Peter Nygard, a Finnish-Canadian, is a millionaire fashion designer who claims he is getting younger because of stem cell treatment. The University of Miami is currently using Peter as a test case to see whether stem cells can reverse ageing.
There two main types of stem cells:
• Adult stem cells – these stem cells regenerate us daily. For example, they make new skin every day, and divide in a controlled way so we have just enough skin. If they were uncontrolled the result would be cancer. They can also be used to grow replacement organs
• Embryonic – these are the ethically challenged cells from frozen embryos.
There are videos on the internet featuring patients who have received stem cell therapy and claim they not only have more energy, but that scars have faded, they have fewer wrinkles and that heart problems have disappeared. This is providing hope for people whose organs are failing.
The ageing mechanism has been described as divided into upstream and downstream events. An upstream event would be DNA damage. One theory is that shortening telomeres contribute to age-dependent accumulation of DNA damage in stem cells which lose self-renewal capacity and this leads to physical degeneration (the downstream event). Telomeres are fragile sites that are difficult to replicate and carry intrinsic properties that can inhibit DNA repair processes.
Anti-ageing work may intervene at both the upstream and downstream phases. Although studies have shown that subjects given EPA/DHA fish oil supplements showed an increase in telomere lengths, targeting the upstream phase is a largely unexplored area for gerontologists.
Lengthening telomeres through medical or biological processes is basically still science fiction. Medicine’s focus is on correcting the damage once it has emerged downstream, such as chronic inflammation which inflicts age-related changes on specific tissues.
It is likely that one day new organs will be available for transplant, and that telomere length may be lengthened artificially. But given the two ways of tackling ageing – upstream and downstream – we would choose upstream in a flash. Many studies have shown that a healthy lifestyle can reverse the shortening of telomeres and repair organ damage. Even better, we practise stress-reduction, thought-control and healthy living. Then we won’t need to be a fashion millionaire to pay for stem cell therapy.
Ninety-nine percent of men who lose their hair inherit the pattern from somebody in the family (not necessarily their maternal grandfathers, contrary to the common myth). Receding hair at the temples and the bald spot on the back of the head progress to the monkish look of the wreath of hair around the side and back. Although half of men in the whole world will eventually suffer from baldness, there are very real psychological consequences of hair loss, leading to feelings of inferiority, loss of self-esteem and feelings of shame and self-consciousness.
The conventional ways of combatting baldness are :
Avoiding over use of hairdryers and dyes, managing stress, remembering to exercise, eating a healthy diet containing vitamins B and C, zinc, protein and omega 3 fatty acids, and getting enough sleep for starters.
There are dozens of remedies on the market. Drugs such as Minoxidil [Rogaine] seem to work but if you stop all the effects are lost.
Platelet rich plasma technique involves separating platelets and growth factor proteins from the subject’s blood and adding them to the scalp, increasing blood flow and kick-starting dormant hairs.
Laser therapy is best for men who want to maintain the hair they have as well as achieve some re-growth. 40% of subjects get thicker hair and 80% have a decrease in hair loss.
Hair transplants use the strip method, where a strip of hair is removed from the back of the head and grafted onto the bald patch with tiny incisions.
What is interesting about baldness is the hair follicles are not actually dead, they’re just asleep. Typically hair grows continually for four years maximum, and then the follicles switch to a dormant state and the strand of hair falls out. Usually during this dormant period stem cells in the skin begin the process of growing new hair. The problem starts when the follicles fail to wake up. While normal follicles jump back and forth from active to passive, in bald men passivity seems to be the preferred state. The question is, how can we give those dormant hair follicles a proverbial kick in the ***?
Stem cell therapy is providing new solutions to baldness. Stem cells are kept in a healthy condition in a state of hypoxia (low in oxygen). Molecules have now been identified that mimic the effect of hypoxia on stem cells. They jolt the empty hair follicles into making new hair. Dr Bruno Bernard, head of hair biology at L’Oreal in Paris who carried out the research, has now announced that the company is developing a new treatment that can be applied to the scalp in a shampoo or cream to help encourage hair to grow again.
