Harvard scientist believes he may have figured out how to stop the aging process

Harvard scientist believes he may have figured out how to stop the aging process

Can you imagine the profound shift in how we understand the human condition if someone actually figures out how to reverse the aging process?

One researcher at Harvard believes he has struck upon the answer and claims to have found a way to halt the aging process in mice.

Dr. David Sinclair from Harvard Medical School says that he has found a molecule that can reverse aging in mice:

“They drink it and we see that within a week they start to run further. And then we look at their organs and those are rejuvenated as well.”

This is incredibly exciting and yet concerning at the same time. The short version of telling the story of the research is that we allegedly have a protein in our systems which when we’re young repairs any damage to our DNA.

But as we get older, a new kind of protein blocks this original one, resulting in damage to our DNA which gives us the characteristics of being old.

Dr. Sinclair believes he’s found a molecule which goes between these proteins, resulting in the DNA repair process working again.

At present, he’s only seen this process working in mice and much work needs to be undertaken to be able to apply these findings to humans.

Of course, if this was to happen, would you ever want to be immortal? Do you want to live for hundreds or even thousands of years?

What if you could reverse the effects of aging, but we still had diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease? We may be able to prolong our life but not our quality of life.

Even if we could address these concerns, the question remains whether you want to go on living or whether you’ll lose your zest for life over time.

Finally, the reality is that if this treatment is available it will first be used by the rich. Will we see a situation where the rich improve the quality of their genes before others, resulting in a a society not only unequal in opportunity but also in genetics?

There is a lot to consider in the development of medicine that can reverse the course of aging. What do you think of extending our lifespans to live forever? Let us know in the comments.

The Science of Ayahuasca and How It Impacts the Health of Humans

The Science of Ayahuasca and How It Impacts the Health of Humans

A plant native to the Amazonian jungles has been used by the indigenous population for generations untold for physical, spiritual and emotional health. Now, science is beginning to prove its efficacy.

If you’re interested in alternative medicine and deep spiritual work, you’ve probably caught wind of a hard to pronounce, and very powerful purification rite called Ayahuasca. This ancient A word is Quechua in origin and refers both to an Amazonian healing ceremony and also the sacred beverage that is drank during it.

Ayahuasca has made headlines in recent months for its psychedelic properties which induce visions, as well as its purgative properties which cause many to expel liquids and solids from their bodies – a ritual detoxification of sorts.

This ancient jungle brew is used by tribes in the Amazon Rainforest to heal the body, mind, and spirit. A medicine man or woman will “prescribe” a ceremony to aid in treating a variety of ailments, from psychological / emotional to the purely physical.

Many Westerners have begun to seek it out in hope of ridding themselves of limiting beliefs, letting go of the past, and moving on from negative imprints left from troubled periods of their lives.

Others are desperately seeking an alternative treatment for chronic illnesses like MS, diabetes, Parkinson’s and cancer.

Recently, a number of personal healing stories are beginning to surface that, if true, are very promising indicators of Ayahuasca’s curative potential.

But how does this jungle brew work?

It’s one thing to experience the benefits, but it’s another to figure out what actually transpired to heal us, or at least got us going in the right direction again.

Here’s an inside look at how Ayahuasca affects the human organism.

The Spirit Molecule

First of all, Ayahuasca is made from two main jungle plants:  the actual Ayahuasca vine, orBanisteriopsis caapi, and the leaves of another plant, usually called Chacruna, or Psychotria viridis.  The Chacruna contains a substance called Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is the chemical that induces hallucinations. We naturally have small amounts of this in our bodies, and it exists in most green leafy vegetables. When taken by itself, nothing really happens, because the Monoamino Oxidase (MAO) enzymes that live in our gut naturally break down the DMT before it ever gets into our blood stream.

However, the Ayahuasca plant contains beta-carboline alkaloids including harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine that block the MAO enzymes from doing their job, and essentially keep the DMT active. This allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier after it’s ingested, and once that happens, the countdown to an altered state of reality has begun. Once the DMT reaches the receptors in your brain, the neurons begin to fire.

