Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 28th, 2020

This Hedonic happy cell?

Note: Re-edit of “This Happy Cell, and What a Happy Cell Looks Like, 2015”

And I thought that memory is confined in brain cells and nerves only?

“What is the truest form of human happiness?”  Steven Cole asks.

It’s a question he’s been considering for most of his career—but Cole is an immunologist, (very timely for this Covid-19 pandemics?) not a philosopher.

This question isn’t rhetoric or a thought experiment. It’s science—measurable and finite.

A growing field of research is examining how life satisfaction may affect cellular functioning and DNA.

Cole, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, has spent several decades investigating the connection between our emotional and biological selves.

“The old thinking was that our bodies were stable biological entities, fundamentally separate from the external world, But the new thinking is that there is much more permeability and fluidity.”

Betty Nudler/Flickr

His latest project is the examination of happiness in biological terms.

“There’s an intrinsic connection between our direct experience of happiness and the perception of that experience in our bodies, as represented by changes in our biologic mechanisms. We’ve found that happiness can remodel our cellular composition,” he explains.

Specifically, Cole and his team of researchers at UCLA have found that happiness seems to alter the function of immune cells.

“It’s no question that the mind and immune system are intrinsically linked. Our body is a literal product of our environment.”

As Cole explains, the immune system has two primary functions: to fight infection and to cause inflammation.

The first function, known as the antiviral response, is generally considered positive because it helps ward off external threats, like viruses, that might otherwise harm the body.

The second function, known as the inflammatory response, is less positive because its efforts is to keep healthy immune cells circulating in the body can also cause tissue damage.

Cole has found that the balance of these two functions of the immune system may change based on life experiences.

His work has shown that negative experiences like a new cancer diagnosis, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and low socioeconomic status may cause changes to someone’s immunologic profile.

Over the past 15 years, our work has shown us that diverse social and psychological experiences that cause a sense of threat or uncertainty can evoke a similar response in our immune cells,” he says.

Listening to him explain his work is part philosophy lesson, part cellular-biology lesson, a scientific discourse on la dolce vita.

“We’re beginning to understand that life experiences like chronic stress, loneliness, and social isolation negatively affect our immunologic profile. This gives us a sense of how Not to live—but more importantly, it also tells us something about how to live, because there are concrete things we can do to actively promote a positive change in our immunology,” he says. “The biology of happiness is in our hands.”

But how exactly do our immune cells register this abstract concept of happiness? The answer depends on how “happiness” is defined.

“There are two distinct forms of happiness, hedonic happiness and eudaimonic happiness, and our bodies respond differently to each type,” Cole explains.

“Hedonic happiness is the elevated mood we experience after an external life event, like buying a new home,” while eudaimonic happiness “is our sense of purpose and direction in life, our involvement in something bigger than ourselves.”

Of the two, eudaimonic happiness in particular is associated with a better-functioning immune system, according to Cole.

To determine this effect, Cole and a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, asked 80 healthy adults to fill out questionnaires about their well-being.

The researchers then analyzed the volunteers’ answers to assess their levels of eudaimonic and hedonic happiness, and took blood samples to study the functioning of their immune cells. (I don’t give much credit to research based on questionnaires)

They found that a high score of eudaimonic happiness, more than a high score of hedonic happiness, was correlated with a better genetic expression profilemeaning the immune cells showed high rates of the antiviral response and low rates of the inflammatory response.

The researchers posited that though both types of happiness may look similar on the outside, the corresponding genetic expression profiles are quite different.

“When we asked people how happy they felt, both [the high eudaimonic and high hedonic] groups seemed about the same,”Cole says.

But when we looked at the cellular and molecular level, it looks like people with high levels of eudaimonic happiness are better off, immunologically speaking.”

“We already know ways to achieve hedonic happiness, but how can we live our lives to evoke a eudaimonic experience in our immune system?” he continues.

One way is through mind-body practices, like meditation, which “have been shown to cultivate positive and happy immune cells,” he says.

But perhaps the most striking theory posed of meditation is that it could alter genetic material.

In recent years, a new field of study, known as mind-body genomics, has emerged.

Among the most well-known researchers in this area are Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, a biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleague, psychiatrist Elissa Epel.

Through a series of studies, the two found that meditation could affect the ends of DNA known as the telomeres, which act as protective caps for genes. The longer the telomere, the greater the protection conferred for the DNA strand, and the longer that cell can survive.

And telomeres, like immune cells, seem to respond to emotional cues.

Negative external conditions like chronic stress that reduce eudaimonic happiness may shorten telomere length, while stress-reducing activities like meditation may help to maintain it.

“Telomeres are affected by many things, but they are directly affected by stress. So we can see how improvements in our mental health, through the practice of meditation, might be linked to improvements in our telomeres,” Epel explains. “They offer us a window and some insight into how we are living, and help us appreciate how what we do today can affect our health tomorrow.”

As the field of mind-body genomics matures, the focus is moving towards gaining a better understanding of not only how DNA could be structurally changed by meditation, but also whether meditation can alter DNA functionally, through changes in how genes are expressed.

In one recent study, for example, meditation was linked to enhanced expression of genes associated with insulin secretion, telomere structure, and cellular energy and function, and decreased expression of genes linked to inflammation and stress.

What’s more, blood samples collected during the study found that experienced meditators showed changes in their genetic activity after just one meditation session.

With 21,000 genes in the human genome, Cole, Epel, and other researchers have just scratched the surface of the connection between our emotional and biological selves.

“We are an ever-changing conglomeration of cells very much influenced by our experience of the world around us,” Cole says. “At the rate we’re going, we have more data than we can make sense of. It’s this process that helps us get closer to understanding the black box.