However, in the meantime, think about it. The power of the mind over the body has now been established in countless experiments, for example visualisation has proved effective in restimulating blood flow to dying tissue in stroke patients. If our cells are dormant, and the mind controls the messages sent to our cells…
Worth a try?
If as a woman you have ever taken the metro in Asia, you may have found to your delight you can actually hold the handles hanging down from the bar without dislocating your shoulder. Western men may have to slouch on crowded public transport in Beijing if they wish to hold onto them. However, some retrofitting may soon be necessary on public transport in many Asian cities, since people – and men in particular – are getting taller. Perhaps as handles adapt, some will be left that women can use.
Likewise visitors to Southern Europe who are of Northern European stock may have noticed that they can now look most people in the eye. “The midgets are dying out,” laughed Teresa, a Portuguese woman. “Those extremely short, stocky men are almost nowhere to be seen; I was afraid for my son but he’s nearly 6 foot.”
It was assumed by many that Asians and Southern Europeans were genetically smaller, but there has been a spontaneous evolution in the space of a couple of generations. The average Chinese male is now 5 foot 8 (177cm) and the average American male 5 foot 9 (179cm). Women are the same height on both continents. The assumption is that good diet has caused this sudden growth spurt, although the Chinese eat few dairy products so the explanation for the tall Dutch doesn’t seem to apply. Is there a specific genotype for tall people? Or is it all diet and living conditions?
There are of course areas of Asia where people are still significantly shorter. Interesting is the comparison between South and North Koreans, the former being 8cm taller than their Northern counterparts. This seems to be a direct result of the famines of the 1990s. The Chinese may have been bigger in the past too, to judge by the height of the Terracotta Warriors – all tall even by Western standards, standing at over 6ft (183cm), though perhaps warriors were selected because of their height. Conversely, the suits of armour in European castles seem to be made for rather short men, which correlates with the poor nutrition from which people in the Middle Ages so often suffered. Severe malnutrition is known to lead to stunted growth. Being tall has always been seen as an advantage, and today leg lengthening surgery is becoming popular in Asia, since tall people are expected to get better jobs.
Genetic determinism as far as height is concerned is therefore far from absolute. It has been observed that the heights of mother and son and of father and daughter correlate, but that is not the whole story. Height is determined by the complex interaction of genes and our environment – inner and outer. Our height depends not only on our own health during childhood, but also on that of our mother’s during pregnancy, and whether we suffered from neglect. Stress, once again, affects the body. If the stress is removed before adulthood, catch-up growth can occur, and can be significant. Diet, exercise, fitness, pollution exposure, sleep patterns, climate and even happiness are other factors that can affect growth and final height. Essentially, the developing body devotes energy to growth after other bodily and psychological functions are satisfied.
Even as adults, it is possible to change our height. The spine shortens and becomes compressed due to poor posture and gravitational pull (we are taller in the morning). It is possible to add up to 3 inches (7cm) to our height simply by stretching the spine. There are plenty of websites demonstrating what exercises help us to grow.
The changes in average heights we are observing in populations we thought were short and stocky by nature show how quickly something we thought was a genetic factor can change given the right environment.
Genetic determinism is on its way out.
“Drinks in the hall after the service,” said the vicar. “Our esteemed treasurer Finbar is celebrating his 30th birthday.” Laughter in the congregation. In the church hall Finbar stood proudly next to his Nigerian wife Agatha, a practising psychologist 20 years his junior. 80 years young, he was upright, slim, well-dressed and relaxed. He could have been any age from 60 upwards.
Something important has happened over the past ten years: 80 is no longer very old. Of course, life expectancy has not yet reached 90 on average, though it’s heading that way, and many people suffer debilitation and illness after 80. But many people do not. An increasingly number of our peers are now reaching 80 in such good health that it is difficult to distinguish them from 50 year olds. It is important to notice and, if possible, socialise with people like Finbar. From childhood we have been programmed to expect one thing and one thing only when we hit 80: death.
