Published on 16-09-2016
Α healthy environment leads to healthy cells; a sick environment leads to sick cells. All of my experiments confirming that “It’s the environment that controls the activity of genes” presaged the now booming field of epigenetics (“above”- genetics). Finally mainstream science has recognized that genes do not determine the fate of cells.
How do these studies relate to you? When you see yourself in the mirror, you see a single human organism — you — looking back. However, this is a misperception. We are not single organisms; we are made up of about 50 trillion cells! By strict definition, a human being is a community of living organisms, our cells. More specifically, a human is a “skin-covered” culture dish containing 50 trillion cells. Our blood is the growth medium, the cell-controlling environment within our skin-covered culture dish.
In fact, it makes no difference to the fate of a cell if it is in a plastic- or a skin-covered culture dish. Wherever it lives, its life is controlled by the culture medium. As a cell biologist, I was responsible for controlling the chemistry of my cells in plastic culture dishes. As a “self-biologist” illustrated in the cartoon on the next page, you control the chemistry of your own culture medium, the blood, through your nutrition and the operation of your brain. When your mind perceives the experience of love, it causes the brain to secrete neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, and growth hormone into the blood. When these chemicals are added to the culture medium of cells grown in a plastic dish, the cells react by exhibiting robust, healthy growth. The same occurs for cells in the body’s skin-covered dish—yes, you are generally healthier and more alive when you’re in love.
However, if the same brain in the same body perceives a threatening world, it does not prompt the brain to release the biochemicals of love. Instead, fear provokes the release of stress hormones and inflammatory agents such as cytokines into the blood. If these chemicals are added to cell cultures in a plastic dish, they cause the cells to stop growing and may cause them to die. The chemistry of stress stunts the growth and maintenance of cells because it diverts the body’s energy to support protection mechanisms. This is why stress is the primary cause of illness and is responsible for up to 90 percent of all doctor visits.
It is important to note that stress hormones have multiple roles and their actions are predicated on the type of “stress” an individual is experiencing. There are two types of stress, each with different biochemical consequences: distress and eustress. Distress occurs when we perceive that our survival is threatened. That’s when stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline cause us to shift from growth to protection, saving our lives if there is an acute threat (like a mountain lion) or becoming corrosive if the threat is chronic (like everyday traffic and a job you hate).
Eustress, on the other hand, which literally means “good stress,” results when we “stress” the system with nonthreatening behaviors such as engaging in physical activities like sports and mental activities like writing this book, and falling passionately in love! Researchers have found that the stress hormone cortisol is released not just when we’re fleeing an avalanche but also when we’re blissfully in love. In 2004, University of Pisa researchers found that the levels of cortisol were “significantly higher” among their research subjects who had recently fallen in love than those who were not in love. In 2009, University of Texas researchers found that cortisol levels increased when women in their study were asked to reflect on their romantic partners. The increase was “particularly pronounced and relatively long-lasting” in subjects who spent the most time thinking about their relationships.