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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Can the Mind Influence Gene Expression?

(Update: Scroll to the bottom to read Techniques for Priming the Mind)

Gene Expression
As human brains grew, we developed consciousness.  Some anthropologists think that as our brains grew as our guts shrank when we switched to a diet richer in protein and fat. This increase in brain size relative to body mass is what gave us an evolutionary advantage over other animals leading us to the top of the food chain where we reside today.

Central to the idea of  Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint is the belief that a return to ancestral eating, exercise and sleeping principles can influence gene expression for a healthier life in our 21st century. In contrast, Art De Vany - one of the fathers of the modern Paleo\Primal\Evolutionary Fitness movement - thinks we can only control the process of stimulating but not the outcome of  gene expression. He puts it this way:

"You can't control the outcome, only the process. We really aren't even in control of the process; the dynamics move us toward attractors, not our intentions."  (source)

Given that identical twins which have identical genes can have different life outcomes, I believe that while our genes define the limits of our genetic potential, there are several factors that influence gene expression.  In no particular order, these are:

- ancestral inheritance (see the video which explains this phenomenon)
- environment (geography)
- nutrition (the field of nutrigenomics)
- the mind

Click for larger image

All Roads Lead to Rome
In a confluence of serendipity, I began reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol on an Amazon Kindle which provided some interesting references to Noetic Science and the power of thought affecting the material world.  This fascinating idea encompasses dilemmas in quantum physics such as Schrödinger's cat.  

This in turn dovetailed with a book I ordered (but have not read) called How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body by David R. Hamilton.   By the time I read about Lynne McTaggart's The Intention Experiment, I was certain that the power of the mind was an epigenetic factor in affecting gene expression.  As if I needed further confirmation of this hypothesis, one of the cycling blogs I read featured this article about talismans.

The field of medicine has long realized the placebo effect. Traditionally, test subjects were not aware if they were taking a medicinal component or an inert placebo.  This blind is a vital part of the testing protocol.  A recent study however, strove to discover how subjects would respond even if they knew with certainty they were taking a placebo.  What the study revealed was that as long as the subjects believed the pill was going to help, it did in most cases. In fact, cases of chronic pain, Parkinsons Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome have all shown positive effects through the use of placebos.

So why do placebos work?  Obviously the mind was sending signals to the body to heal itself or to mitigate symptoms.  The question is how?

Enter the field of neuroscience. Psychotherapists have diagrammed the mind-body communication through the Basic Rest and Activity Cycle (BRAC). They are confident enough to assert thus (source: page 17):

"We utilize a new neuroscience model of the creative process from mind to gene.

• Facilitating our natural mind-brain-gene dialogue is the essence of psychotherapy.
• An entire cycle of mind-body communication and healing takes about 90-120 minutes
• Psychotherapeutic experiences can turn on genes and brain plasticity in a single session."

Download a PDF book by Ernest Rossi about neuroscience and psychotherapy by clicking here.  This would explain why prayer seems to reduce stress, alleviate pain and in some cases, heal.  Could prayer be a form of psychotherapy that initiates a mind-body dialog that affects gene expression?

By now some readers might think that I am bordering on the paranormal and the supernatural.  Allow me the defense that we typically ascribe to the supernatural what we do not understand.  Arthur C. Clarke said this:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
from Profiles of The Future, 1961 (Clarke's third law)

A Mind to Survive
Neuroscience suggests the mind releases hormones which influence cellular choices in mRNA transcriptions that program gene expression. Could it be that we have yet to fully appreciate the power of the mind?  Is that why it appears to be magic? Why does the mind have such power over the body anyways?  In the video below, Michael Shermer explains that evolutionarily speaking, the default position of the mind is to see patterns where are none.  This is a Type 1 error which favors mistakenly reacting to a predator which is not there, rather than not reacting to a predator which is present (a Type 2 error).  This instinct is so ancient in the evolution of life that we can see similar reactions by tapping at fish in a fishbowl or scaring cats (not that I am suggesting we be cruel to animals!).

It seems the mind makes decisions which maximizes a person's chances of survival whether or not the decision is grounded in fact.

Prime Environments
I close with the account of an experiment conducted in 1979 by Ellen Langer of Harvard University fame.  She took a group of men in their late 70s to early 80s. One group went to a retreat facility which was decorated and programmed with props and materials from the 1950s.  Would priming the environment actually help people live younger than their biological age?  Read about it here:

Havard Magazine's Account of the Experiment
The BBC's report on Ellen Langer's test.

Woman thinking
[...] Prof Langer took physiological measurements both before and after the week and found the men improved across the board. Their gait, dexterity, arthritis, speed of movement, cognitive abilities and their memory was all measurably improved.
Their blood pressure dropped and, even more surprisingly, their eyesight and hearing got better. Both groups showed improvements, but the experimental group improved the most.
Prof Langer believes that by encouraging the men's minds to think younger their bodies followed and actually became "younger".

What the men thought affected their bodies.   Shoulders became wider. Fingers became less deformed by arthritis. "Whatever you put into the mind, the body will follow," Langer said recently.

While ancestral inheritance may cast the initial momentum over our gene expression, the priming of our thoughts, nutrition and environment cause the mind to influence gene expression.  We are in fact, as young as we allow ourselves to be. Short of acute trauma, the outcome of our genetic potential inherited from our ancestors is within the purview of the choices we make. 

"Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
 - Carl Yung

UPDATE: Techniques to Prime the Mind

Make a list of prime words and read them every morning and night.  Or make a list for the morning and another list for the evening before turning into bed.

Decorate and furnish live\work spaces for yourself and not for someone else's aesthetic.

Noble aspirations are uplifting and healthful.  Any form of ill-will is burdensome to the body.

Don't try. Be.

Vision, belief, courage and persistence.

Write things down. It reinforces belief.

Set aside 5 to 15 minutes each day practicing awareness.  Take time to be silent and just listen to your body. The act of listening to the body is healing. Meditation techniques used by the ancients work well.  Mediation time - which I consider a form of self-hypnotherapy - is gene programming time.

Utilize prayer if you find it helpful.  The act of prayer brings acceptance and peace.

Practice mindfulness and patience. Pursue peace.

When someone upsets your harmony, recite this silently, "You have your karma, just as I have mine.  I wish you well." (Note the intention is not to pronounce a curse.  Rather it is a detached acknowledgement of the universal principle of reciprocity.  The second sentence is an intent to wish the other person good thus purifying the mind).


1 comment:

  1. Great post! I assume you have read Bruce Lipton?

    Also, you may be interested in this: I am a practitioner and was able to clear my life-long asthma using this technique (pre-Primal & pre-vitamin D supplementation.)