Brigitte invited her husband to a university reunion 25 years after she graduated. Afterwards she remarked on how little everyone had changed and how young they all still looked. Her husband laughed and said she had to be joking. To him, they looked every inch like a bunch of middle-aged ladies, and Brigitte’s confusion grew when he said a couple of them looked like they would soon be drawing a pension.
One of the strongest cues that prevents us from ‘ageing backwards’ is the idea that ageing is a one-way street. The information that ageing is inevitable is seared into our world view, and to question it is considered merely vanity. However, underneath the fear of vanity there is often a greater fear, that of questioning the status quo, the world-as-is, of daring to transcend the reality we have been confronted with since childhood because the consequences of doing so are unknown, and may be dangerous.
Stepping out into the unknown is not for the faint-hearted. A paradigm shift – a change in the basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science – is a revolutionary move that threatens to alienate us from society, and perhaps isolate us completely. Who wants to be a circus freak?
In this way our thoughts and perceptions perpetuate our reality. Challenging the collective consciousness seems frightening, but there is really no need to fear people’s reactions if we succeed in convincing the cells of our body that we are 30 instead of 60. The reason? No one will notice.
Change blindness is a well-studied phenomenon where people fail to notice even glaringly obvious changes to their world because of the way the brain works. According to scientists in the Department of Psychology at the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, the brain uses memory and recall perception rather than what is actually there when viewing a familiar object or environment. We can only focus on a small part of our visual field, since trying to take in all details, all the time, would be exhausting. So our brain fills in the rest from memory even if things have changed since we first saw them. It saves energy by predicting what it is likely to see. This is one of the reasons we do not notice people ageing.
At a lecture given by a neuroscientist, the backdrop was an image of a European street. At the end of the lecture the professor asked the audience if they had noticed anything about the picture. No one had. Then he displayed the original image from the beginning of the lecture. There was an audible gasp – dozens of details had been changed, and no one had noticed. The brains of the people in the audience had used memory to predict what they were seeing at the end of the evening – thus completely missing the changes. The visual cortex does not simply react to visual stimuli but proactively predicts what it is likely to see in any given context – for example, within familiar environments such as your house or office.
This process is known as predictive coding and it suggests the brain is actively anticipating what input it will receive, rather than passively processing information as it arrives. This is why sometimes we miss new sights in a familiar environment. Our brain is seeing what it expects to see, rather than what is actually there. The brain transcends reality and replaces it with what it thinks should be reality. In Kantian philosophy, to “transcend” a direct observation or experience is to use reason and classifications to strive to match prior knowledge with the phenomena that are observed. Spot-the-difference games use many areas of the brain at once and are actually quite complex tasks, used in ‘brain training’ exercises.
Interesting experiments have been done demonstrating this “change blindness” (see video page). In one experiment a man at a desk bends down to fetch a document for a test participant, and hides while a completely different individual, with different hair type and colour, stands back up and continues to explain the test. 75% of participants failed to notice. The brain is very good at concentrating on individual tasks but can also make us miss something happening right in front of our eyes. Although individuals have a very good memory as to whether or not they have seen an image, they are generally poor at recalling the smaller details in that image. When we are visually stimulated with a complex image individuals usually retain only a gist of it and not the picture in its entirety. Magicians of course exploit this.
People reinterpret events to fit their view of reality, to avoid the collapse of their world. If we suddenly looked years younger most people who know us probably wouldn’t notice and if they did they’d put it down to more sleep or a better diet – even though tests have demonstrated that telomeres actually get longer even simply with lifestyle changes. Strangers however will see someone young. Did the world collapse when Christie Brinkley turned 60 and still looked 40? No, people merely laughed and asked who her surgeon was, which fits the current view no one over sixty can look young and beautiful without artificial help. But surgery alone can never make anyone look that much younger.
This is a post for advanced shape-shifters (see blog post “Shapeshifting”).
For every study linking healthy lifestyle to longer life, there’s another that contradicts it.
On the one hand studies of ageing show that only 20 to 30 percent of your chances of living to 80 are due to your genes. Twin studies in particular where one twin is healthier and lives longer than the other demonstrate that environmental factors are more important than genes. These environmental factors include diet, exercise but also where you live and what job you did. After 80 however, disease irrespective of lifestyle becomes far more common. It’s true we are living longer – a hundred years ago life expectancy was on average around 50 – but we now spend more time sick towards the end of our lives.
On the other hand, the number of supercentenarians is increasing. What distinguishes supercentenarians from the rest of the population is they generally remain healthy until shortly before death. In a study done on centenarians by Nir Barzilai in 2010 he found that they had no better habits than the rest of us – many smoked, were obese and did no exercise. The finding contradicts twin studies, and it would seem this is because the environmental factor does not apply to super-centenarians. This tiny proportion of the population seems to have exceptional longevity coded into their genes. Researchers believe only 0.002% of the population have these genes.