Activating and Reconnecting the Brain

When the effects of Ayahuasca start to take hold, multiple areas of the brain are triggered.  It activates the amygdala, which holds early emotional memories, usually traumatic ones.  It also activates the neo-cortex, associated with our perception and ability to reason and make decisions. For those who have experienced this sacred potion that many called “Grandma”, it probably comes as no surprise that it also activates the insular cortex, which plays a major role in awareness and consciousness.

Unlike psychedelic experiences with other substances, in which a person may not know what’s happening while they are under the influence, participants in an Ayahuasca ceremony are generally very alert and aware of what they are experiencing.  The combination of this heightened awareness and fingertip access to emotional and sometimes long-forgotten memories allows an individual to begin “the deep work”. Everything can be processed through a new lens, often times without any re-traumatization, and with an expanded capacity for mindfulness and empathy.

We also know that Ayahuasca has a calming or quieting effect on a group of interacting regions of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN).  When this complex system is too active, symptoms include anxiety or depression.  Meditation has been show to work with the DMN in the same way to counteract those symptoms, and as we know, there’s plenty of scientific research and study on the benefits of meditation.

Binding Agent: The Cellular Link to Diseases

Another important aspect of Ayahuasca is how it works to manage stress at the cellular level, specifically with the Sigma-1R receptor – a protein that binds to DMT.  Found in the brain and organs including the heart, lungs and liver, as well as the immune system in general, it helps other proteins to align into their proper shapes.  Many diseases are associated with proteins like this that don’t work properly, and malfunctioning Sigma-1R is linked to depression, Alzheimer’s, addiction, cancer, Parkinson’s and traumatic brain injuries.

This study on the possible effects of Ayahuasca against various diseases, suggests   that as DMT binds to Sigma-1R, what transpires is an effect that protects the cells by restoring neurons and regulating immunity.

If Ayahuasca truly does regulate the causes of cellular stress, it is a promising and suitable candidate for interfering with the conversion of environmental and psychological stress into cellular stress.

Now that you’ve got an idea of the “how,” it’s important to remember that the indigenous cultures who created this brew believe that there is far more at play here than mere chemistry. A shaman will tell you that for the experience to produce the strongest result, it must be done with the right surroundings (usually in nature) and under the supervision and care of the right “administrator” (usually referred to as an Ayahuascero or Curandero). Other things to take into account are the dosage, admixtures with other plants or ingredients, and even the condition or past history of the person taking it.

An interesting observation cited in the study mentioned above is that the South American tribes hit the nail on the head when it comes to finding a broad-spectrum remedy. But the ingenuity and intimate knowledge of herbalism that these cultures possess is just the tip of the iceberg.

Considering that Shamans have been experimenting and working with Ayahuasca for thousands of years, the next logical line of questioning would be “How did they discover this?” and “How did they know how to prepare it?”

There’s one major detail about the two primary ingredients in Aya that has anthropologists and botanists baffled.  They grow hundreds of miles away from one another, in completely different microclimates tucked into a green sea of over 60,000 plant species.

The improbability of these native tribes knowing which two plants to boil together in a pot for hours and hours and exactly how to administer the thick liquid that results is almost too much to ponder.

Was it intuition?  Curiosity?  Trial and error?  Were they actually communicating with the plants, which some say have their own consciousness, or were they guided by some ancestral force?

This is all part of the mystery that this sacred drink holds. It’s a mystery that many say can only be understood via one course of action.  Taking a sip.

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The Neuroscience of Mindfulness (Without Any BS)

The Neuroscience of Mindfulness (Without Any BS)

Neuroscience has found that mindfulness literally changes the structure of your brain.

But while it’s been found that meditation causes changes in the frontal cortex, the left hippocampus and the temporoparietal junction, there is one particular finding that stands above the rest.

Neuroscience has also found that we have two networks in the brain and that mindfulness enables these two networks to become more balanced (unbalance usually results in depression or anxiety disorders).