The received wisdom is that older generations are more likely to cling to the familiar, and are afraid of change. But this is simply untrue, since older people adapt to huge changes – retirement, death of a spouse, reduced income, moving into new accommodation. Older people are also far from set in their ways and incapable of learning new things. Nicholas Danigelis, a sociologist at the University of Vermont, has found that all the evidence suggests that as people age their attitudes do not become more rigid. “It’s just not true,” he says. “More people are changing in a liberal direction than in a conservative direction.” Even those who are conservative may have started off even more so. The more years under our belt, the more ideas we are exposed to, and the more likely we therefore are to modulate our views. By comparing surveys of various age groups taken over a span of more than 30 years, sociologists have found that in general Americans’ views veer more towards the liberal as they grow older. A study by the University of Illinois suggests that older people are very open to new experiences. “The common assumption about personality is that it is hard-wired and won’t change, but this study contradicts that quite strongly,” said Brent Roberts, professor at the university’s department of psychology. This is true especially if older people continue to nurture their cognitive skills through education, reading, socialising etc. The perpetuation of the myth that older people are incapable of change is always damaging to elders, since relatives and those in the medical and caring professions will not bother to encourage them to learn new things, even if this knowledge is crucial to monitoring a physical condition (such as diabetes) that affects their health.
Younger people may beg to differ with this view. They raise their eyes to the ceiling if older people complain the supermarket has been rearranged. However, older people have had to learn and unlearn many new supermarket arrangements in their lifetimes, and yet another one is often simply an irritation, not an invitation to learn something exciting and new. Young people are also sometimes reluctant themselves to change their way of doing things – imagine what would happen if smart phones and the internet were suddenly “down” for a weekend.
Is human lifespan a non-adaptable characteristic? Is it really utopian to imagine that in the not so distant future, over 80 year olds will no longer be the elderly, infirm citizens we have always held them to be? Will our DNA evolve to lengthen lifespan and vitality?
Authors such as Bruce Lipton believe spontaneous evolution is a possibility. He gives the example of somatic hypermutation, a cellular mechanism by which the immune system adapts suddenly and rapidly to new elements that confront it (for example, microbes). During this phase, B cells undergo extremely rapid mutation, a million times more rapidly than the normal rate of mutation across the genome. In 1988 John Cairns, a geneticist, published research on bacteria entitled The Origin of Mutants. Lactose-intolerant bacteria were exposed to an environment where the only nutrient was lactose. He found that spontaneous mutations began to occur in the genes associated with lactose metabolism. New colonies of lactose-eating bacteria developed. It appears that there is a kind of innate intelligence at work in living organisms that enables them to adapt quickly to a changing environment. These mutations occur mostly at “hotspots” in the DNA known as hypervariable regions. Of all the mutations that occur, only some will match the new circumstances. The others will die (through apoptosis – cell death), but those that fit will be introduced into the gene chain, replacing the defective genes, which are cut out and discarded.
The question is, if cells can adapt to a new environment, can we trigger adaptation using intention? Can we cause mutation by thought? If the mind can affect the body as evident in the placebo effect, is a new emotional environment (not forgetting the peptide hypothesis, where there is a mood there is a molecule) or even a new “conscious” environment also capable of triggering mutations?
It may sound nuts, but psychiatry can confirm that different diseases manifest when different personalities take over mental patients, suggesting that the mind has enormous power over the physical state of the body. If by our beliefs we can increase antibodies in the immune system as happens in the placebo effect, and if stress can reduce our resistance to disease, can thought trigger other responses, such as DNA repair and the slowing down of the ageing process? Will we one day be able to manipulate our bodies so that every new cell that is born is one mutated according to our desires?
Making statements such as I’m not getting any younger sends the wrong message to our cells, and to our DNA. Some serious reprogramming is now necessary if we are to join the ranks of Finbar and his peers. Vigilance and the control of our thoughts, words and feelings is therefore de rigueur.
It used to be said that the person most likely to kill you was your spouse. Now, however, it’s your doctor. Iatrogenic death is the third cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer – this usually means adverse effects of drug interaction or wrong prescriptions, possibly due to illegible handwriting, as well as unnecessary surgery and bacterial resistance due to overprescription of antibiotics. The medicalisation of society seems unstoppable, and as popping a pill and handing over responsibility for our health to a doctor rather than taking charge ourselves is often easier, we are happy when the doctor immediately writes out a prescription the moment we go through the door. Indeed, the doctor may feel under some pressure to prescribe something, since a consultation where the diagnosis is to do something you could have done without seeing the doctor may be seen by the patient as a disappointment at best and at worst a shameful waste of time and money.