Several of these genes are associated with a lower risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, such as APOC3, IGF-r, and CETP. People with the rare favourable variant of APOC3 do not get heart attacks and may be protected against diabetes. The IGF receptor mutation affects how the body regulates insulin-like growth factor-1, a hormone that plays an important role in growth and metabolism and that appears to be important for longevity. CETP refers to cholesteryl ester transfer protein. Having the favourable CETP genotype is associated with increased levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and reduced levels of the bad LDL cholesterol. And people with this genotype have reduced rates of diabetes, heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
One thing is however clear : all these genes protect against conditions that we can protect against ourselves by tweaking the body’s environmental conditions. Diabetes and heart disease can be controlled by diet, exercise and stress management. The IGF receptor mutation is thought to be involved in the protective effects produced by calorie restriction. Dementia and Alzheimer’s can be tackled by constant learning and avoiding social isolation. So not having the genes the supercentenarians have does not mean the rest of us will not be supercentenarians. It simply means we have to work at it – and they do not.
Conscious of the fact most people will not have the staying to power to micro-manage their physical, emotional and mental lives in this way, companies are springing up everywhere hoping to produce drugs that mimic the effect of the super-longevity genes. The global anti-ageing industry is already set to grow to $275 billion by 2020 according to the market research firm Global Industry Analyst. Currently products seek mainly to minimise the effects of ageing (creams, Botox) rather than reverse ageing, but life extension research is stepping up to the plate and many – including Aubrey de Grey, chief scientific officer at the SENS Research Foundation – believe anti-ageing medicine will be the biggest industry ever to have been created. Hedge fund manager Joon Yun has launched the Palo Alto Longevity Prize for restoring vitality and extending lifespan in mice by 50%, and the California Life Company’s mission is to reverse engineer the biology that controls lifespan through age-defying drugs. Human Longevity Inc. plans to create a giant database of 1 million human genome sequences including from supercentenarians. Drugs such as Rapamycin (organ transplant drug) extend life in mice by 25%, the greatest achieved so far with a drug, and protects them against diseases of ageing including cancer and neurodegeneration. Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford is researching using blood from the young to rejuvenate Alzheimer’s patients after blood plasma from young mice restored the mental capabilities of old mice.
Targeting individual diseases of ageing is not, scientists recognise, going to extend life span much. Fix the heart – you get diabetes. Fix cancer – you end up with Alzheimer’s. The Holy Grail of this research is to find the single Magic Pill that would reverse ageing in all organs at the same time. The approach is, however, a purely biological one, regarding humans as organic machines that can be kept alive indefinitely with the right maintenance and with regular replacement of worn-out parts. Only one major area of research differs from this approach. Dmitry Itskov, the Russian multi-millionaire internet mogul, has launched his “2045 Initiative”. The idea is to create technologies allowing our personalities to be downloaded to a non-biological body – a more advanced one – extending life to the point of immortality.
Leaving consciousness out of the equation when developing anti-ageing strategies is typical of the compartmentalised approach of modern science. Currently there is no real distinction between mind, brain and consciousness. Materialists believe consciousness is produced entirely by the brain and that mind has no effect on the body. The placebo/nocebo effect is a thorn in the side of those who believe this. Other posts on this site deal amply with the effect thought and perception have on ageing, and yet the current life-extension research ignores consciousness, despite the fact many studies indicate that feelings of hopelessness and a fatalistic approach to life are correlated with cancer and heart disease (see the work of Dr Peter Fenwick, neurophysiologist). In a 1998 Harvard study, watching compassionate acts was shown to upregulate the immune system of a group of students. There is evidence thoughts and emotions exist outside the body from hospital reports on people who have been resuscitated and then described in detail the actions of the CPR team, seen from a point a few metres away from the operating table. The “NDE” has been reported by something like 13 million people from all cultures and religious backgrounds. These incidents are ignored by reductionist materialism since it has no explanation for them.
We do not just need a healthy diet and exercise programme, we need healthy relationships – with ourselves and others. We need a healthy mind. Those who attend religious services live up to 14 years longer. Overwork counts too – those who fail to take a holiday are a third more likely to get heart disease. Optimists are also 77% less likely to get heart disease. If you have a negative thought (loneliness, the stress of abusive relationships)…stress hormones are activated, the fight or flight mode is triggered and if this continues over time…illness occurs. Self-repair mechanisms only kick in when the relaxation response is switched on.
In the great chain of explanation where physics explains chemistry, chemistry explains biology and biology explains parts of psychology, consciousness doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yet it is consciousness that creates the thoughts that turn on the stress response – and of course the relaxation response.
Increasingly some thinkers, even scientists, are seeing consciousness as fundamental to how the universe works. Only when we come to grips with consciousness and its effect on the way our body ages will we find the key to life extension, and perhaps even immortality.
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Emotional pain is just a neural pathway which has fired many times before. It is a habit, and habits can be broken. It’s easier than we might think.
When we receive an emotional wound, similar old wounds resurface. The neurological net surrounding that emotion is ready to spring into action. Love followed by pain may be one network. This is not our fault, but a result of things that happened to us when we were powerless, usually in childhood.
When we are hurt emotionally, the hypothalamus manufactures sequences of amino acids called peptides. There is a peptide for anger, abandonment, feeling a victim…for everything. These peptides are shot into the blood stream and dock on our cells. They enter the cells through special receptors for those peptides. When the peptide enters the cell, it hurts. Emotional pain is therefore very much a physical pain.
