| Food & Diet

You Are What You Choose To Be: The Biology of Belief

By Tyler Woodward

What if we’ve been looking at Biology backwards?

Table of Contents:

Biology’s Central Dogma:

Modern-day biology is founded under one central idea, which we refer to as “Biology's Central Dogma.”

DNA ----> RNA ----> Proteins

DNA is our body’s genetic blueprints, passed down from parents to offspring, and used by our cells to build just about every protein found in our body. DNA is stored in the nucleus of the cell, which we often view as the “brain” of the cell.  DNA cannot leave the nucleus, which is an issue because proteins can’t be built inside the nucleus. This is where RNA comes into play. RNA is basically the messenger pigeon of the cell. RNA enters the nucleus, makes a copy of a portion of our DNA and then leaves the nucleus where this DNA copy can be translated into proteins. This central dogma is founded on the idea that the nucleus is analogous to the brain of the cell, capable of regulating itself and the cell in response to its environment. But what if this isn’t the case?

The Human Genome Project:

human genome project

In 1990 the US launched the Human Genome Project under the assumption that the nucleus controlled the cell; scientists expected to find at least 120,000 genes each encoding for a single protein in the body. When they found that the human genome consisted of less than 25,000 genes, they were shocked as this meant that the majority of our gene’s must encode for multiple proteins (not a 1 gene:1 protein ratio).  They also discovered that less than 2% of our DNA is regularly used to encode for the proteins found in our cells.

So what is the purpose of the 98% non-coding DNA?

In recent years we’ve discovered that the rest of our DNA or “Dark DNA” has three main functions:

  1. Regulating the production & assembly of the DNA-encoded proteins
  2. Respond to environmental “information” to modify the activity of these protein-encoding genes
  3. Function as “gene” switches that are able to turn specific genes on/off and re-write DNA structure

Key Takeaway: About 98% of our genes are designed to respond to our environment

Biology Backwards:

biology backwards

What if our nucleus in fact is not the brain of the cell, but more like the cell’s genitals. Our genitals are responsible for the storage and transmission of genetic information, while the nucleus is responsible for the storage and transmission of the cell’s DNA (genetic material/information).

Did you know that some cells can actually survive for days or weeks after their nucleus has been removed and other cells like our red blood cells do not even have a nucleus

So what is the brain of the cell?

The brain of the cell is much more analogous to the cell’s membrane. The cellular membrane is responsible for regulating what proteins are produced by the cell in response to its environment and for determining what enters and exits the cell. Just like our brain uses our five senses to respond to our environment. 

A Sum of our Parts:

We are just a sum of our cells. That’s it. Here’s a nice graphic if you don’t believe me: 

we are a sum of our parts

If you have read my most recent article, “Evolution, the Story of the Cell”, you will understand that the story of our evolution goes hand-in-hand with the evolution of our cells. As cells evolved from unicellular organisms into multicellular communities and eventually into multicellular organisms, it was their ability to respond to and regulate their environment that improved over time. The key difference between us and these single-celled organisms and multicellular communities is that we are capable of controlling our environment. Which leads us to one critical conclusion:

We are more than our genes, we control our own destiny.

To understand how we can control our own environment and thereby our genes, we must understand how our cells work, so we can thrive. Which brings us to energy...

Energy & Matter:

We now know that we are just a sum of our individual cells, but our cells are just a sum of their individual atoms and all the reactions between these atoms that take place within the cell. When we think of the atom we typically view it as such: 

The atomic nucleus contains all of the positively charged protons and neutrally charged (no charge) neutrons of the atom and is surrounded by almost a “wall” of negatively charged electrons. 

In reality, if we actually had a microscope powerful enough to see the atom it would look more like empty space.

Why? Because atoms are just energy that are constantly vibrating at a given frequency. Matter and energy aren’t two different things, they are synonymous. Just as our cells are grouped together to form tissues, atoms group together to form physical matter, which is really just a form of organized energy. As more and more atoms group together, they vibrate at a slower rate, which eventually allows us to see them through the naked eye as solids and liquids. 

There are three laws that govern the flow  of energy in our universe known as the Laws of Thermodynamics (we will only reference two of these laws):

  • 1st Law - The Law of Conservation of Energy: Energy cannot be Created or Destroyed
    • Meaning we don’t actually consume energy, rather it flows through us
  • 2nd Law - Entropy (a measure of disorder) must always increase… meaning the world is always becoming more disordered 
    • Example - When you have a hot cup of coffee, it will naturally cool off over time as it exchanges heat with its (colder) environment… the energy (heat) from the coffee naturally dissipates over the universe. Going from a more ordered state (hot coffee) to disordered state (cold coffee)

Good Vibes Only

When we drop a pebble in water, the energy is transferred through the water and creates a ripple in the water. By dropping multiple pebbles at the same time, more energy will be transferred, resulting in an amplified effect of a bigger ripple. By dropping pebbles at different times or in different places, the energy from these ripples cancel each other out.

