The Effects of our Thoughts at the cellular level
Is it possible for our cells to be happy? Or for that matter, unhappy? It may seem like a strange question, but let’s look at some of the science behind the matter.
First, it’s important to point out that it’s been determined through studies that our state of mind directly affects our physical body. Both positive and negative feelings cause the brain to produce certain chemicals, either by way of neurotransmitters or by hormones. These specific chemicals carry messages from neurons, which are activated by both exterior stimuli and our own thoughts. These chemical messages travel either through our nervous system or the bloodstream in order to reach every part of the body as necessary, causing different effects in the body depending on the situation. As a matter of fact, these chemicals affect our body for better or worse, all depending on what is being projected by the brain. So whether it’s positive or negative, our thoughts create a biological response.
A simple of example of this is perhaps to think of a child (or yourself) after watching a scary movie. The exterior stimuli put this child’s neurons on alert, causing him/her to overreact and think there is a monster under the bed. As these thoughts continue the child may start to sweat, feel nervous, have an upset stomach, etc. The truth is there is no monster under their bed, but their thoughts, in this case negative, created a biological response to the stimuli.
Positive thoughts, though, have a positive effect. It’s well understood in neuroscience that positive thoughts produced in certain areas of the brain create action potential in a number of axons which travel to activated regions, which in turn produce other chemicals that are released into the body. These chemicals balance mechanisms throughout the body. They also affect methylation and acetylation in every cell, allowing for correct regulation and gene expression.
It’s amazing how all of this leaves one with feelings of wellbeing. This shouldn’t surprise us though, when we understand how these mechanisms work. As we looked at briefly earlier, though, the opposite occurs when we have negative thoughts; different projections are connected in the brain causing various sets of chemicals to enter the bloodstream. These chemicals create feelings of uneasiness, unhappiness, anger or resentment, jealousy, fear, or anxiety, just like the scared child example of earlier.
Before moving on, let’s talking a little about cells and gene expression. Every cell in the body contains more than 24 thousand genes packaged and neatly contained inside the nucleus of the cell. For cells to perform their functions, genes must be expressed. Our body contains more than 200 kinds of different cells, and all of them have the same complete genome information. However, cells in organs, tissues, etc will only turn on genes that pertain to their functions. For example, beta cells in the pancreas turn on genes to produce insulin while liver cells produce specific enzymes, and thyroid cells produce T3 hormones.
Gene expression is monitored and regulated by molecules which surround or are part of DNA coils (histones). These molecules, known as methyl or ethyl groups, are monitored and regulated by the brain through synapsis contact and messages received through the nervous system to cell receptors. Due to the brain doing the regulations, changes in methyl groups are influenced by our thoughts and choices. In other words, biochemicals turn on or off certain genes depending on our lifestyle.
This leads back to the issue of how our thoughts and behaviors have a profound physiological effect, causing damage at the cellular level if our thoughts are negative. There is clear evidence that extreme cases of chronic stress produce epigenetic modifications (increases methylation). These gene modifications can be found in the saliva of emotionally and physically abused children. This damage can lead to subsequent psychological behaviors.
Our brain encodes every thought into the amygdala as emotions (the emotions associated with the particular thought). As thoughts are repeated, whether positive or negative, the associated emotions are placed on autopilot in order to save on energy. Even with all the work our brain does, it efficiently only uses 15 watts of energy. The efficiency is reflected by the use of positive and negative emotions depending on our positive and negative thoughts. As an example, if we’re having repeated negative thoughts about our boss, after a while anytime we see him/her we’ll automatically have negative feelings towards them. The brain won’t bring back every thought we’ve had, but rather just the emotion; in this case negative.
Of course the nature of these emotions affect our behaviors and response to our external world. Thus negative thoughts bring about a negative response which affects our relationships and actions, whereas positive thoughts bring about effective ways to deal with the exterior world.
There are a lot of implications at the cellular level as well when negative emotions are involved, going behind physiological damage.
Our behaviors bring new thoughts to add to a well-balanced life or add more stressful thoughts which bring about more negative emotions, strengthening existing negative emotions.
Let’s explore the physiological damage of negative thoughts and emotions based on what we know. In a more general context, what occurs is:
Early reduction of telomerase (the ends of chromosomes which shrink with time as regeneration takes place in our cells)
Inflammatory markers in cells regularly turn on
Oxidative stress at the cellular level
As this continues at a larger scale it will:
Affect cell metabolism
Affect cellular communication
Increase toxins at the cellular level and their exterior environment
Cause irregular homeostasis
Cause cellular repair to become impossible
Contribute to a lack of bodily regulation
Cause an inability to respond to apoptosis
If we look more at the tissue and organ level, with time, chronic damage will be diagnosed as a compromised immune, digestive, or endocrine system. In some cases physical damage is manifested in the intestine with colitis or gastritis, constipation, overweightness and other metabolic syndromes such as diabetes. The immune cells can be compromised so they can’t recognize sick cells, allowing them to live, and in some cases attacking healthy cells. This is bad news for the rest of the body. If the hormone system is weakened/damaged other major problems form since the hormonal system participates in many of the body’s functions and mechanisms. Even our brain is affected with issues such as insomnia, lack of dopamine production, unbalanced neurotransmitter production, and other problems as we age if our lifestyle doesn’t change.
All this affects the way we treat ourselves which results in a lack of motivation to do physical activities, our eating habits, creativity, stamina to achieve goals is reduced, and our self-worth goes down.
As a conclusion let’s go back to the initial question- Do our cells feel happy or unhappy?
Our conclusion is that negative emotions affect methylation, histones, and Cethylation which alters gene expression and is the root of physical illness. Additionally negative emotions are not predisposed or genetic, but rather the result of negative thoughts. Negative emotions produce negative behaviors which affect our relationships and our own environment. With time, this creates more negative thoughts that make the individual feel misunderstood by family, friends, and others, feel unloved, and can cause them to see the whole world as a dangerous place. However, the mind can heal from this pandemic problem and the body and recover as these biochemicals come back to balance and homeostasis.