Every time we think about our pain, we reinforce the neurological net, since peptides are extremely addictive. If we block a painful thought, the cells which are addicted to the ‘loneliness’ or ‘shame’ peptides send a message to the brain to please allow that thought, so they can get their hit. Saying no is taking control.
This is not about denying ourselves feelings. When these painful feelings arise, we recognise them and validate them for what they are. Then, however, we have the option to allow them to pass unheeded, or to feed them.
For those who believe consciousness is separate from the brain, rather than generated by it, emotional pain is a belief which lands smoothly onto a slick runway in the brain, prepared and hungry for ideas. When it lands, the pain is generated in our bodies. Remove the runway by changing our thoughts and the belief disintegrates. The road is blocked. The pain cannot get through.
This is why psycho-therapy is not always good news. Understanding what motivates us and the reason for learned behaviours is important, but therapy which involves raking over trauma simply serves to reinforce the neural pathways of pain.
Very few emotional beliefs turn out to be completely true. For example, a single woman with no children may choose to believe she is unwanted and a failure. But married women with no freedom due to childcare requirements may envy her. Perspective is everything.
Conflicts are contrasting neural pathways. Between two individuals, the belief ‘I am right’ is an addiction to a route laid down in the brain which the other individual lacks. Beliefs can be changed. Conflicts within the same individual are like a motorway that divides into two. Both routes are equally well travelled ….for example, should I go full-time and enjoy a higher standard of living or should I devote more time to myself and my family? Should I return to my abuser, when the abuse is only sporadic, and otherwise he spoils me, makes me laugh and fixes things in the house? Should I eat this delicious cake now or lose weight?
Creating new neural pathways has been shown to stave off Alzheimer’s. This can involve simple things like taking a new route to work or brushing one’s teeth with the other hand.
What to do :
Brain neuroplasticity can be changed by self-observation. In this way we literally recreate our brains. Note to self : once we have understood the emotional situation it is not repression to deny ourselves painful thoughts. It is, in fact, self-mastery, and once learnt, an exhilarating way of living the life of our dreams.
When we sense the pain rising up, we must be instantly aware. The thoughts will soon follow, so it is crucial to be quicker – quicker than the addiction. When the same old painful thought begins to form, we make a physical move to shake it off – for instance, flicking our head to the side, stamping the foot, swaying quickly and back, or pinching ourselves. The thought will try to come back a few seconds later, and then again a few hours later. Let us remember, we will feel very uncomfortable when we block a painful thought. Our logic will tell us to allow the thought so we are not ‘in denial’. What is really happening is our addicted cells are desperate for a hit, and try to trick us into allowing painful thoughts.
Addiction to negative peptides can prevent nutrients entering the cell. It is aging to our bodies. Talking about and reliving past trauma reinforces the addiction.
Every time the familiar painful thought tries to form we nip it in the bud. In this way we weaken the neural pathway. The motorway becomes overgrown and disused, and eventually disappears.
To reinforce the rewiring we can do the following visualisation exercise:
We picture our brain criss-crossed by strands of light, and home in on the light pathways that carry negative emotional messages. We see them getting darker, and then burning up like a wick or a burnt match. Eventually they are dead pathways, and disintegrate altogether. Then we draw out new pathways, in different directions, and illuminate them with our mind. We then ‘fill’ those pathways with new affirmations (e.g. I am emotionally free. I live a perfect life free of pain).
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The cause of ageing is DNA damage – this is the medically accepted view and can be verified by the measuring the length of telomeres after our cells have divided again and again over a lifetime. When the damage is so severe that life cannot be sustained, organ failure occurs. The heart stops blood flow to the brain. The patient becomes grey, and eventually cell damage and brain death occur.
Consciousness at this point stops, according to the scientific view, since it is a function of the brain.
It is only since the introduction of defibrillators and cardiac massage over the last 50 years that people have been resuscitated after cardiac arrest, and have begun to claim consciousness does not stop after all. Pim Van Lommel, a Dutch cardiologist who interviewed patients after they had suffered a heart attack in order to investigate what ‘happened’ to them after their heart stopped, tells the story of a man who said he could remember what happened because it was disturbing. No one could hear what he was saying, but then he had realised this must be because he didn’t have his teeth in. So he went down the corridor and saw the nurse placing his dentures in a box, and logging the time.
However, at that precise time in the log book, when the nurse had indeed put away his dentures, he was undergoing defibrillation in another room.
The Near Death Experience is not accepted in the scientific world. It is mostly explained by enhanced electrical activity before the brain shuts down, or by the effect of drugs. However Pim Van Lommel thinks that it is the NDE which will finally tip the balance towards a greater understanding of what we are. Resuscitation research is becoming so sophisticated that the concept of what death is has shifted. The merging of science and consciousness studies is of course nothing new : after a lifetime of looking at matter, Max Planck, father of quantum mechanics, one of the towering physicists of the twentieth century, said that consciousness was causing it : “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.”