Energy travels as waves (like the waves in the ocean). The frequency or rate at which a wave vibrates determines how it will interact with other waves and atoms. Some waves we can see visually like light and colors, some we can hear (sound waves), others we cannot physically sense their presence (but our cells can).

And just like the pebble in the water... When two waves are in sync at the same frequency they will have an amplifying effect - known as constructive interference or harmonic resonance. When two waves at a different frequency interact they will cancel each other out - this is known as destructive interference. 

Just like every atom vibrates at a given frequency, so do our cells. Cells communicate in part with each other through emitting this energy to one another through these vibrations or waves. Cells with more energy vibrate at a higher frequency and influence other cells around them to do the same. Cells with low energy vibrate at a lower frequency and influence other cells around them to do the same. 

Interestingly enough, cancer cells emit a unique energy signature that differs from the healthy cells around them. This can be used to distinguish healthy cells from cancer cells in our body.

Metabolism & Homeostasis:

metabolism and homeostasis

Every living organism has a metabolism. We will define metabolism as the sum of the chemical reactions that take place within each cell of a living organism that provide energy for vital processes and for synthesizing new organic material. Every reaction in the body uses energy, we typically measure energy in joules or calories (units of measurement). A calorie is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of one molecule of water by 1 degree celsius … 1 calorie =4.184 Joules. Heat is also a form of energy.

Because we consume so many calories, we actually measure all of our food in kilocalories = 1 calorie * 1,000= kCal

Homeostasis -  is the ability or tendency of the body or a cell to seek and maintain a condition of equilibrium – a stable internal environment — as it deals with external changes. Or as I like to view it, remain in balance with itself and its environment. The body uses a number of feedback loops in order to maintain homeostasis. For example,  we maintain a constant body temperature of around 98.6°F, blood pressure around 120/80, or our blood pH (a measure of acidity) of about 7.4 [H+], etc., these values are a range and will vary slightly by the individual. 

The amount of energy our body uses to maintain homeostasis is equivalent to our basal metabolic rate.  

There are three main parts that make up our metabolism:

  1. Basal Metabolic Rate - The amount of energy you burn when at rest (if you didn’t move an inch throughout the day) in order to maintain homeostasis
  2. Non-Exercise Adaptive Thermogenesis (NEAT)- The sum of all of the small movements that we do on a daily basis and typically do not account for (typing, talking, fidgeting, cooking, etc.)
  3. Exercise - The activity that we do account for (walking, running, weightlifting, etc.)

Together these three parts will sum to the total amount of energy that we burn on a daily basis. 

Remember that per the 1st law of thermodynamics, we do not actually consume energy, rather it flows through us. So to maximize our metabolism, is to maximize the amount of energy that flows through us. Controlling our environment comes down to this central idea.

*A quick note on Epigenetics - Epigenetics is a new field within genetics which studies how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. It’s been discovered recently that environmental factors can not only physically change your DNA, but these changes can also be passed onto your offspring. 

You Are What You Choose To Be:

Now that we understand that we are capable of controlling both our external environment of the outside world and our internal environment of our cells the question remains of how?

You Are What You Eat:

you are what you eat

As we discussed previously, our body always wants to remain in balance. In terms of nutrition this comes down to eating in an energy balance, by consuming the same amount of calories that we burn on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This is known as caloric maintenance. When we consume food there are four primary macronutrients that our food is made up of, each of which contains a different amount of energy/calories per gram:

macronutrients and energy

We want to consume these macronutrients at the same rate at which our body utilizes them in order to remain in balance. The same idea applies to micronutrients, which are the vitamins, minerals and elements that our body utilizes to build various biological compounds. If we do not consume these nutrients at the same rate at which our body uses them, over time we will become deficient in these nutrients. Eventually, if we do not consume enough of these micronutrients our body will no longer be able to produce these compounds resulting in a lowered metabolism and thereby less energy flow. Consuming a balanced diet comes down to consuming all of these nutrients at the same rate (give or take) at which our body utilizes them. 

The source of our food matters… a lot! When we eat, we’re really just consuming the cells of the animal or plant which get broken down and release the nutrients contained within them. Let’s consider my favorite example… Cows. It’s almost unanimously accepted today that meat is carcinogenic ( having the potential to cause cancer) and generally I’d have to agree, but not for the reason you might think. Just like us, cows are a sum of their cells and similarly these cells can be in a state of good health (energized) or a state of poor health (low energy or even cancerous).