The reactive health care system has therefore become the main way we deal with disease. Western societies are much better at it than proactive health care. They are poor at preventing heart problems but pretty good at bypass operations, poor at preventing cholesterol problems but great at manufacturing anti-cholesterol drugs. Thousands of people working in the health care industry and for the big pharmaceuticals depend on people not preventing health problems. Unfortunately human nature is such that we are often negligent of our health – especially men – until something goes wrong.
This is not to say that doctors should be avoided if the problem is already there, and if there is a history of cancer or heart disease (and even if there isn’t) clearly regular check-ups and scans particularly after fifty are something any sensible person is going to sign up for. Thank God we have Western medicine. But the check-ups and scans won’t prevent the disease. Paula, 65, had a persistent cough for two years and four scans showed no sign of anything wrong. Her medical insurance company paid out huge sums for antibiotics and acid reflux drugs. When the fifth scan revealed an old cancer, so old there was a dead core surrounded by new cancerous cells, it was too late.
Doing everything we can to maintain our health while we’re still healthy is the bare minimum of staying ageless. All the obvious things – diet, exercise, no stimulants in excess – are our priority, more important than work, and visualising perfect health is a powerful tool, as is affirming we are on the mend rather than complaining about our ailments. Most people know what they have to do to stay healthy, but either they don’t believe it and think disease won’t happen to them, or they have a fatalistic attitude to health matters. Although a third of cancers can be prevented – avoided altogether – by adopting a healthier lifestyle, only 6% of over 55s believe they have any power to reduce their risk. “It’s genetic,” or “It’s the luck of the drawer,” are the mantras of this slice of the population. Only a third questioned in a survey done in the UK thought heart disease was avoidable. That means most people, in the UK at least, think heart disease hits people out of the blue. Obesity, inactivity, smoking and excess alcohol all contribute to the risk. Moreover, stress is increasingly becoming Public Enemy Number One as far as disease is concerned. Stress is a reaction to events – and we can learn to control our reactions. Most diseases are, in fact, preventable. You heard that right.
Let’s take the risk factors for heart disease and stroke for example:
• High cholesterol
• High blood pressure
• Being overweight or obese
• Not exercising
• Heavy alcohol use
• Poor stress and anger management
• Old age
• Narrowing of the arteries in your neck, arms or legs (peripheral artery disease)
Whether you need to be on statins depends on your cholesterol level along with your other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But all of the above (including ‘old age’, which is a result of all the other things on the list plus social conditioning) can be avoided with meditation, thought control, exercise and diet. Statins are a lifetime commitment once you’re on them, and some studies have suggested there are side effects such as type 2 diabetes and liver damage. Coming off statins must of course be done under medical supervision, but surely it is best not to start in the first place. 7 million people are on statins in the UK costing the NHS an annual £450 million. They are said to save 7000 lives a year but a healthy lifestyle would save far more.
This is not being in denial. Denial is defined as disregarding, or ignoring something. Prevention rather than reaction is the exact opposite.
Back pain is one of the most common complaints known to man. We have the same spinal anatomy as all vertebrates, but it evolved for scampering around on four legs, so why did we evolve as the only upright quadruped if the price is searing pain in the back? Probably so that we could use our hands, but for those of us with aches and pains there does seem to be a design flaw. Organs are supposed to hang down from, not on a spine, babies are supposed to be carried underneath not in front – which is why human women have reinforcements at the base of the spine so they can get knocked up without getting knocked down.
Bad posture is one of the causes of back pain so regular posture checks throughout the day are a good idea – avoiding slouching and placing the shoulders in a comfortable position. We must pay attention not to lift more than 25% of our body weight, and make sure our work station is arranged so the chair is at the right height and the computer screen not too far away. Buying the right mattress – firm for some, softer for others – is important, and a pillow between the knees at night will provide extra lower back support.
Other causes include fractures, osteoarthritis, muscular problems, infections and illness. However, psychological factors are now emerging as a major factor in back pain. Depression, job dissatisfaction and passive coping strategies all contribute to chronic pain. Relieving emotional stress increases our ability to recover.