That consciousness is separate from the brain is becoming an increasingly unavoidable conclusion. Our beliefs and thoughts can affect matter. The structure of the brain can be measurably altered by meditation, and the placebo effect causes changes in brain structure, effects which have been recorded in patients suffering from Parkinson’s and depression for example. The brain also changes when a person is stared at from behind, the ‘eyes on the back of the neck’ sensation – an interesting way to scientifically test the existence of a field of consciousness. The formerly held position was that the brain was a physiologically static organ. Neuroplasticity has now shown there are changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in thinking, emotions, behaviour or injury (see video page).
Is it possible that the brain does not produce consciousness or store memories but is instead merely the circuit board for the current of consciousness? American computer science expert Simon Berkovich and Dutch brain researcher Herms Romijn, working independently of one another, came to the same conclusion: that it is impossible for the brain to store everything you think and experience in your life. This would require a processing speed of 1024 bits per second. Simply watching an hour of television would already be too much for our brains. “If you want to store that amount of information—along with the associative thoughts produced—your brain would be pretty much full,” Van Lommel says. “Anatomically and functionally, it is simply impossible for the brain to have this level of speed. You could compare the brain instead to a television set that tunes into specific electromagnetic waves and converts them into image and sound.”
One theory which is gaining popularity therefore is that consciousness is non-local, i.e. located outside the brain, and that the brain is merely a receiver and transmitter. An experience common to all NDE-ers is that they sense their true consciousness is much bigger than the body to which it had to return. One of the arguments that suggests NDEs are more than a purely physiological phenomenon is the life-changing effect they have. 50% of NDE-ers divorce after such an experience, since they undergo a personality change, displaying less interest in the material world and a fascination with concepts such as compassion and empathy.
In the same way that the internet is stored on billions of servers all over the world, which download information onto our computers, it may be that we are all connected to Source Consciousness, and individually are downloading part of this unified whole, the part that corresponds to ‘me’.
In 2014 researchers at Oxford University published findings showing that only 8.2% of our DNA is functional. The rest is ‘junk DNA’. “We haven’t been designed. We’ve evolved and that’s a messy process. This other DNA really is just filler. It’s not garbage. It might come in useful one day,” researcher Dr. Gurton Lunter told the Guardian.
But some theorists think it already has come in useful, and is in fact crucial. Pim Van Lommel suggests the DNA acts as a sort of SIM card, a ‘chip’ that downloads our personal information from the universal field. He describes ‘junk’ DNA as an interface, which connects us to this non-local field.
It may well be that as consciousness studies progress together with the new science of epigenetics (which demonstrates how DNA interacts with the inner and outer environments), our ability to actively influence our DNA will be discovered, and as a result, our DNA will be greatly enhanced. The key to opening the non-local part of our consciousness lies in maintaining focused intentional awareness.
This would potentially mean that by focused intention we could reverse engineer age-related DNA damage, correct mutations, repair failing organs, enhance brain function….
In his acceptance speech for the 1918 Nobel Prize for Physics Max Planck said, “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much : there is no matter as such.”
What changes would we make to our DNA today if we discovered we had the means to do so?
One of the most compelling arguments against aging being a process compounded by social conditioning is that all living beings age. If we assume animals age, and that they do not have the capacity to be ‘conditioned’ by social conventions, then surely that is sufficient proof that aging is purely biological, and therefore unavoidable.
Aging in life forms other than humans does vary enormously however, and differs sometimes quite spectacularly from the way we grow older and die.
In the case of plants, for example, if a graft is taken from one, grown into a new plant and if that graft outlives the first plant, is it a new plant or is the same one? Grafting can in theory go on forever – it is widely used in agriculture, and species such as bananas and tulips are examples of how it can be continued for thousands of years. Aging in plants is therefore difficult to define. Many plants do of course decline over time – fruit trees become less productive and hormones produced by the roots or the growing tips are thought to influence this process. However, pruning can lead to a sort of rejuvenation. In rejuvenation pruning, the shrub is pruned by cutting off all old branches at or near ground level. Healthy shrubs will respond by sending up multiple new shoots. Indeed, some plants show no evidence of senescence; the bristlecone pine lives on high rocky ground and has been estimated to live for more than 4000 years with no decline in reproductive output.
Simple animals that live around hydrocarbon seeps also show unusual longevity. One of the species with the longest longevity (250 years) is an invertebrate tubeworm called Lamellibrachia. Other invertebrates displaying what is known as negligible senescence are the red sea urchin and the bivalve mollusc ocean quahog. Some snakes might also escape senescence; many snake species actually lay more eggs as they increase in size with age. Even though these animals will eventually die, they do so without actually having aged.
When we consider mammals however, no species has been found that does not display aging. The longest-lived mammal is the bowhead whale (over 200 years), but the pathophysiology of aging is remarkably similar in mammals, which has implications for our understanding of genetic mechanisms of aging. Size seems to be irrelevant, since a chipmunk can live 5 times as long as a rat. We are smaller than grizzly bears, but live twice as long. Brain size may therefore be a factor.
Animals certainly display aspects of consciousness. The weight of evidence indicates that all mammals and birds and many other creatures including octopuses possess the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Animals are also subject to social conditioning. Social interaction is often crucial to the animals, and who is to say whether they too (if they are not killed by a predator) learn to age and die as a result of learned behaviour in the group, or by being part of the collective consciousness of that species?
