Thursday, November 28, 2013
The Mystery Known as Depression, Part 6/12
6. THE NATURE OF THE IMPRINT
It seems that new research provides critical evidence on epigenetics, and how imprints through methylation can be passed down from one generation to another (Booij et al., 2013). A key could be repressed memory that endures and persists throughout our lives; it drives behavior, symptoms and aggravated depression. It turns out that imprints can be passed down from parents to baby and from grandparents to baby. Some genes which should be turned on are not, while those that should be off remain on. Critical in this process is methylation, which is a chemical reaction where a methyl group is transferred from a donor molecule (S-adenosylmethyonine) to the cytosine on DNA or a histone. The reaction is catalyzed by DNA methlytransferase (DNMT). A certain amount of methylation occurs naturally but trauma, such as maternal neglect in infancy, can cause excess methylation of key genes involved with the stress response. (Weaver et al, 2004) Methylation depends on the work of the chemical methyl group which is recruited when there is a traumatic event, and helps embed that memory. It seems that when there is a surge of methylation, part of it, the element 621-13, attaches or adheres to the gene. It is now part of the DNA and turns on or off certain hormones and other neuro-chemical processes. Once that happens and methyl is recruited, the genetic unfolding is thereafter altered.
In short, methylation can be an agent of (transcription) repression, or more exactly, a marker for it. In this context, repression is a systemic event that involves the whole body. If you reverse the methylation chemically (perhaps with new drugs they are developing), one can still have repression. But remove the repression through therapy and you may see demethylation. Until the studies are done, it's unclear how closely the two are linked, and in what tissues. A study at Duke University showed that when female mice were fed a diet rich in methyl it completed altered the fur pigment of the offspring. (Dolinoy, 2008) In other words, it acted like a genetic inheritance when it was not. It was the result of experience which is the linchpin of our theory--epigenetics.
In this context, traumatic events in very early childhood, (and I assume, including the period of gestation), leave a mark or tag on a gene that affects us possibly for life. They found that even grandparents affected the imprints of the grandchildren, which we will get to in a moment. But suffice to say that the experiences of our forebearers can endure and be passed down the genetic chain, the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This is something science thought impossible decades ago.
It is what we all know; that early love makes us stronger and less anxious. But it turns out that if the rat mothers were licked and groomed early on in their lives, that experience could be passed on to their offspring. The genes could be modified by the methyl group (and also other chemicals) in a beneficent way. In humans, that implies a good history in the mother means a good childhood for the children. And more loving by the mother, the less methylation in the child. And with less chronic stress hormone production there may be less chance of serious diseases later on, such as Alzheimer Disease.
To make sure that these changes in the rat pups resulted from experience and not hereditary, they let normally stable rat pups be raised by neurotic negligent mothers. And the result was still the same, unstressed babies. These babies had mothers who had normal amounts of methyl in their systems. Thus rats raised by loving mothers could pass it onto offspring even when the adopted mother was not loving. The genes for stress hormone output had minimal methylation. In other words love was passed down the genetic chain. So normal babies raised by negligent and inattentive mothers still had low methyl levels in their hippocampus. The babies started life one leg up, a good start in life despite a bad childhood. I believe that changes in the genes, methylation and acetylation, must occur very early as the whole neuronal system is evolving. So before we can state what causes depression or anxiety, we need to observe the early epigenetics at work. Again, pups born to unloving mothers were handed over to loving mothers, and those born to bad mothers reared by loving mothers still seemed to be normal and relatively unmethylated. Let us remember that methyl exists throughout the system but it is not the general amount of it but rather how much is found in specific genes (Weaver et al, 2004).
Another reason this research is important: they found that unloving mothers of rodents causes methylation of the estrogen receptors in female offspring. Then when they had offspring of their own the offspring were deficient in estrogen which made them less attentive and loving to their own babies. We as yet do not know how many key chemical processes can be affected by lack of early love. And more, we have no idea how many hormones are changed in neurotic mothers (heavily methylated) and how that affects myriad adult behaviors. Is depression inherited? There may be precursors for it which is never manifested if there were plenty of love later in childhood. Is some of the tendency to methylation inherited or epigenetically passed on? And does that form the basis for depression? It seems from the research just cited that that neurotic mothers (methylated), are ineluctably forced to be unloving, thus laying the groundwork for depression in the offspring later on (Weaver et al, 2004).
