Saturday, September 11, 2010

Learning from within

There is a lot of discussion about creation.

How the human body was created, did it evolve, or did it get a head start due to what could be called divine interventions. While this may be a subject for intense debate in theological, scientific and Darwinian circles, sometimes the advent of old age and a lifetime of observing the body and your environment , has some lessons in living. For us as a society.

This has been a season of extremes. In health, as well as climate. As well as our attitudes. "Our", includes those who purport to "manage " life for us. Inside and outside our bodies.

And so I was delighted to hear about "cytokines". Which are really what can be called cell-cell messengers. The original SMS system before Nokia, Blackberry, Ericsson, and Samsung types started claiming credit.

Whenever you get, say, hurt somewhere, or face an infection (bacteria, virus, etc), the white blood cells in your blood mobilize for handling it with the help of macrophages which are like security guards. Some doing local fighting, some wandering around in the body tackling possible infiltration. As part of this procedure they create conditions whereby messages are relayed , about this impending invader, through protein messengers throughout your body. While all this causes, swellings, and fluid collections, and war situations at the point of hurt/infection, these white cells also do the very important work of sending messages out to the rest of the body, and the various defending armies (in the form of various types of fighter cells). This very important work is done by these protein messengers , or cytokines.

(watch this for an animation of capturing invaders and release of cytokines)

The cytokines are very intelligent in the way they convey stuff. Sometimes its a local skirmish with an invading thing, complete with scratches, fluid swellings, pains, followed by some new skin, winning the whole war.

Sometimes the human body responds by producing antibodies, that latch on to these invader items, and traipsing through the bloodstream, signal to the various fighting entities in your organs saying, "Attack now, I've identified the crooks" .

Sometimes, they even arrange to remember these things , so that should the same invader attack the body again, something goes , "Aha ! I know you guys....bad news..bring on the army !" and the antibodies do their stuff.

The question arises as to whether this business of getting excited about fighting the invaders can get out of control. I mean, sometimes, the cytokines may travel far and wide into the body's nervous system, may go around so strongly as to affect the body's thermostat and you get fevers, sometimes out of control. Occasionally, aided by certain conditions, the normal cells may get destroyed along with the diseased, in an uncontrolled fashion. Leading to health catastrophes.

And so, it is not always true, that the more cytokines the merrier. There appears to be a kind of optimum kind of messaging done by an optimum amount of cytokines, which keeps the body in fine fettle and keeps things less wayward . And we have had some old technologies through the ages for that, which we unfortunately do not follow, or look at, today, with only a cosmetic emphasis.

There are techniques that help achieve this. Researchers in Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences recently studied the effect of massage on the immune system of adults, and found that massaging resulted notable decrease in most cytokines produced by stimulated white blood cells. The idea is to have sufficient number of well trained cytokines as opposed to an automatic flooding where a few may just be wayward and mess things up.

Babies have been massaged daily before bath, since time immemorial in India, and in 2006, the University of Warwick (the researcher had the intriguing name of Dr Underdown) announced research results where they found that massaging infants, made them less stressed, sleep better, and cry less. This was of course supported by confirming that they then had reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as a decent release of Melatonin, that aided sleep. Of course reduced levels of stress make for better handling of danger by our bodies .

The correspondence with our daily lives is amazing.

We have our daily urban and rural lives. We have invaders, and trouble makers. We have defense mechanisms.

Some places have huge numbers of law enforcement types, with an amazing lack of communication . These cities always keep complaining of inability to recruit more, while ignoring levels of training for their existing members. The problem always, is of timely and intelligent communication between sections. Whether it is sections of police, sections of an alarmed populace, sections of the government, and even the Press. Large quantities do not always imply better checking and action. In fact it always leads to misuse of scarce resources, and uncontrolled increase of panic. Totally innocent citizenry often pays the price.

We need to figure out ways of having meaningful communication between the government, citizens, and law enforcers. Like the white cells, the body organs, and the cytokines, we need to have high levels of understanding amongst us. The government, like the white cells, sends the cytokines out to relay the danger message. But it errs in depending on the huge number of unmonitored staff it sends. A more reasonable number, armed intelligently would be more sensible, than a large population without adequate intelligence, training and arms, as happened in 26/11.

The body has lots of checks an balances, and in the rare cases that the cytokines lose control of themselves, we suffer something like a "cytokine storm", uncontrolled fevers, pandemics, severe symptoms, unpredictable events.