However, there is one obvious difference between animals and humans. We are self-aware and have the capacity to control our physiology and our lifestyle, and of course our thoughts and attitudes. Some higher animals – primates, dolphins – are capable of recognising themselves in a mirror, but this is a long way off creating great works of art and feats of engineering. It is also a long way away from an understanding of consciousness itself. The moment in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes when Kerchak the envious ape king attacks Tarzan and Tarzan overpowers him has taken a place in modern mythology as an example of man’s superiority over animals. The story is timeless, and a new version of Tarzan directed by David Yates is currently in the making.
Humans display ‘self-consciousness’, also known as meta-self awareness, which involves imagining how others might judge us in a public situation or being capable of dissociating by immersing ourselves in a book or film. A theologian might put it rather differently : although animals have souls (anima is Latin for soul), our souls are rational and theirs are not. Animals and plants have no moral sense – they are incapable of ‘sin’. They cannot analyse feelings and are incapable of abstract thought.
It is this capacity for abstract thought that is at the root of the idea that humans can take control over their bodies. No animal is capable of intentionally displaying the power of mind over matter but by slowing down their bodily processes Yogis can survive a live burial for far longer than the average person. Tibetan monks have dried sheets by generating body heat in a room at only 4°C. There is also a famous experiment done by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, involving overweight chamber maids who were on their feet all day and ought to have been thin. Langer discovered that 67% of the maids felt they didn’t do any type of exercise. When Langer explained to half of the group that they exceeded recommended activity levels, these women not only lost weight and regained their waistline but experienced a drop in blood pressure. The other half saw no change. Langer concluded the results were due to a change in perception.
We are part of the collective consciousness of the human species, but we have the power to step outside it. Bucking the trend, introducing new paradigms and revolutionising old patterns of thought is what our species is about. If we could convince animals they had control over their health and the way they age, then we would witness a change in animal senescence. But ideas cannot be communicated to animals and hence no animal is capable of this. Thus they remain subject to the natural laws of this earth.
We humans are also subject to the natural laws of the earth. However, evidence is growing that we have the power to transcend them.
Max Tegmark says in his book Our Mathematical Universe that among physicists the reaction to the parallel universes theory has shifted from, “This makes no sense and I hate it,” to “I hate it”. The inflation theory of the universe predicts that our universe is just one in a multiverse of myriad universes where everything that can happen does happen somewhere. This theory is the one most physicists currently subscribe to since it corresponds to what is observed by cosmologists, and predicts we are currently living out infinite versions of our lives.
Ask anyone in the street whether it is possible to stop ageing and grow younger from now on and you’d get a definite no and probably a funny look. However, the probability of rejuvenation is not zero if inflation theory is correct, for in a multiverse even the most unlikely things are bound to happen in some universe somewhere, including being the only human being on the planet who ever actually reversed ageing. The question is of course, is this universe it ?
“Everything is possible” is a notion with which spirituality is much enamoured. Where physics and ‘new age’ thought part company is in the concept of free will. If all outcomes are possible, then for every ‘you’ who took one decision, there are many ‘yous’ who did not, and so any sense we have free will is just a consequence of the multiverse.
In quantum physics the observer effect states that observing a ‘system’ effects its end state. There may be a superposition of several states, known as a wave function, but the presence of human consciousness causes this to ‘collapse’ into one single state. Spiritual thinkers have suggested that our consciousness is able to make the wave collapse one way or another according to our expectations – the “thoughts create reality” theory. If this is true, and if according to the inflation theory of our universe’s origins rejuvenation is possible somewhere, we in theory have the power to shift our reality to one where this actually happens.
However, according to Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds theory, the wave function never does collapse. Instead, reality splits to encompass all possible outcomes. Most of us do not like the idea we are consequently splitting into many different versions of ourselves – one which dies of an early heart attack from an unhealthy lifestyle, another which succumbs to Montezuma’s Revenge on an exotic holiday and still another which lives to 80, the current average life expectancy in the West. Which one of us is the real me? we might wonder. Perhaps the world really did end in December 2012…somewhere else. The day before he/she gets the results of an important examination, a cosmologist might muse I hope I end up in the parallel universe where I pass. But this too would be meaningless, since there is no real you; they are all real.
In fact even immortality may be real, since for every you that has an accident and dies or contracts an illness and passes away, there are others who do not, and there will consequently be one ‘you’ that survives everything, including – rather like Tithonos in the Greek myth – extreme old age. Tegmark describes what he calls a quantum suicide experiment, using a quantum machine gun, with us playing the role of Schrödinger’s cat. Death therefore, according to inflation theory, which is the leading theory currently explaining how we got here, may truly be an illusion.
Several research studies show that people with the highest blood plasma glucose levels get more cancers; and people with cancer who have the highest plasma glucose levels, survive least. This is because tumours love sugar. While cancer cells have to have glucose to metabolise, healthy cells can use other foods such as fat. The process is termed ketosis which releases sirtuins. Sirtuins are highly protective hormones known to be produced under conditions of food deprivation. Food deprivation is also (not surprisingly) associated with leaner bodies. A thinner body has lowered fat stores and fat is the precursor of oestrogen, a hormone known to stimulate many cancers. Fat also traps toxins, and if the fat surrounds vital organs those organs are sloshing around in a toxic bath.