Apart from medication, effective coping strategies as well as medication include massage, physiotherapy and acupuncture, all of which have been demonstrated to promote mobility and pain relief. There is no reason to accept back pain as part of getting older.
It is important to note that one’s attitude and life circumstances also have an effect on pain levels and duration. For example, people who are depressed, under stress or have a back injury are more likely to have their pain become chronic. Patients who are stress-free and have few complicating psychological factors are more likely to improve with appropriate treatment for their conditions.
Finally, being fat was not part of the equation in the quadrupeds that stood up on their hind legs. Even today hunter gatherer communities are not known for complaining about back pain. It would be interesting to speculate what shape we would be if we had evolved to sit around on office chairs. In fact nature would never have allowed us to evolve as bipeds if extreme back pain were the trade-off. Back pain only becomes a problem in the context of modern life. Getting exercise (swimming is good because of the support from the water) and keeping the weight off as well as addressing stress immediately are the best ways to watch our backs.
Throughout the last century there was a rather passive attitude to aging. It was assumed that we just wear out, though it was known that rates of ageing were in part at least regulated by genes, since different species have such different lifespans. Rats and squirrels are the same size for example but live 3 and 25 years respectively. Scientist Cynthia Kenyon has carried out research to determine which genes govern ageing, and to do so chose a simple organism with a short lifespan – the C elegans worm. It was found that there was a mutant version of the worm with a longer lifespan. Those worms showing very low activity of a gene known as Daf-2 had double the lifespan and also aged more slowly. At 13 days normal worms looked old, and moved sluggishly. The longer lived mutants were much healthier and as active as very young worms.
Daf-2 is a gene that specifies the genetic code for a hormone receptor similar to the receptor for insulin and IGF-1. The function of this receptor is to speed up ageing. Therefore worms with low Daf-2 activity age more slowly.
In order for low Daf-2 activity mutants to live long, another gene known as Daf-16 has to be active. For this reason it is known as the sweet 16 gene.
Why does low insulin and low IGF-1 receptor activity lead to long life? One theory is that it is a response to the environment. In a favourable environment there is normal growth and metabolism, which is promoted by insulin/IGF-1 signalling. In a harsh environment there is little food and thus low insulin/IGF-1 signalling. Danger! Danger! is the message being sent to the organism. In response animals activate Daf-16 which sends a protective response to the body’s cells. Insulin receptor activity drops – it does not stop altogether (which would be fatal) but slows down, and this extends lifespan. The fantastic thing is that not only does it lengthen the organism’s life but it also makes it resistant to practically anything – in the case of the worm this means oxidative stress, heat, pathogens, hypoxia, heavy metals etc. Even better, the same response that protects the worm from this list of external stressors makes it equally resistant to its own internal stress (metabolic rather than psychological stress one imagines in a microscopic worm, but it is tempting to imagine the implications for humans).
So, does this research only apply to C elegans? Research has already established that inhibiting genes encoding the insulin or IGF-1 receptors can extend lifespan in mice but there is some evidence for humans too. A study of centenarian Ashkenazi Jews found they were more likely to have a reduction of the function of the IGF-1 receptors than those who died earlier.
Humans have three different Daf-16-like genes. One is FOXO 3A. Humans seem to be susceptible to the same mutations in the gene as our famous worm. Variations in human DNA can affect its activity. These variations are associated with exceptional longevity all over the world.
Whether we have the mutant genes or not, the point here is triggering low insulin and IGF-1 receptor activity. The way to do this is to create a harsh external environment – i.e. a famine. In other words, restrict our calories, but be undernourished and not malnourished to avoid damaging our bodies in the process. If C elegans is given sugar (its diet is normally bacteria), it dies earlier. Glucose shortens lifespan. If we can’t restrict calories, we should at least try and restrict sugar. The current recommended dose is 25g a day. Sometimes it is better therefore to buy full fat products, which may contain less sugar than low fat versions.
Photo Credit: ynse via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc
Anyone on a trip to the Austrian Alps will notice a large proportion of elderly walkers striding up the mountain, and fewer striding down. Taking the cable car down the mountain after walking up is something older people with dodgy knees go in for, since walking down steep paths can be more painful.
