma waves elevate. And I'm like, "Wow. That's so interesting that meditations doesn't tune you out. It tunes you in." And so our hypothesis ... We'll see with your brain because will slow waves surge? Would make sense. Or is it really fast waves. We published a study on a Kundalini yoga form of mediation, it's called Kirtan Kriya.

Dr Daniel Amen: I love that.

Dr Mike Dow: It's a chanting SA TA NA MA. And after eight weeks of doing this simple 12 minute meditation, they had stronger resting frontal lobe function. Stronger resting executive function, focus, forethought, judgment, impulse control.

Dr Daniel Amen: Isn't that incredible?

Dr Mike Dow: Isn't that crazy? So when I was an intern, my year of hypnosis, I decided I would do groups on the units I was on for the nurses. Because I realized if the nurses loved me, my internship year would be awesome. But if the nurses hated me, then my internship year would be hell.

Dr Daniel Amen: You're very smart.

Dr Mike Dow: And being married to a nurse I know that is absolutely true. And so I used to run a group for them where we'd do weight loss and smoking and pain reduction, anxiety reduction. It was so effective. But at the end of one group, this really pretty nurse came up to me and said, "I'm having problems getting pregnant. Do you think you could help me?" And I'm like, "I don't know. That sounds interesting to me."

Dr Daniel Amen: I'll take this on. Let's find out.

Dr Mike Dow: And what happened is because she was having trouble getting pregnant, every time she had sex with her husband, she would start crying. So she's traumatized by her infertility. And so I put her in a trance and I made her tape. And I had her imagine her uterus and her Fallopian tubes, which most people don't know, but they're all muscle. They're all smooth muscle. And what happens to muscle when you become unhappy, when you become anxious, or when you become stressed, is they clamp down just like the smooth muscle on the blood vessels in the other patient that we talked about. And so I made her a tape so that after every time she had sex, she listened to the tape and it would put her in a relaxed hypnotic state. And that's what you want. And two months later, she's pregnant. Make sense?

But the mistake I made was I went home and I told my wife. I said, "Hey. I helped a really pretty nurse at work get pregnant." That didn't go over very well.

Dr Daniel Amen: It makes a lot of sense. There was an Ohio State University Department of Psychiatry study that actually measured immune response. They actually used really stressed out medical students as they were facing their exams. And the control group didn't practice self-hypnosis. So they were taught hypnosis and then they used it at home. And then they measured their immune system response via blood. And the control group didn't practice self-hypnosis. And of course in medical school these exams are very, very stressful so it may mimic something that you're facing at home. A stressful life event going through a divorce or losing a job or something. And they found that the people who practiced self-hypnosis, those medical students, that the markers of their immune response went up. And the people who did not practice self-hypnosis, they went down significantly.

So you know, I think that there is hard, solid evidence that this integration of mind and bodies is there. It's not this airy, fairy, Berkeley, granola crunchy thing that we're just going to visualize things and they're going to happen. It actually works. In study after study, in bed wetting children, they put it up against a prescription anti-depressant or hypnosis. They were both equally effective.

I think the other thing, a VA study looking at smoking. I think the one mistake people make, there's all these hypnosis clinics in strip malls. And they think, "Oh. I'm just going to go one hypnosis session and then I'll be done. I'm going to lose weight or quit smoking." I think those are probably the two, right? Smoking and weight loss. And they think, "I'm just going to get hypnotized once and then I'll be cured." Well it doesn't really work quite like that. And I still have to make other changes. And it works in an integrative way. So I like this VA study because they were still using other strategies. They were using replacement therapy. These veterans that were trying to quit smoking were still given the patch. So it wasn't, "Let's just go to that mini mall and get one session of hypnosis and then you're cured." It wasn't like that at all. It was several sessions. It was using other strategies with hypnosis as a sort of 360 whole person centered treatment and they were, of course, the veterans who got hypnosis were much more likely to quit smoking.

Dr Mike Dow: So the other group got the traditional things. And the hypnosis group got the traditional things plus hypnosis and they had a significant increase.

Dr Daniel Amen: That's right.

Dr Mike Dow: And that's my experience.