Fasting as a cancer treatment is now rapidly gaining acceptance in many parts of the world where doctors put their patients on a fast before starting chemo or radiotherapy. Of course treatment-induced weight loss occurs anyway during chemotherapy but this is not the same as that brought about by stopping the metabolism from processing food. Fasting may also aid subsequent anti-cancer therapy. In early 2013, The Oncologist magazine commented on recent research that shows restricting calories in patients having radiotherapy produces better results. Fasting does this in two ways according to research done by Dr. Valter Longo, a professor of gerontology and biological science at the University of Southern California (USC) : making the cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy – weakened by lack of energy supply – and reducing side effects in the patient. It is often too late to fast by the time weight loss occurs due to chemotherapy. Shirley’s lung cancer had been hanging around undetected for two years, the doctor prescribing drugs for acid reflux and antibiotics for her cough. Three scans revealed nothing. When a fourth revealed a very old cancer, dead cells surrounded by new ones which were aggressive and growing fast, chemo was begun. Weight loss, loss of appetite and lowered immunity occurred shortly afterwards. She was given very high calorie meals to counteract the dramatic loss of weight, but the cancer spread rapidly. The period from diagnosis to death was under a year. Deborah noticed difficulty in swallowing, and her doctor prescribed antibiotics to deal with a suspected throat infection, which failed to respond. By the time a biopsy detected oesophageal cancer months later, weight loss had already begun due to her inability to swallow, and high calorie liquid meals were fed directly into her system to compensate for the further dramatic weight loss which accompanied the treatment. Within 6 months she had died. It would seem then that there is a window at the beginning of a cancer diagnosis when fasting may be highly effective, and that it could also work if used at the beginning of chemotherapy. However once chemo has weakened the body, a vicious circle sets in.
With 1.6 million new cancer cases in the US every year and round about 500,000 in the larger countries of Europe, there are big profits to be made from chemo. There is evidence that chemotherapy may actually hasten death due to its devastating effect on the immune system. Apart from the diarrhoea, vomiting and fatigue it causes, a study by the Fred Hutchinson Research Center in Seattle showed that cancer cells have the ability to become resistant to the cytostatic agents used in chemotherapy. The cancer cells literally purge themselves of the toxins and emerge stronger. Currently pharmaceutical companies are investing big time in researching drugs which could mimic the body’s starvation response (one might argue cynically that patients hardly need to take drugs when they can fast for free, a factor which will not have escaped the drug companies). In the meantime the UK’s NHS continues to advise patients to drink sugary tea, cakes, buns and special high calorie milkshakes during chemo, a rather disastrous piece of misinformation which turns out to be feeding the tumours, thus strengthening them against the chemo. Emerging evidence questions the genetic origin of cancer and suggests that cancer is primarily a metabolic disease. Once the tumour has been brought under control patients can increase calorie consumption to achieve weight gain. Again according to Professor Longo, famine conditions protect healthy cells from the harmful side effects of chemotherapy. Starved healthy cells go into survival mode during fasting characterized by extreme resistance to stressful circumstances. In essence, these cells are waiting out the lean period, much like hibernating animals. Cancer cells are stuck in a single mode and fail to respond to starvation. Thus fasting can ensure chemo targets only vulnerable cells – the tumours. Moreover, whereas chemo weakens the immune system, fasting for 72 hours has been shown to completely renew it. Interestingly holocaust survivors lived 6 to 18 months longer than average.
At the Buchinger Clinic on Lake Constance guests follow a medically supervised fast for 2 weeks consisting of water and vegetable soup. Long walks and siestas are recommended. Patients report not feeling hungry, the disappearance of aches and pains and a feeling of well-being. Fasting is an ancient therapy, is part of most spiritual traditions and has featured in the treatment of illness since Hippocrates and Plutarch were quoted as asserting, ‘Instead of using medicine, rather fast a day’. It can be used as a protective measure against developing cancer and as an anti-aging mechanism. If we can stop our cells from dividing as much, and if we can prevent the destruction of our DNA through badly copied telomeres, we can live younger and healthier. Multiple studies have found that animals with low calorie diets stay younger and are better shielded against a multitude of diseases, especially cardiovascular (heart related) and neuro-degenerative ones (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc.)
As ever, prevention is better than cure. Fasting addresses the symptoms of illness, not the cause. Keeping a close eye on emotional stress, becoming adept at introspection to detect negative emotions within us – jealousy, pride, Schadenfreude – and following the advice in the Temple of Delphi, “Know Thyself”, remain essential tools for combating the body’s stress response which is at the root of all illness. Embarking on an annual fast may also protect us from diseases, especially cancer, for which a cure is yet to be found.
Someone once said that for every disease on the planet there is somebody who healed it naturally. The sudden, unexplained disappearance of a fatal disease – for example stage 4 cancer – is a phenomenon going back into the mists of time. Scientists generally gloss over these rare cases, and often prefer to discount them as fake. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist, operates Quackwatch. He states “most testimonials for quack cancer remedies are based on faulty original diagnosis or simultaneous administration of effective treatment”.