Many people will tell you that knee pain and arthritis in the knee joints are inevitable after middle age. The problem is that the cartilage that provides the padding in the knee wears out, and the bones start rubbing together, causing pain. Muscles also shrink in size by up to 40%, which means we lose strength. Losing this muscular support in later years makes us more likely to experience knee problems and to start to walk with bent knees, which is easier when the muscles are shorter and weaker, but makes us more likely to fall.
To make matters worse, the knee joint is one of the most complex ; the design compromise is between mechanical complexity and enormous power. It is more likely to be injured than any other joint in the body. Injuries can be caused by sport that combines running, jumping and stopping with quick changes of direction such as squash, football and skiing, as well as by accidents such as the dashboard injury in car accidents. A serious knee injury often leads to severe arthritis if no measures are taken to prevent decline.
Signs of a dodgy knee joint include :
• Stiffness, difficulty in bending the knee
• Creaks and clicks
• Heat around the joint
We often hear of people saying they used to go running but their knees can’t take it any more. Distance running has often been seen as to blame for a busted knee. But recent studies have shown that there is little evidence to support this view. The reason for the confusion is that runners have more bone spurs than sedentary people their own age. A bone spur is a bump or growth that forms as the body tries to repair itself by building extra bone. It typically forms in response to pressure, rubbing or stress that continues over a long period of time. However, it turns out runners do not suffer from the wearing away of cartilage that normally accompanies bone spurs. Active people have greater cartilage volume than couch potatoes and therefore are less likely to suffer from painful arthritis as the bones grate against each other. Knee arthritis is therefore less common in people who exercise.
In a 2013 study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23377837), adult runners, including many aged 45 or older, had a lower incidence of knee osteoarthritis and hip replacement than age-matched walkers, with the adults who accumulated the most mileage over the course of seven years having the lowest risk, possibly, the study’s author speculated, because running improved the health of joint cartilage and kept them lean as they aged. Long distance running seems to have a protective effect. The only caveat is if an injury is already present, in which case the RICE method is advocated (rest, ice, compression and elevation).
If we want ageless knees, the medical advice now is to :
• Lose weight – increased rates of obesity have resulted in an epidemic of osteoarthritis.
• Exercise – as long as this is combined with periods of warming up, cooling off and rest. The right exercise has both a preventative and curative effect.
Knee problems are not inevitable with age. Children and teenagers are just as likely to experience knee pain if they participate in activities that require repetitive movements.
If we take good care of our knees before there is a problem we can really help ourselves. Without healthy knees there is no independence, and our physical world shrinks. The time and effort spent on avoiding rickety joints pays huge dividends over the years. It is not true that knee problems are inevitable as we age – most people do not have knee pain. Let us take steps to ensure we stay pain-free.
Photo Credit: mikebaird via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Incase. via Compfight cc
Most people interested in spirituality have heard of the strange property of electrons in an atom. The electrons are like a series of circular waves pulsating around the nucleus, occupying all possible positions at once, rather like ripples spreading out from a stone thrown into water. Only when a conscious observer tries to measure their position do they feel obliged to adopt one. Another analogy is that of a swarm of bees, that are all actually the same bee, until you try and focus on one.
If quantum physics is correct, the observer has a role in how the universe looks. Scientist and author Gregg Braden gives the example of scientists looking for the smallest particle in existence; he suggests they will never find it, since every time someone looks for something even smaller than the current smallest subatomic particle, the act of looking will call it into existence.
The question is, does the observer effect also occur at a macro, rather than just a micro level; does observing the universe call our everyday lives and events into existence?
Conventional science currently states that the observer effect does not apply to real life outside the lab, and anyone who suggests it does is guilty of quantum woo (or quantum BS). There is no proof it doesn’t apply to real life either though. One might adopt a Pascal’s Wager approach here : it might be better to assume that the observer effect does apply to real life until solid proof is found one way or the other, since if it is true it won’t be too late to take control of our health and aging when science ‘catches up’ (and if it isn’t true, we’ll have enjoyed the ride far more than someone getting depressed about their inevitable decline).
