While consciousness studies, psychodynamics and integrative psychology have shed new light on the old, unified fields of mind, body, and soul, new research on the biochemical factors of emotion — neuropeptides, or ‘molecules of emotions,’ and receptors — has augmented our understanding of our inner healing systems. The understanding today is our internal healing systems are far more extensive than our organs, tissues and cells. This also relates to the integral activities of all our biological subsystems, besides our mind and emotion — although our immune configuration is pivotal to our body’s healing processes. As philosopher, statesman and scientist, Francis Bacon said, “A healthy body is a guest-chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison.”
You’d call the whole idea our ‘mind-gene connection,’ because our definition of health, or illness, cannot be indexed by good immune health, or poor immune response. In other words, any defect at the cellular level is a consequence of our changed gene expression. This is primarily because neuropeptides that network with receptors can alter gene expression through the transfer of messages from the cell’s surface to its nuclear hub.
New studies have revealed the outcome of stress and emotional factors on our gene expression — including the central role they play in health, wellness and disease states. A study on first-year medical students, for instance, with regard to their levels of gene expression and peripheral white blood cells, or ‘soldiers of immunity,’ at the time of academic examinations was conducted around one month before their examinations. This was correlated during the stressful examination period. The study found higher levels of gene expression and white blood cells in the study subjects — but only during the stressful examination stage. The results were consistent with earlier data on down-regulation — the cellular decrease in the number of receptors to a molecule, hormone or neurotransmitter, which reduces the cell's sensitivity — of immune cells during periods of stress, emotional anxiety, or psychological upheaval.
What does this connote? While our gene expression is altered during stress, the ‘shift’ impacts our cellular function, health and wellness parameters in more ways than one. This also establishes the likely relationship that exists between our emotional factors and genes, including cancer genes. This is a key mechanism for most forms of cancers. It increases the expression of genes, in all probability, through the mediator effect of stress-related neuropeptides that interact with receptors causing the transfer of messages at the cellular level. This could, in certain instances, transform benign gene factors into active cancer genes too.
Research suggests that stress can dramatically hamper our gene repair mechanism. In the process, it can transform our cells into full-blown tumours, or cancers — a perilous situation. This is one major reason why modern medicine and other forms of healing systems have expanded their therapeutic umbrella to include emotions, neuropeptides, hormonal systems and other processes, not to speak of immune mechanisms and their influence on gene expression, aside from the regulation of gene components within the cells, in the holistic treatment of illness, or disease.
New studies corroborate the fact that psychological traits and states are fully entwined with biological systems of immune defence and healing too. Recent research suggests that the immune system is not merely a defence complex, but a natural, yet composite, facet of self-governance. In simple terms, it evidences that our psychological, neurological, and immune systems espouse a universal purpose for a common minimum, also maximum, programme — to maintain balance, unity, and harmony within and outside of our living existence.