But most spontaneous remissions of cancer occur when doctors have written the patient off. The case of Anita Moorjani is now world famous. Expected to die of cancer within hours, a spiritual experience led to her being up and walking about within weeks of the death-bed experience. This experience, she claims, revealed the repressed emotions that had caused her cancer. Her book Dying to be me contains copies of her medical records.
Another famous case is that of Alice Epstein, a mathematician and sociologist. In 1985, when she was in her fifties, she was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney, but after having her left kidney removed was told one month later the cancer had spread to both her lungs and she had only two to three months to live. Epstein believed she had a ‘cancer-prone personality’. Like Moorjani, she suppressed her own needs in order to please others, and so turned to psychotherapy and spirituality to begin work on her difficulty expressing anger and depression. At the same time she refused medical treatment for her lung cancer. Six weeks after beginning therapy her tumours began to shrink and had gone before the year was over. She lived until she was 86 and died in 2013.
A third case is that of John Matzke. Diagnosed with fatal skin cancer age 30, he refused treatment and withdrew from normal life, spending a month hiking, eating healthily and meditating, particularly the form of meditation that involved imagining his body destroying the cancer cells. His scan later showed the cancer shrinking until it had disappeared. Matzke died of a brain tumour 18 years later, but this is still an interesting case because doctors spotted white rings around his skin tumours, which is known as a halo sign. This is considered to be evidence that the immune system is attacking the cancer cells. Something caused Matzke’s immune system to kick into action.
The immune system has been recognised to be the key to spontaneous remission for centuries. In the 1700s doctors noticed that some cancer patients who suffered serious infections recovered from their cancer shortly afterwards. However, infecting cancer sufferers with disease – at the time syphilis, gangrene – often resulted in the patients dying from the infections rather than the cancer. Nowadays by the time a cancer patient is near death, the immune system is so compromised – often as a result of chemotherapy – any infection is likely to hasten death even more.
Normally cancer cells are dealt with fast in a healthy body. Cancers have to trick the body’s defense systems in order to grow to the point where they are a threat. Spontaneous remission of terminal disease remains, however, a rare phenomenon. The question is, are these cases flukes, or is there some pattern to them?
In 1987, Drs van Baalan, de Vries and Gondrie published research listing the factors instrumental in bringing about spontaneous remission of cancer. Likewise Dr Kelly Turner, a PhD who trained at Harvard and UC Berkeley, interviewed people all over the world who had experienced remission from Stage 4 cancer. Many of them had chosen to refuse Western medical treatment. She found a common thread in all of their stories:
1. Taking a natural remedy such as herbs or vitamins.
All the special remedies differed, but the one common factor was the belief the remedy worked. Stephen Barrett describes the placebo effect as one of the reasons why quack treatments work, but if the placebo effect cures cancer, then this is not quackery.
2. Change of diet.
Poor diet puts the body under stress. With a healthy diet the body can devote all its resources to fighting disease.
3. Positive emotions.
Joy and happiness are not the immediate emotions that spring to mind when faced with a cancer diagnosis and this is probably partly why spontaneous remission is so rare. Having the self-mastery to change one’s thoughts about an illness and to nip negative emotions in the bud is a powerful tool that can reverse fatal disease. Optimism and happiness activate healing hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide and endorphins. This activates the body’s natural anti-cancer system.
4. Using intuition to take decisions.
It takes guts to go against medical advice. Of course most medical advice is sound and it doesn’t take guts to carry on smoking or refusing to exercise, but when faced with a fatal disease choosing to consult one’s own intuition is seen as a risky business. Most people simply hand their bodies over to the doctors and relinquish any personal responsibility for their condition. Taking charge of one’s body and health and – even more importantly – taking responsibility is an attitude that has a preventative effect but can also turn the body around even when death is imminent.
This is a difficult one. Deathbed conversions are rare these days, and one wonders if the majority of those in the past were not rooted in fear of the stories told from the pulpit. But feeling a connection to the human race, to the earth and the divine, whatever we understand that to be, has been found again and again to be instrumental in the cure of disease. However, praying for a cure needs to be combined with …
6. Releasing repressed emotions
Repressed emotions are perceived by the amygdala as a threat, and activate the fight-or-flight response, filling the body with stress hormones and deactivating the immune system. Anger, grief, resentment and guilt are particularly bad, as are pessimism, a sense of victimhood and paranoia. Some experts have also suggested cancer is caused by an unresolvable conflict. Examples include wishing for something to happen but fearing the consequences, desiring something intensely that will be hurtful or shocking to someone whose opinion we value, and a psychological insight that threatens the ego and the assumptions of a lifetime. For example, a strong catholic who believes divorce is a sin but who is unhappy in his/her marriage, or a proud or narcissistic person faced with evidence they made a business or parenting mistake, or falling in love with someone else while still loving one’s partner. Sometimes addressing and resolving such conflicts is a matter of life and death. In such cases therapy, meditation and other helpful treatments such as EFT can be the first step to avoiding or overcoming illness. Anita Moorjani’s explanation of her spectacular return from the brink of death is a ‘meeting’ with her late father while unconscious, who released her to live her life as she wished.