What determines the state of health of these cells is…  you guessed it, their environment. These carcinogens do not randomly appear in the cow or in their cells out of nowhere, they are a product of the environment in which the cows are grown, raised and eventually slaughtered in. The modern-meat industry is less concerned with your health and more concerned with their profit-margins. While this is a very opinionated statement here are a few example of practices used by the meat industry today to attest to this:

  1. It’s very likely that you have heard of the potential health concerns associated with consuming meat and dairy and antibiotic resistance. This is due largely to mass-meat farmers injecting all of their cows (sick or not) with antibiotics in order to prevent them from getting sick. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria, but they are not capable of distinguishing the “good” bacteria from the “bad” infectious bacteria. This can result in worsened immunity over time, as the cows no longer have this “good” bacteria to help them fight against stress and infection. Additionally,  over time through evolution these bacteria can develop resistance to these antibiotics, rendering the antibiotics ineffective.
  2. Because meat is sold by the pound, the heavier/larger the cow the more profitable the cow is. In order to increase the weight of the cow, many farmers inject various chemicals or solutions into the cow to increase the cow’s estrogen levels resulting in cellular swelling and more water retention. Not only is estrogen a stress hormone, but excess estrogen levels are directly linked to cancer (Raypeat Estrogen, Progesterone & Cancer).
  3. Last, but not least the majority of cattle today do not consume their natural food source of grass. Cows evolved for thousands of years as active-grazers, freely roaming the Earth consuming grass as they went about their life. They evolved to survive and thrive off of the nutrients that are present in grass, which are probably not satisfied by the feed they are given, adding yet another layer of stress. 

Comparing modern-day cattle that are more or less stuffed in a cage, force-fed corn meal (or some other unnatural alternative) and then injected with a ton of antibiotics among other synthetic hormones to grass-fed, free-roaming cows is like comparing Michael Phelps to Peter Griffin.

You Are What You Believe:

you are what you believe

To this day, the majority of scientists believe that the body and the mind are made up of two separate entities, the body being made up of physical matter and the mind of some sort of immaterial matter or energy that we cannot see.  We now understand that matter is just a physical representation of energy, they are not two separate things, rather they are one in the same. 

Meaning that every single thought, emotion, or belief we have has a physical manifestation in our body. While emotions are chemical signals transported throughout our body via hormones, our thoughts and beliefs are transmitted as electrical signals. The mind and body aren’t two separate entities, they are one integrated being. 

Have you ever heard of the placebo effect?

A placebo is a substance used in scientific research to establish a baseline or control. For example, if our goal in a study is to find out the effects of _____ drug on let’s say, anxiety, we typically give a portion of the subjects a sugar pill. It’s imperative to the study that we do not tell these subjects that they are receiving the sugar pill instead of the drug, so they believe they are taking this anti-anxiety drug for the duration of the study, but in fact are taking a useless sugar pill.

The placebo effect is a psychological phenomenon in which the placebo works to alleviate the patient’s symptoms, in this case anxiety. It’s actually not uncommon for the placebo to produce better results than the experimental drug! The key to the placebo effect is that the subjects receiving the placebo have to believe that they are consuming the drug and it is in fact working for them. If the subjects know they are part of the placebo group and aren’t consuming the drug, the placebo effect will not occur.

In a study performed by Dr. Bruce Mosely in 2002, he demonstrated this exact effect. Moseley, a knee surgeon was determined to figure out what part of a typical knee surgery for osteoarthritis was actually providing relief to his patients. He separated the subjects of the study into three groups: 

  • In group 1 Mosely shaved the damaged cartilage of the knee joint,
  • In group 2 Mosely flushed the knee joint 
  • In group 3 Mosely performed a “fake” surgery, making the normal incisions, talking and moving as if he was performing surgery, but not actually doing anything to the knee joint.

All three groups were sedated during the surgery and prescribed the same postoperative care including an exercise regime. 

The results of the study were astonishing, all three groups reported equal improvements in alleviating their symptoms of osteoarthritis. The placebo effect group was not informed that they never actually had undergone the surgery until two years later. Many of these patients could barely walk prior to the “surgery” were now able to move freely and pain-free (Mosely et al, 2002). This same feat has been demonstrated over and over again from genetic conditions to cancer to aging. Yes I said it, aging! In another study a group of men were put into a “time-warp”, a cabin that was set up to resemble what their lives would have looked like 22 years before. Including magazines from this time period, decor, newspapers, clothes, etc, and no mirrors or anything that would remind them of their actual age.

After spending a week in this time warp, not only did these gentlemen look and feel younger, many of their biomarkers actually improved, meaning their health physically improved (Langer, 1979). This experiment was repeated again in 2010 with similar results and one of the participants who previously required a wheelchair, was now able to walk on his own using a cane (BBC/Langer, 2010). But there’s a catch, the placebo effect is a double-edged sword. If you believe a negative outcome will result, it is more likely to occur, aka the nocebo effect.

