6 min read

Guest Post by Sharad P. Paul, M.D.

Several years ago, Bruce Lipton wrote The Biology of Belief, a book that was considered a pioneering work in the field of Mind-Body medicine by no less than Deepak Chopra MD. Deepak Chopra has now teamed up with the one and only Oprah to run online meditation classes.

I know Brice Lipton and his wife, Margaret well. They have a beach house in Karekare in Auckland, New Zealand (where I live). I few years ago Bruce Lipton, Patch Adams, Helena Noberg Hodge, Anita Moorjani and I were speakers at Uplift festival in Byron Bay, Australia, an annual event that has evolved into a movement for global consciousness. Bruce spoke about a life changing experience for him in biology was when he removed the nucleus from a cell and found that the cell didn’t die instantly like he thought it would -- this was the moment he realised that cells could survive without a nucleus, the supposed “cell brain” and the depository of genetic codes. Bruce realized that just like within each cell, the character of our lives is determined not by our genes but by our responses to the environmental signals. Sitting in the lecture hall, about to speak on skin colour, humanity and “The Myth or Race”, I realised that what Bruce Lipton was talking about was known to skin doctors for a long time, because cells of the outer layer of skin, the epidermis do not have nuclei but are still alive. The reason for this is because the outer layer is what encounters our external environment – and by having no nucleus these cells can ensure that any environmental damage is not passed on to future generations. This was a defence mechanism or biological instinct – the knowledge that just as our environment shapes us, we shape the environment. The idea that we can do what we like to our environment be it internal (our bodies) or external (our planet) is an alibi for those that lack the instincts for true democracy. When Darwin spoke about survival of the fittest, he wasn’t talking about fitness as in physical fitness, but in population fitness. Environment is everything. No other creature must become an activist to protect its own natural environment. The same is true for our genes, and that is what my book, The Genetics of Health is all about – understanding your genes for better health. When it comes to our diets and exercise – it makes sense that certain foods can be beneficial to our genes. But what about emotions and faith? The reason I called this article “Beyond the Biology of Belief,” is because our genes shape everything, not only our beliefs – but also faith, hope and love.

1. The Faith Gene

In The Genetics of Health, talk about a study on placebos that was conducted by Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard University. In one study, he divided migraine sufferers into three groups: one group received migraine medication, the second acupuncture, and the third a placebo. As expected, those on the migraine medication and the acupuncture improved, whereas those on the placebo did not. However, Kaptchuk’s team had deliberately mixed things up—the real medication was the placebo, and the acupuncture needles were fake needles that did not penetrate skin, yet people got better! Newer studies show that the ability of someone’s mind to respond to healing by faith is genetically determined. This is nothing to be ashamed of – in fact having such genes makes you more attuned to the environment and more receptive to bodywork. In fact, the placebo effect and the (high dopaminergic variant of) COMT gene indicates that treatments that have not been proven in rigorous clinical studies, like energy healing, acupuncture, homeopathy, and so on, may work better in certain individuals.

2. The Hope Gene

Stress is an evolutionary response. When man left Africa 100,000 life was dangerous (yes, life is still much safer now, even with terrorism – we have far less predators and diseases) and death-rates were high. Therefore, stress chemicals were a warning system, like a smoke alarm – life-saving, but unpleasant if lasting for too long. In short bursts the chemicals secreted during stress like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol were useful. But chronic stress not only makes you feel lousy but lowers your immunity.

Another reason why pessimists and procrastinators survived longer was because they were less likely to take on predators and remained holed up in caves (“My tools are not sharp enough” “The tiger is going to eat me”) and we now know the genetic basis for impulsivity and procrastination.

Conducting an experiment on mice, researchers put male mice in a cage. When the mice were happy with a mate, a blue light was shone on the cage and this helped them develop a “happy” memory. When mice were feeling depressed, the shining of a blue light source ended up activating neurons that reversed this depression. Anxiety, which is a stress response can lead to depression only because the path to happiness has been forgotten by us. Our memories lack hope. The way to overcome this is by going back to happy memories or learning optimism.

Martin Seligman, who wrote the bestselling book, Learned Optimism talks about how we can reverse negativity. It’s a matter of ABC: When we encounter Adversity, we react by thinking about it. Our thoughts rapidly congeal into Beliefs. These beliefs may become so habitual we don’t even realize we have them unless we stop to focus on them. And they don’t just sit there idly; they have Consequences. That is why positivity matters. As I write in The Genetics of Health:

“But do nondrug or nonsurgical interventions need to pass such rigorous scrutiny? Or is it a matter of faith? After all, a significant proportion of humanity believes in an unseen creator; where there is faith, there is hope. Faith matters. Humanity needs hope. Ultimately it isn’t about East or West, but our own individual responsibility, a sense of purpose about our own lives…”

3. The Love Gene

Why are some people more generous and giving? Is there a gene for generosity? Being miserly brings on misery. One of the reasons humanity and spread across the world survived was by nurturing each other across the globe, not by conflict. In a major study, half the people who were more giving were in excellent health (48 percent), as opposed to only one-third of the “ungenerous” (31 percent). There may also be a genetic basis. We also now know that people who have certain variants of a gene called AVPR1a gave, on average, nearly 50 percent more money than those who do not have it.

Ultimately it is your life. You’re in charge of your actions, and thereby your own personal health. Can there be a more noble reason for good health than saving your own life? I shall conclude by leaving you to read a passage from my book The Genetics of Health:

“Our bodies are essentially carriers of genes, which is why most cancers and diseases like dementia occur after our reproductive peaks have been passed. Genes may be our blueprints, and in the proteins they express exists our responsibility toward the future—for us and others. If we share two-thirds of our genes with a lowly worm, nature has given us some genetic wiggle room. With our actions and diets, as I’ve stressed in this book, we can make real changes in our gene expression. Genes are like miniature master chefs, valuing simplicity but giving diners plenty of options. Our genetic ingredients are not sacred; what we can create using them is. Life is ultimately a tasting platter—one that we must depart nourished rather than uncomfortably full.”

Dr. Sharad P. Paul, MD is a skin cancer surgeon, family physician, academic, skincare expert, evolutionary biologist, storyteller, and social entrepreneur, as well as an adjunct professor at Auckland University of Technology. Born in England, with a childhood in India, he is a global citizen who lives Down Under. He received the Ko Awatea International Excellence Award for Leading Health Improvement on a Global Scale. His latest book is The Genetics of Health (Simon and Schuster/Beyond Words, 2017) Visit him at www.DrSharadPaul.com

Twitter: @DrSharadPaul

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bacigroup/


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