To date the scientific evidence that mind-body connections might induce self-healing is limited. Nonetheless, evidence is growing that the mind plays a powerful role in both the development of cancer and its treatment.
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St Paul in the first letter to Timothy exhorts him to take a little wine for his stomach. Total abstinence from alcohol was not recommended by the famous writer of the epistles, and curiously enough the benefits of wine came to light during the BBC’s famous 60 Minutes story in 1991 about the French paradox, suggesting that red wine may account for the surprisingly low incidence of heart disease in France despite the fact French cuisine is rich in fat.
The skins of red grapes contain resveratrol which has antioxidant properties. It is the fermentation process which increases the amount of resveratrol since black raisins, particularly if they are sun-dried, do not contain as much, nor does grape juice. Resveratrol acts on the following conditions :
Heart disease : resveratrol reduces inflammation by making it more difficult for platelets to stick together and form the clots that cause heart attacks.
Cancer : Resveratrol is thought to inhibit the spread of cancer cells and trigger the process of cancer cell death.
Alzheimer’s : It is thought to stop plaque forming in the brain and to protect nerve cells from damage.
Diabetes : It prevents insulin resistance.
Obesity and ageing : Researchers believe that resveratrol activates the SIRT1 gene, a biological mechanism that seems to protect the body against the harmful effects of obesity and the diseases of ageing. Resveratrol appears to turn on sirtuins without placing the body under the sort of stress caused by food deprivation that normally activates these genes. Tests on yeast showed resveratrol extended its lifespan by 70%. Studies on rodents have demonstrated resveratrol has life-prolonging capacities. Mice fed a high-calorie diet lived longer when given resveratrol.
Eyesight : Scientists have discovered that resveratrol has the ability to regulate angiogenesis, the abnormal growth of blood vessels that are damaging to eyesight.
The amount of resveratrol in wine depends on the length of the fermentation process. White wine contains less because the skins are removed earlier during the production process. Because large amounts of resveratrol are difficult to absorb without drinking copious amounts of alcohol, supplements are now available on the market. The dosages in most resveratrol supplements are however typically far lower than the amounts that have been shown to be beneficial in research studies. Most supplements contain 250 to 500 milligrams of resveratrol. To get the equivalent dose used in some animal studies, people would have to consume 2 grams of resveratrol (2,000 milligrams) or more a day.
Other sources of resveratrol are dark chocolate, peanuts and blueberries.
Resveratrol content in different food and beverages: (uG 100 G), OyG/125 ML) Grapes 1,500, Red wine 625, Peanuts 150, White wine 38, Peanut butter 50, Grape juice 65, Blueberries 3, Cranberry juice 65, Raisins 0.01.
Leicester University’s resveratrol lab published a study in 2013 on resveratrol molecules bound to sulfates and glucose (the majority once inside us) and free resveratrol. It was thought the former, which are the majority, were less beneficial. Now it has been found that bound resveratrol can become “free” again once it enters a cell – and therefore more beneficial. The bound resveratrol also lasts longer in the body.
As no clinical trials involving humans have been done, its life-preserving effects have not yet been demonstrated beyond doubt. But in the meantime, it’s a great excuse for drinking red wine – in moderation.
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George Burns the American comedian once joked that he had just turned 80 and could still do everything he did when he was 21. He then added he didn’t do much when he was 21 either.
In 2014 Dr Michael Ranscar of the University of Tübingen, Germany, a specialist in quantitative linguistics, participated in a BBC Radio Four Frontiers programme about cognition and ageing. He claimed we should disregard most of the findings and theories about cognition and ageing we have heard so far, even the evidence for physical changes in the brain. He pointed out that the older we get the more knowledge we have – “tons and tons more knowledge and memories” – so accessing those memories is not going to be as easy as if you have little or no knowledge. If we accept this then what’s happening with ageing is not degeneration at all. Even if experiments with older people control for the different ways that people learn, Ranscar’s research has found there’s nothing left to account for. Across a lifetime learning imposes very pressing demands, and so given the vast amounts of data stored by a brain that’s been around several decades absorbing facts, events and memories, slowing is exactly what we would expect. He stated that when you fumble for a name or word, the conventional view is your brain has declined, but in his view you’re just looking for it : “You have more research to do.”
His first paper on this topic provoked some experts to dismiss his work, but it has fueled a heated discussion among neuroscientists. Some are agreeing the brain can be compared to a computer which when new will function very fast because it is almost empty, but will not be of much practical use with nothing in it.
An overheard conversation on a bus went like this :
Middle-aged woman : “I find I am forgetting things.”
Elderly woman : “When you were a kid did you ever forget anything?”
Middle-aged woman : “Yes. But I think I might be losing my mind.”
Elderly woman : “When you were a young woman did you ever forget anything?”
Middle-aged woman : “Yes, but…”
Elderly woman: “Well then don’t you think you might forget some stuff now?”
Word association tests show older people have more difficulty in remembering pairs of words which have no obvious connection. However, the suggestion is now being made that older people have learnt simply not to pay attention to pointless information. The ability to select what information is worth storing comes with experience.
If we find we are becoming forgetful, let us congratulate ourselves. It means we have a well-stocked brain.