In 2009, a man attempted suicide after arguing with his girlfriend, swallowing 29 capsules of an experimental anti-depressant drug from a clinical trial that he was participating in.He immediately regretted his decision and asked his neighbor to drive him to the hospital, on arrival at the hospital the man stated to the hospital clerk, “help me, I took all my pills,” and immediately collapsed, dropping the empty pill bottle on the floor. The man was determined to have a blood pressure of 80/40 and a heart rate of 110 with rapid respirations. The doctors followed the normal protocol to treat the apparent overdose and rectify these symptoms until a physician from the clinical trial ( of the anti-depressants) arrived and informed them that the man was part of the placebo group and had in fact consumed 29 sugar pills, not antidepressants. Within 15 minutes the man had basically fully recovered (Reeves et al., 2007).

To reiterate, our thoughts have a real biological effect on our body’s internal environment, it’s up to you whether this effect is positive or negative.

You Are What You Do:

you are what you do

Or more accurately, you are a product of your actions and your environment. 

Stress gets a bad reputation these days and for good reason, but it’s important to recognize that stress like most things is not bad unless it’s in excess . Stress is defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain, it is our body's response to anything that requires attention or action. In response to these stressors our body produces stress hormones like cortisol, estrogen, epinephrine/ norepinephrine. But again, it’s important to remember that stress is not inherently good or bad, it is just your body’s response to an external stimulus.

Stress & stress hormones are the reason we wake up in the morning, able to grow muscle and lose fat, heal open wounds, and have survived thus far as a species. You see, stress hormones for the most part are designed to activate our “fight-or-flight” response or survival state, in order to save our lives from impending danger, like a wild animal or some other threat to our existence.  They are designed to put all of our body’s energy and focus into surviving this impending danger, whatever that may be.  You can actually physically see this in our body as it completely changes the distribution of blood flow when in this survival state.

During this stressed state, up to 80-90% of our blood flow is directed to our muscle’s compared to 15-20% at rest. Additionally, our heart rate will rapidly increase to meet the increased oxygen demands required by our muscles in this state.

The issue with stress in modern-society is that many people undergo chronic stress from school to work to home-life. Our body was not designed to undergo these constant stressors that so many of us face in day-to-day life today. These stress hormones shift our body from a growth or rest and digest state to a protection state. In this protective state, as more blood flow is directed to our muscles, it takes away blood flow from our organs like the brain, skin, gut, ect, putting them at a significant disadvantage to function optimally. Additionally, in this protective state, our immune system is essentially turned off as part of the attempt to focus all of our energy on this impending danger.

As Dr. Lipton puts it, what is a bigger priority, the lion at your doorstep or the bacterial infection you are fighting that is causing you diarrhea. The more time that we spend in this “stressed” or protective state, the less time our body is able to spend doing internal “maintenance”, the normal growth and repair that is required by our body. Over time this can and will be extremely detrimental to our health.

So how do we avoid this excess stress?

To steal a quote from Jocko Willlink, “it’s simple, but not easy.” Create your own ideal environment by surrounding yourself with people you love, work you love doing, food you love eating, and activities (like exercise) you love doing.

Acknowledgements: This article was based almost entirely off of Dr. Bruce Lipton’s novel, The Biology of Belief. I even used a number of his analogies to clearly illustrate some of these points. The Biology of Belief is an absolutely incredible and empowering book that offers a layman's explanation of these ideas and  goes into much more detail than is possible in an article like this. In my opinion, The Biology of Belief, is a must read for anyone looking to increase their understanding of the body and the mind. 

Conclusion:

This article is a demonstration of my understanding of the rules that govern our existence as humans, as we exist today. I don’t make the rules, I’m just trying to understand them and it should be noted that these ideas and beliefs may change over time as we learn more about the human body.  My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across on this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward__. And please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time… be good

~Tyler Woodward
B.S. Physiology & Neurobiology 

Bibliography:

Langer, Ellen J. Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. Ballantine Books, 2009.

Lipton, Bruce H. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles. Hay House, 2016.

Mosely, Dr. Bruce. “Trial of Arthroscopic Evaluation of Osteoarthritis of the Knee by Image Processing.” Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery, vol. 7, no. 4, 1991, pp. 398–399., doi:10.1016/0749-8063(91)90020-x.

Pagnini, Francesco, et al. “Ageing as a Mindset: a Study Protocol to Rejuvenate Older Adults with a Counterclockwise Psychological Intervention.” BMJ Open, vol. 9, no. 7, 2019, doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2019-030411.

Reeves, Roy R., et al. “Nocebo Effects with Antidepressant Clinical Drug Trial Placebos.” General Hospital Psychiatry, vol. 29, no. 3, 2007, pp. 275–277., doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2007.01.010.