Blueprinting Root Cause Analysis begins with DNA
Reader, where does your “Self” reside, and how is it created and maintained? What about your “Identity?” Do these originate in your brain? Your heart? Your gut? Do they emanate from your 130 trillion human and microbial cells? From your 100 billion neurons and their 10,000 trillion synaptic connections? Many neuroscientists would argue this point of view, and I respectfully disagree. Why? Most of us over our lifespan can identify a relatively stable sense of self, and one or more stable adult identities (parent, adult child, friend, among others.). Yet inside our bodies, at the molecular, atomic, and subatomic levels, everything is constantly changing at unbelievably fast speeds! With constant change comes a continuous opportunity to stabilize or destabilize these events—to improve or worsen the underlying health of our cellular and mental processes. What are the implications of this dynamically changing environment? And if such cellular, molecular, and atomic instability is the case, how can we benefit from a stable sense of self and good mental health? Let’s illustrate a few examples of what’s going on inside us…
Where does the “Self” reside?
We will begin with the lifespan of the cells in our bodies. Those cells that line your stomach and intestines die off and are replaced every two to nine days. Blood cells, depending upon which ones, are replaced every few days to few months. Heart muscle cells die off and are replaced at the rate of 0.5 – 10% per year, so you may have an entirely new heart created over your lifetime! And while most of the cells in our brain last a lifetime, a large subpopulation of hippocampal neurons (the hippocampus is where emotional regulation and new memory formation take place), constituting one third of the neurons, is subject to exchange. In adults, 700 new neurons are added per day, and these neurons are generated every day even into old age. The take-away message? Virtually every cell in our body gets replaced over our lifespan, which offers vast opportunities to improve their health, and our mental health, or cause premature cellular aging and cellular death.
What about the turnover of molecules and atoms inside these cells? RNA molecules live an average of only two minutes. For proteins, their half-lives (the time it takes for half of them to be destroyed) ranged from 10 hours to greater than 1000 hours. In a study published in the Annual Report for Smithsonian Institution, scientists found that 98 percent of our atoms are replaced each year.
At the subatomic level, things are even faster and spookier. Inside the nucleus of an atom (like the sodium or potassium atoms inside you), particles can move faster than 46,500 miles per second! An electron around a hydrogen atom (think of all the “H” atoms in the H2O inside you) is a little slower, moving at “only” 13,020 miles per second! And finally, many enzymes in our cells dramatically accelerate molecular and atomic alterations, utilizing quantum mechanical events such as electron tunneling, to enable them to take place in a billionth of a second or less. In fact, plants became “quantum computers” long before we or the Chinese developed them!
With all of this turnover and turmoil, all of this chaos, how can there possibly be any stability—or, for that matter, how can there be any stable life at all? Much of the answer lies in the main “Blueprint” for all of this cellular activity, and for life itself: our unique DNA.
DNA: A blueprint to build a better life
Life is a highly organized process that within each life form unfolds over months and years—and DNA is its driving factor. It is for this reason that DNA is also a fundamental key to understanding Root Cause Psychiatry, and how we can use it to build better mental health. So what exactly is DNA, and how does it work?
Now, I admit that DNA can seem like an infinitely complex notion to wrap our minds around. For instance, if we unwound all the DNA in our body and put it end-to-end, it would be able to stretch to the sun and back over 600 times! And while we may be able to understand that our DNA is a simple “digital information system” made up of sequences of just four nucleotide molecules arranged in pairs (we’ve seen the double helix images—the pairs constitute the rungs in the DNA ladder!) how are we to fully comprehend that inside each one of our human cells, there exists 3 billion pairs of nucleotides? And how do we wrap our heads around the fact that we 7.8 billion humans can look and act so differently (consider for a moment how different you are from your siblings, your mother, or your father), yet across the globe each of us shares 99.6% of our genetic code—and that our individuality comes from just 0.4% of that code?
Luckily, in our practical understanding of DNA as a blueprint, we don’t have to comprehend the enormity of all this. Simply put, DNA is the code that the cells of our body “read” to create and re-create themselves (and by extension, us!) To more easily understand this process, I encourage you to watch the video below, which does an excellent job of visualizing the inner workings of our cells. As you’ll see, genes are sections of DNA that contain instructions for building proteins. Those proteins—made up of amino acids—will eventually determine everything from the color of your eyes to whether you might suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental illness. They will also manufacture those enzymes I told you about earlier, that accelerate cellular functions a billion-fold.As you watch and listen to this video, you might think that such a beautiful, mechanical “blueprinting” process might point to a mechanistic view of life, and a kind of genetic predeterminism—that our fates are sealed as each of those blueprinted genes (our cellular “code”) get read and do their work. But about 20 seconds into the video, the narrator makes a different case. Did you catch it? “When the gene is switched on…”
Now, re-watch the video and consider those mechanical processes in a different light, using the analogy of designing and building a home. Any blueprint, no matter how complex, can be modified further by its architect, and the materials (the building blocks) used to render its design are almost infinite in their variation. And of course there are the engineers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, tile layers and so on that can further modify the design by collaborating with the architect to make changes in the blueprint. Inside our cells, the process of reading our genetic blueprint in order to create the proteins that build and rebuild our very selves is one of inputs and outputs. And guess what, reader? You have a big say over those inputs. In fact, you are the LEAD ARCHITECT. While you may be genetically predisposed to certain mental health conditions, there are innumerable inputs that can tell your body to switch “on” or “off” certain genes. And these inputs, including everything from vitamins and supplements to macro and micronutrients to targeted medications to a simple run in the morning, are very much in your control. You can even order Genomind’s Mental Health Map DNA Test Kit, and through a simple cheek swab identify certain genetic predispositions related to mood, stress and anxiety, sleep, and other traits; and learn how to “throw the right switches” to improve your mental health!
You are the lead architect of your own health… but you have helpers!
In closing, as you are the lead architect of your future mental and physical health, I would like to introduce you to a new cast of “root cause analysis experts” who will help you create the blueprint and assist you in building better mental health. While we will get to know each of them in great detail in future blogs, for today their brief bios are:
Your “assistant architects,” including the psychiatrist, nutritionist, naturopath, and other professionals who can help “guide” the process of bringing the blueprint to life.
The “engineers,” including genetic testing, nutrient evaluation, microbiome testing, food sensitivities and systemic inflammation assessment, other important blood-based biomarkers, DNA methylation and other cellular aging tests that will help ensure that as Lead Architect, you will have the information you need to build more robust and resilient mental health.
The “builders,” which are the cellular systems and processes by which you can begin to implement the design of your blueprint. This includes epigenetic factors such as methylation and acetylation that turn on and turn off genes, RNA (like in two of the COVID vaccines) that manufactures the proteins, mitochondria that produce the energy that powers all the cellular processes, and subatomic events
The “building materials”—while you can design a beautiful blueprint, the end result is very much dependent upon the materials you use to build it out. The building materials in this series include amino acids, fatty acids, carbohydrates, atoms, subatomic particles, other molecules, macronutrients, micronutrients, unconscious factors that originate in childhood, self-help knowledge, meditation, love and work relationships, sociopolitical factors, spirituality, and more.
You may be thinking at this point, “He has no idea what he is asking of me! This is all so complex and beyond my understanding! I’m no scientist, what is he thinking?” My Dear Reader, fear not! Please recall that I am your Healing Companion, devoted to easing your emotional pain, not adding to it. I will be with you every step of the way on this immense journey, and I will teach you how to become the Lead Architect in building better mental health for you and those you love.
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