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14 Signs the Body is Made to Heal and Grow

Human lifespans are lengthening as our understanding of the human body improves. Despite this, there seems to be a pervasive belief in our society that chronological age correlates perfectly with biological age, and that aging is a continually and reliably degenerative process that we have no control over, much like our genetics. 

In reality, age-related parameters like telomeres, DNA methylation, and brain connectivity are highly plastic and vary throughout our lifespans. Our bodies diligently work to maintain homeostasis, given the proper environmental inputs. With the newer field of epigenetics, we're learning that environmental factors can have a major effect on gene expression. 

More than half of diseases are caused by environmental factors. From the largest twin study to date, using a data set of 45 million Americans insured with Aetna, it was found that only 40% of the 560 diseases analyzed are driven by genes (Harvard, Washington Post). The study, conducted at Harvard Medical School and University of Queensland, was published in early 2019 in Nature Genetics (Lakhani, 2019).

Environmental factors include lifestyle behaviors, exposures, and even beliefs. It encompasses diet, exercise, sleep, posture, breathing, sun exposure; the air, soil, and water quality in the place where you grew up; stress and trauma; interventions such as cold immersions, forest bathing, massages, spas, and saunas; and belief-based subconscious rewiring rituals like meditation, journaling, and gratitude practice.

Even the mind is moldable. The brains and immune systems of experienced meditators can appear decades younger than age-matched controls, as measured by brain connectivity and leukocyte telomerase activity (Lazar, 2005). An older person can be as healthy as a younger person if they take good care of themselves. This is why we are seeing more and more centenarians. 

The quality of healthcare is also improving as more people are seeing the limitations of one-size-fits-all prescription drugs. Functional medicine looks at whole organism and their relationship to the ecosystem around them. (To learn more, see holistic healthcare).

Equipped with the knowledge of our genetics and family history, we can design informed, preemptive lifestyle interventions in order to live longer, healthier lives. Here are 14 signs that the body is designed to heal, grow, and expand in complexity.

1. Biological redundancy protects against harmful mutations

The genetic code is called "degenerate" because 64 different combinations of 3-base codons, or nucleic acids, produce only 21 amino acids. (Selenocysteine is the 21st amino acid, abbreviated Sec or U, formerly Se-Cys). This redundancy helps to reduce the impact of mutations. In particular, a mutation in the third base of the codon is less likely to result in a differently shaped and abnormally functioning protein; this is known as the wobble hypothesis, because we can afford a little leeway.

2. Parallel pathways offer "just-in-case" stand-ins

Just like how in life there are multiple paths to success, often the same can be said for specific cell functions. Likewise, different herbs can have the similar effects, e.g. modulate inflammation via the NF-kB pathway. 

Proteins often don't fit perfectly like a lock and key but instead interact through induced fit. One such example is the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHr), a "promiscuous" cell receptor that can bind a large range of ligands. Curcumin and tryptophan can both bind this receptor and have similar downstream effects in brain microglia. On the flip side, Agent Orange (TCDD, a dioxin) can also bind this receptor and have deleterious effects on neuroinflammation, so downstream effects can vary.

Redundancy in protein function means that different proteins with different structures can achieve the same end results. If one protein is disrupted or inhibited, parallel processes occur. "Partial or even complete failure of one mechanism can be compensated for by reliance on another mechanism" (Goodman, 2009).

3. Anterograde transport is faster than retrograde transport

In the axons of neurons, the advancement of vesicles (bubbles that contain cargo like neurotransmitters) via actin filaments is twice as fast as retrograde transport. This provides evidence that creative energy, or more aptly, chaos, is built into neurons. The neuron wants to build, communicate, and connect, and it is less efficient at cleaning up, sort of like a toddler who just wants to play.

Your cells are wired to move forward, to send signals, not to backtrack. There's something to be said about our tendency towards increasing complexity and entropy, and how intelligence is often associated with mess. 

4. The origins of life

For you to exist, your parents had to make you. Your present human form arose from an uninterrupted chain of reproduction, passing genes down generations. Evolution is defined as the cumulative change in the heritable characteristics of a population.

About 2.7 billion years ago, the first eukaryotic cell was formed when archaebacteria engulfed another bacteria, probably to eat it. Instead, it formed a symbiotic relationship and later became the energy-producing mitochondria and chloroplasts. This is known as the endosymbiont theory.

Further, abiogenesis explains how living things arose from inanimate substances. The first cell emerged 3.8 billion years ago, about 750,000 years after the Earth formed. It was rudimentary and was basically a lipid droplet that contained a molecular reaction center within it, which eventually formed self-replicating RNA. 

All of this was enabled by the birth of the sun, and as you go further back, it seems more improbable that we'd be here today. It's almost as if creative energy arises naturally and spontaneously in the universe...

5. Integration of visual perception

As all these cells worked together, they formed communities and eventually multi-cellular organisms. Ultimately, they compartmentalized with specialized functions and formed the complex organ systems of higher eukaryotes.

The collective energy exchange of numerous cells in your body summate to form your awareness. In his book The Age of Insight, Eric Kandel describes how our vision is constructed in the layers of the cortex. Photons excite the photoreceptors in your eyes, which leads to retinal ganglion cell (RGC) activation, which in turn transmits information to the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the thalamus and the visual cortex. RGCs and LGN have their own receptive fields, the set of conditions that they respond to, and they form the building blocks of vision. Neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) form contours and shapes, V2 and V3 neurons infer lines and borders, V4 responds to color, and V5 responds to motion. These neurons connect and unify to form your vision. 

Basically, individual cells construct our interpretation of what's actually out there. Consciousness is only the tip of the iceberg, accounting for around 5% of brain activity. There's more to the universe than meets the eye as well—ordinary matter and energy account for just ~5% of the universe. The more we learn, the less we realize we know (Socrates said it first).

6. Synergistic effects of hormones

Sometimes hormones work in combination to form an amplified physiological response. For example, if glucagon, epinephrine, and cortisol are all released into the blood at once, they spike blood glucose levels to a much greater extent than any one of those hormones by itself. It's like 1+1+1=6.