So another one of my favorite stories. So when I was an intern. Now I'm in Neurology. And neurologists don't like psychiatrists. Isn't that interesting? Neurologists and psychiatrists got divorced a hundred years ago. And it's funny. The founder of psychiatry really is Sigmund Freud who was a neurologist. I had a very famous patient ... because Walter Reed's this very well known place and he was a World War II hero who'd written a best selling book. He was able to rescue many Jews out of Germany during the Nazi era. He now had Parkinson's. And he's as sweet as can be. And what was different about me when I was an intern is I like to sit and talk to my patients because you know, I'm a psychiatrist by nature. I like the relationship. So he and I had this very good relationship. And I'm on call one night and he's like, "Will you give me a sleeping pill?" And I'm like, "Well of course. But can I hypnotize you instead?" Now he has Parkinson's. And he had bad Parkinson's. His tremor was really terrible. And that can really interfere with sleep.

And I remember putting him in a trance. Before I put him to sleep, his tremor went away. And in my mind, I went, "Oh my God. That's so cool. My God, that's so cool." But then, you know, I was cool and my daughter who's 15 says I don't have game which is funny because I got her mother so I totally got game.

Dr Daniel Amen: Who's smart and beautiful so clearly you have game.

Dr Mike Dow: I have game. But anyways, I was really cool in that situation. But internally, the little four year old in me is jumping up and down, "This is so cool. This is so cool."

So in the morning when we were on rounds, I told my attending, his name was Dr. Jabari about the hypnosis session the night before and how his tremor went away in a trance. Now Parkinsonian tremors go away when they sleep so there's some connection between hypnosis and sleep but he clearly wasn't sleeping. I remember when I told my attending, he rolled his eyes at me. And I looked at him. I went, "No. Watch." And in front of eight of my fellow interns and the attending, I put him in a trance and now he's fully awake and he has no tremors.

Dr Daniel Amen: Isn't that incredible?

Dr Mike Dow: And Dr Jabari went, "Whoa." And that afternoon, we filmed it and he did an EEG on him. You're going to have an EEG. And it became my first professional paper.

Dr Daniel Amen: That's incredible. Alright.

Dr Mike Dow: And so it's this mind, brain, body connection.

Most people don't know, your body responds to every single thought you have. If you have negative thoughts, your hands get colder. They get wetter. Your muscles get tense. Your heart rate variability goes down, and your brain starts to not behave right. Your body responds to every thought you have.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well what condition isn't exacerbated by stress? So if hypnosis on a very basic level ... You know the father-son psychiatrists who, Spiegel and Spiegel, who were, I think they were ...

Dr Mike Dow: Stanford.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... Stanford and ... was he somewhere in New York? Stanford and the other one was at one of the institutions in New York. They said that hypnosis at a very basic level is just the changing of the guard from this fight or flight response to this rest and digest response. So on a very basic level, it makes sense for almost any condition.

I've so many of these stories too where I'll treat somebody. I love as somebody who treats PTSD, that's one of my passions is helping people. Especially in this day and age with so much trauma. The history of sexual abuse, physical abuse and people haunted by this. And realizing that, "Yes. We can actually help you with that." So I use a lot of different modalities. I use bio lateral stimulation to help them. And I love using hypnosis because hypnosis really allows you to get in there. And it allows you to use ... It's like we're opening this editing suite on our Mac. And it's like the delete button's working. Here we are in this great studio and we have this TV and it's like we're opening up this studio. And it's like the delete button now works. The fast forward button works. The rewind button works.

I was treating this man with a history of sexual abuse and after our session, he looked at me and he said, "That's the weirdest thing." He's like, "I still ... Wait a minute." We sort of implanted images. Images that he chose over the traumatic memories. And he said, "I still know that I was abused. But now when I'm thinking about it, it's like all I'm seeing are those positive images. That's like a miracle." And it was just, "Wow." And that was one of the first maybe 10 cases I used hypnosis with to treat PTSD. After that session, I was sold.

Dr Mike Dow: You were hooked.

Dr Daniel Amen: I was hooked.

Dr Mike Dow: Because that's how we get hooked when we help people. We love that. And it can help you. So if you stay with us, what we're going to do is actually go through the steps of how you can benefit from hypnosis at home. Stay with us.

Dr Daniel Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review and you'll automatically entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warrior's Way and the Brain Warrior's Way cookbook we give away every month.