Who knows? Maybe in the future we may be able to sequence our own genes.” Epel agrees: “We don’t yet have the technology to monitor our telomeres, but it’s coming.”

In the meantime, though, the lessons of mind-body genomics still apply.

“The experience you have today will influence your body composition for the next 80 days, because that’s how long most cellular processes hang around,” Cole says. “So plan your day accordingly.”

Note: Research has linked meditation to reduced negative inflammatory activityincreased positive antiviral responseimproved function of specific strains of immune cells, and higher antibody production.

 

A National identity? Lacking this identity? Again, what is this new notion?

Note: Re-edit of “Lacking a National identity? Is it a big deal?”

We don’t need to unite under an identity:  All national identities everywhere were invariably built and sustained on myths, historical falsehood, and faked stories.

Any powerful colonial nation that gained an “identity” was forced upon its “citizens” by waging wars for fictitious claims and suffering millions of young soldiers fallen in battlefields.

What we need is to be unified under the banners of civil rights, human rights, sustainable environment, equitable and fair election laws and regulations, civil marriage, linked to fast communication technologies, access to social platforms, freedom of expression, laws not discriminating among genders, versatile opportunities to jobs and to applying our expertise, affordable education system, national health system…

What we need is to unite against any State invading our borders, bombing our infrastructure, humiliating us, destabilizing our society and economy.

What we need is to unify against any political current that has proven to work against democratic representations, racial demagoguery, sectarian political ideology.

What identity are we claiming?  

Are we to emulate other Nations that based their “identity” on myths and falsehood?

Youth was sacrificed to institute a Nation and were never taken seriously because they are viewed as just meat for the canon and a burden to a stable political system…

There are sections in Lebanon (mostly Christian Maronites) advancing the French mandatory alternative of a “Phoenician” ancestors.

Currently, there are Lebanese testing their blood for DNA evidences of any physical “Phoenician inheritance“.

A few are wary that they won’t be found to have any Phoenician stain/strain and be caste off as “strangers”.  What a load of crap.

The Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean Sea in 1,200 BC and the string of their City-States extended from southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, up to Haifa in Palestine.

The Phoenicians were famous for maritime trade and commerce and established many trading centers around the Sea.  The written language has been around for 3,000 years, but the Phoenicians in the City-State of Byblos are credited for inventing the alphabet (currently in use with slight modifications.)

Before the Phoenicians and afterward, the Near East region of the Mediterranean (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine) has been invaded by a dozen warrior empires, many invaded us repeatedly.

For example, the empires in Iraq (Akkad, Babylon, Assyria), Egypt, Persia under various dynasties (at least four of them), Greece, Roman, Byzantium, Arabic, Ottoman, and finally the colonial powers of France and Britain.

All these warrior empires didn’t build anything worth showing as representative of civilization, until they invaded our region “The Land” and rounded off and hoarded the educated and master craftsmen to their capitals.

We are a region of multiple identities if we have to rely on occupation empires.

How about we identify with education and craftsmanship?  I love this identity.

Let us focus on affordable efficient schooling system; let us encourage technical and craftsmanship schooling system.

Let us focus on building commercial ships; let us invest in railways and fast communication facilities; let us open up to knowledge facilities all over the world.

I love this identity; let us get to work and planning.

Another sections of Lebanese, mostly Muslim-Sunnis, would like to have an Arabic identity and pushing it too far to claiming that we are from the Arabian Peninsula. Are we Arabs?  What that means?

The Islamic Arabic army that came from the Arabian Peninsula to fight the Byzantine Empire and later the Persian Empire barely numbered 7,000 men of war.  The other three-fourth of the army that backed and supplemented the “Arabic army” was constituted from people and tribes living in Syria, Iraq, and Jordan wanting to defeat the Byzantium unforgiving Orthodox Church and domination.

How can we be descendant of the sparsely populated Arabian Peninsula?

The “Arabic identity” group would claim that our culture and civilization is Islamic Arabic. How that?

The cultural development during the Arabic Empire was shouldered by the scholars in Syria, Iraq, and Iran and they were mostly Christians. They would like to rely on the Arabic language as basis for our identity.  Excellent idea.

Let us prove that the Arabic language is a viable foundation; let us infuse a new spirit in that dying language; let us translate the worthy manuscripts; let us invent new terms that have No religious connotation and spread the Arabic language as a universal language, valid to sustain modern civilization with fresh brains and advanced sciences and technologies.  I will be for it and will support it vehemently.

But first, let these “Arabic” scholars recognize that the Arabic language has roots in the slang of the Land: Aramaic, and Syriac languages…

There are other factions wanting to claim that we are Muslims.  How about the dozen minority religious sects?  Are we to agree on a theocratic identity?

Turkish Ataturk cancelled the caliphate in 1925 and there is no caliphate anymore, anywhere.  Tiny Lebanon has 19 “officially” recognized self-autonomous religious communities running our civil life.  Let us get real.

A theocratic State will never pass and will never find unity for identity.

Should we hide behind a reality of disparate communities to establish the concept of plurality community government?  Should 19 wrong sectarian identities constitute a valid identity?

Again:

What we need is to be unified under the banners of civil rights, human rights, sustainable environment, equitable and fair election laws and regulations, civil marriage, linked to fast communication technologies, access to social platforms, freedom of expression, laws not discriminating among genders, versatile opportunities to jobs and expertise, affordable education system, national health system…

What we need is to unify against any State invading our borders, bombing our infrastructure, humiliating us, destabilizing our society and economy.  

What we need is to unify against any political current that has proven to working against democratic representations, racial demagoguery, sectarian political ideology.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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