But before we get into the neuroscience of how that works, let’s discuss what mindfulness actually is.

What is mindfulness?

When we think of mindfulness, we tend to think of an idea that has been around for thousands of years thanks to Buddhism and eastern philosophy. Many Buddhist researchers are doing great things showing how mindfulness can impact the human experience.

However, I have a problem with linking mindfulness to any religion. Not because I am against Buddhism or any religion, it’s just that it’s harder getting across the benefits of mindfulness when it’s attached to a religion.

Being mindful is simply a different state of mind. It’s more a psychological approach than having anything to do with religion. Mindfulness can simply be thought as the opposite of mindlessness – a state of mind that can cause a tremendous amount of suffering.

Here is the definition of mindfulness, according to Greater Good:

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”

When we speak about mindfulness, people might be more receptive to the idea if we mention the neuroscience of how mindfulness actually affects the brain. This way, many skeptics will be able to do explore the idea to see how it actually benefits their life.

So here it is:

The neuroscience of mindfulness

A 2007 study called “Mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference” by Norman Farb at the University of Toronto, broke new ground in our understanding of mindfulness from a neuroscience perspective.

They found that people have two different sets of networks in their brain for dealing with the world. One network for experiencing your experience is what’s called “the default network”. This network is activated when not much is happening and you begin thinking about yourself.

The default network

It’s the network involved in planning, daydreaming and ruminating. It tends to hold together some sort of narrative.

When the default network is active, you are thinking about your history and future and all the people you know, and how this giant web of information weaves together.

The default network is active for many of your waking moments and doesn’t take much effort to operate. There’s nothing wrong with this network, the point here is you don’t want to limit yourself to only experiencing the world through this network.

Direct experience network

When the direct experience network is active, it becomes a whole other way of experiencing experience. When this network is activated, you are not thinking intently about the past or future, other people, or even yourself. Rather, you are experiencing information coming into your senses.

For example, if you are in the shower, this network is activated when you notice the warmth of the water hitting your body.

The interesting thing is that both these networks are inversely correlated. If you have an upcoming meeting while washing dishes, you are less likely to notice a cut on your hand, because the network involved in direct experience is less active. You don’t feel your senses as much.

Fortunately, this works both ways. When you intentionally focus your attention on incoming sensory data, such as the feeling of the water on your hands while you wash, it reduces activation of the narrative circuitry.

This is why meditation breathing exercises can work when you’re stressed, because you focus your attention on the sensory experience of your breathe. Your senses become more alive at that moment.

Why mindfulness is important

The researcher in this study sums it up best:”Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort… it’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.”

I love this last statement. Mindfulness isn’t difficult: the hard part is remembering to do it.

You don’t need to meditate to do it. The ultimate key to mindfulness is just to practice focusing your attention onto a direct sense, and to do it often. You can practice mindfulness while you’re eating, walking, talking, doing just about anything. It doesn’t mean you have to sit still for 15 minutes a day and focus on your breathe. Instead, every now and then, even for 10 seconds, just focus on a sensory experience and you will activate your direct experience network.

Originally published at The Power of Ideas.

Great Barrier Reef Suffers Worst Coral Die-Off on Record

Great Barrier Reef Suffers Worst Coral Die-Off on Record

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Staghorn corals killed by bleaching on the northern Great Barrier Reef. Greg Torda / ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

A new map released by the Australian Research Council shows unprecedented coral bleaching in the last nine months in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, resulting in the largest coral die-off ever recorded.

About two-thirds of reefs have died in the most-impacted northern region stretching 435 miles and researchers estimate the damage could take up to 15 years to recover. Global warming, combined with a strong El Niño, caused disastrous coral bleaching across the world this year.

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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

“Most of the losses in 2016 have occurred in the northern, most-pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef,” said Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies based at James Cook University, who undertook extensive aerial surveys at the height of the bleaching. “This region escaped with minor damage in two earlier bleaching events in 1998 and 2002, but this time around it has been badly affected.”

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Researcher Grace Frank completes bleaching surveys. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Source: EcoWatch