And what other hormones are depleted by this scenario? Are we born with a tendency to anxiety? Possibly, but then the imprint is not methyl so much as acetyl, in this case. With acetylation there are more faults in the repressive system. Acetylation (recruiting acetyl) pretty much produces the opposite of methylation, a tendency to open rather than close, toward expression rather than repression. The role of acetylation is inexact for now and requires further exploration.
Taken together these data suggest that trauma produced heavy methylation in those children who grew up in orphanages. And that process then affected much more in terms of brain and neuronal development. So when we find a mother who is not loving we need to know that she may being driven by her epigenes; she is a victim of those changes. Her cortisol/stress hormone level militates against maternal instincts. Methylation shuts down a number of “natural” behaviors. In neurosis we cannot be natural and appreciate nature because we are disconnected and alienated from our own nature, from our biography, history and feelings. We cannot rely on our feelings to guide us because they have effectively been shut down. Literally, the feelings are aliens. We have found in most patients but pronounced in depression, that patients on the verge of these feelings in sessions often run a fever. The body treats the feelings as a menace, a danger and something to be avoided; yet it is also what can liberate us.
Can we reverse or undo methylation? The research informs us that with rats who had been damaged, and raised by unloving mothers, when they were infused with trichostatin they did not show evident damage. As though the trauma never occurred. This drug removes methyl from the system. This is not exactly the same as demethylation. However, it did undo history (Weaver et al, 2004). This is what I think may be happening during the reliving and focusing on the imprint. There might be a change in methylation so as to reverse history; this is what we shall study in our future research projects. It seems to me the natural way provides far less possibility for collateral damage to the system. Since we already have found that chronically high cortisol levels have been reversed in our therapy, it would perhaps follow that methylation could also be reversed. In a way, the levels of methylation can be a marker for having been loved early on or not having been loved. We could tell more than the statements by the person who claims he was loved in his childhood if he were indeed not loved. How much denial is there?
Neurochemistry may be better relied on because biochemistry has no reason to lie and is not motivated by denial. It can be a marker for post traumatic stress. The more abuse as a child in these cases the more methylation produced. When we add this to our future research on telomeres and cortisol we will begin to have precise measures of the pain in us. And we will know when a drug is too dangerous for us, particularly the drugs like marijuana that tend to open us to ourselves; to our feelings and pain. Finally we will have a marker for the efficacy of certain psychotherapies. Does the therapy undo the past? Does it help relieve repression and therefore depression? Is there great first line pain in anxiety states? What seems to be the case is that love obviates methylation and produces normal beings.
K. J. S. Anand and associates state that in a number of suicides by violent means “the significant risk factors were those perinatal events that were likely to cause pain in the newborn.” (Anand & Scalzo, 2000) (More on the link between suicide and perinatal trauma below.) They also point out the carrying mothers who smoke heavily had babies more prone to criminality later on. And mothers who took drugs while pregnant had children far more prone to drug use, both serious opiates (morphine) and speed (amphetamine).
There are literally hundreds of studies now to bolster the hypothesis about early imprints, how they last and alter our systems. Some twenty years ago, most of this research had not been thought of. (Again, this is discussed in detail in Primal Healing. (Janov, 2006) In another revealing study carried out in Canada in 1998, David P. Laplante and Michael L. Meaney of Montreal’s McGill University looked at women who were pregnant during a severe ice-storm to assess the long-term effects of stress on their offspring. (Laplante, et al., 2004) The researchers write: “We suspect that high levels of prenatal stress exposure particularly in early in pregnancy, may negatively affect the brain development of the fetus... Imprinting at birth may predispose individuals to certain patterns of behavior that remain masked throughout most of adult life.”
Review of "Beyond Belief"
This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer
Quotes for "Life Before Birth"
“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine
Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University
Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University
In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction
An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System
A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University
"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH
His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.