Today, we , as people , are similarly placed. Money, recession, inflation, resources, false assurances, anger, killings, corruption, are invading our lives. We treat everything with a knee jerk reaction, and the powers that be continue to handle each thing with a new committee, a new agency, , new rules, unconcerned that it may actually be the responsibility of an existing set up . Vote bank politics, instead of development, has taken precedence in a multi religious country. Those who purport to be social cytokines, have actually created a "cytokine storm".

And so we need something similar to a "massage" for our living. Something that shakes up the wayward rampant cytokines into orderly socially useful entities, doing meaningful messaging in society. Maybe it is something like looking out for our immediate environment, protecting it opposing bad personal habits, refusing to pay for things out of turn, respecting the value of hard earned money, prioritising education over grabbing of luxuries, having the guts to be unpopular in the process of sticking to ones principles when it benefits society in the long run, and understanding, that every celebration of something good happening to you, must make you think and share it with those not so fortunate and /or differently abled.

I am continually amazed at the thoughtfulness with which whosoever/whatever has designed our bodies. Intricate sensing and relaying of information, varied responses in varied sequences by different parts and organs, built-in defense mechanisms, manifestation of symptoms, and all the while, the body doesn't need to , say, shut down, for repairs, like we need to for ordinary man-made machines. The crowning glory , if I may refer to it as such, is the brilliantly designed , moderately sized, neuroplastic brain, which manages all this, all the while "learning" and storing away what it has learnt for appropriate timely use.

We are so busy keeping up with each other in a material world, that we continue to be blind to something that has so many answers for our problems, concept wise and otherwise. We refuse to look within ourselves.

At something that we have had since birth.

Our bodies.


  1. I love this. You have linked it all so beautifully. I have a re-awakened respect right now for our bodies' workings, with the last 10 days of hospital experiences.

    I especially liked "having the guts to be unpopular in the process of sticking to ones principles when it benefits society in the long run".

  2. The neurons and the nerves often times keep me on tenterhooks !

    The body is something to marvel ! Often times, we dont recognise the marvel ! Unless of course, we lose a part of it ! Sigh !

    Brilliant post ! As usual !

  3. Brilliant post - as always. You always make me have deep thoughts. You are like a continueing education for this One Woman - who has much admiration for your talents.

  4. Starry Thank you. And yes, i too developed an interest and huge respect for the human body workings, when I had lots of time to reflect during terminal illnesses of elders in the family. Somehow, I think, despite advances in technology/medicine et al, our parents generation was better equipped mentally to handle these things...

    Kavi Thank you. I think the Internet has aided hugely in satisfying the curiosity of folks like me....:-)

    Ernestine Thank you. One actually stands humbled before the creation of what is our human body, and marvels at the innovative, thoughtful, all encompassing design capabilities of the Maker....

  5. Some insight you've got there, and loved the parallels you have drawn between our body & its functioning and the world & its ways. We've got so much to learn from our own bodies...thank you for the info.

  6. Yes, we have to look inwards . And also stop and listen to that inner voice. It is all within us as you have pointed out.

  7. Your capacity to connect and synthesize amazes me! Great post once again!

  8. I think you are right about our parent's generation understanding their bodies better than we do today. They had strong minds and strong bodies and used them both. They often seemed to understand what the body needed to cure itself better than a lot of doctors today. My father was almost sixty before he ever saw a doctor of any kind. Today, we run to doctors and take our children to doctors for the smallest ailment. Antibiotics are used for everything and children's immune systems don't have a chance to develop. Great post. Loved the music, too.

  9. WOW !! How much research you do write one post !!! :) Its amazing insight into our bodies. :) Great post - love it. :)

  10. Thank you ! Interesting post. About looking within ourselves.I found this doctor's statement I read the other day interesting " Many of my patients have nothing wrong with them except their thoughts "

  11. I'd like to sum it up with just one word-"Brilliant".You are an amazing writer and how well you link everything up.I've been a Biology teacher all my life but never looked at my subject your way.It was like learning it anew!!

  12. RGB You said it ! we have a huge amount to learn from our bodies ....

    radha I just wonder if the disco generation is able to hear anything ....

    AAtivas You know the human body is a never ending item of wonder, if we look a little closely, to what it tries to tell us...

    Judy Thank you.

    UmaS Thank you.

    Barbara Blundell Thank you ! I need to come there are shake hands with that doctor . Maybe you can do that on my behalf....

    HHG Thank you. I am totally convinced that our bodies and life (behavior, reacting to environment, abuse ) mirror each other, and so I look and see stuff. Not so sure anyone agrees, bu I write what i believe !