Every year we look for signs of aging. Be aware that the act of looking might call those signs into existence.
We must not just hope we will stay youthful, but believe it. Staying ageless is our default assumption, our set point, our basic belief. Saying, wow I look so much younger than last week every time we look in the mirror is an act of creation.
If the general belief that aging is inevitable is wrong, but we buy into it, how powerful is that belief?
The Staying Ageless experiment is this : We are part of the universal field. Thoughts are powerful, emotions more so – our heart’s electric field is 500 times stronger than the brain’s. Feeling we are young with our heart locks the bee into place. Believing we will not become old and infirm creates that reality.
Worth a try?
Is there anyone left who still believes in genetic determinism?
It is now accepted that DNA is not our destiny. While anyone claiming you can change your DNA would have been laughed out of the room a few years ago, once again science fiction has turned out to be fact, and the science of epigenetics shows that more than anything the environment – inner and outer – determines our health and longevity.
Obviously we are all born with a DNA sequence. Our general appearance is dictated at birth. However, lifestyle, our emotional world and what happens to us greatly affect how we look. These external factors to our DNA switch genes on and off all the time. The science of switching on genes is known as epigenetics.
Since the discovery of genes, a creeping victim mentality has overtaken the world. If we can do nothing about our genetic heritage then why bother trying to live longer and more healthily? Genetic determinism created a culture of irresponsibility and recklessness about our health. When your time’s up, your time’s up went the saying.
Not so fast. Even if a disease runs in a family, and even if we have inherited the gene for it, through lifestyle and mindfulness there is a huge amount we can do to prevent triggering that gene. Research (at the University of Bologna) is beginning to show that DNA can be altered through magnetic fields, positive mental states and – crucially though this is still controversial – intention.
Since all cells contain the same DNA, but differentiate to form skin, organs or bone for example, research is being done to reprogram cells back to a state where they can redifferentiate into any cell in the body.
So far it has been shown we can change our DNA expression in the following ways:
• Meditation. The relaxation response was studied in groups of individuals in the US, France and Spain. After just eight hours of meditation, the individuals showed molecular differences, altered levels of gene-regulation and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which promotes rapid recovery from stress.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain where the molecular analyses were conducted.
• Therapy and changing learned behaviour. Eric Kandel the Austrian-American neuropsychiatrist and Nobel Prize winner has claimed that psychotherapy produces changes in gene expression that alter the anatomical pattern of nerve cells in the brain.
• Stress reduction techniques (leisure activities, changing negative thoughts etc..) These ‘psychosocial’ techniques are thought to change gene expression and alter brain structure.
• Intentionality. At the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, an experienced meditator was given three DNA samples and was instructed to unwind two through intentional visualisation. By creating a calm state of emotional and physical harmony the meditator succeeded in unwinding two samples and left the third unchanged. If further experiments confirm that this is possible, then DNA visualisation techniques in meditation are a powerful way of controlling our ageing and our health (see meditation blog entries).
• Exercise. Researchers compared activity in muscle-related genes before and after exercise. After a single 20 minute workout the participants’ DNA showed less methylation (a molecular process involved in ageing). Methylation is a process in which chemicals called methyl groups land on the DNA and limit the cells’ ability to access, or switch on, certain genes.
• Beliefs. Eric Kandel concluded that many genetic differences between us are due to conditioning and the society we grew up in, rather than fixed in the raw material we inherited from our parents. However, there is growing evidence that these epigenetic changes can be included in the DNA passed on to the next generation, a theory known as Lamarckism which until recently was discredited as an old wives’ tale.
• Diet. The following foods reduce DNA methylation:
– cruciferous vegetables, e.g. broccoli, cauliflower.
– foods high in folic acid, e.g. liver, egg yolk, dried beans.
– foods high in antioxidants, e.g. berries.
– foods high in vitamin B12, e.g. liver, meat, eggs.
– foods high in amino acids and B complex vitamins, e.g. spinach, eggs.
99.9% of our genes are the same. The differences between us depend on which genes are switched on. This in turn depends on the environment and social conditioning of certain beliefs and behaviours.
So, good news again. We can control our destiny.Share this