Monday, November 2, 2015
Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 6/20)
Epigenetics and Brain Development
Although the study of epigenetics can get fairly complex, one of the keys to proper understanding lies in accounting how the brain develops during the fetal period. The thalamo-cortical (thinking/feeling) circuits are established very late in gestation. Only after they have developed and the amygdala-cortical circuits are in place is it possible for us to have a mental appreciation of the pain we are in. Before then, we can experience pain without acknowledging it. Thus, pain is laid down unconsciously, without words to explain or clarify it. There was a study reported in the British journal Nature, (Garcia, Vouimba, Beaudry & Thompson, 1999) in which the investigators noted that when babies are under threat the amygdala sends a signal to the prefrontal cortex, triggering the expression of fear in behavior. The cortex becomes the “decider,” as it were, planning for action. As part of the study, the researchers trained mice to associate a tone with an accompanying shock delivered whenever the tone was issued. Each time the mice heard the tone, there was commensurate brain activity in the prefrontal area, signaling a threat. But when the amygdala was surgically removed there was no longer any prefrontal activity; the former could no longer signal fear to the top level. The same is true when we drug that structure or tranquilize it: we thereby diminish the force that mounts in the prefrontal area. As we learned earlier, gating problems in the amygdala may be part of the reason so many of us have trouble either falling asleep, staying asleep, or even concentrating. Lower level imprints thrusting upwards and forward keep us from traveling to a lower level of brain function by jolting us into a hyper-vigilant state whenever we lie down to relax. There is simply too much activity in that deeper level to permit sleep.
The primordial Primal Imprint involves the brainstem. Phylo-genetically, this is an ancient brain system that we share with sharks. It makes us hyperaware and hyper-reactive. It is the source of basic biological impulses, fight or flight. And research points to this key structure as where anxiety emanates from, something I have seen and written about for many decades. Imprints here adversely affect the serotonin system, which should help dampen panic, but it cannot. So what do we do years later for panic? We offer serotonin pills in the form of SSRI’s, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. And what does that do? Make up for what was depleted during brainstem dominance.
What is most important from my perspective is that when the brain is marked by trauma, serotonin supplies are depleted; and when that happens, we have what I call “leaky gates’ for a lifetime. We are then less effective in our efforts to repress. Pain roils the brain. We are disturbed and cannot concentrate or learn. And later in life, we are more susceptible to mental illness. This was found by researchers in Quebec, Canada, who measured the serotonin synthesis capacity of 26 healthy adult males, recruited from a 27-year longitudinal study. The results were then correlated with reported birth trauma, especially a delivery where the fetus showed signs of physiological distress (Booij et al., 2012). The study concluded that “perinatal stressors may contribute to increased vulnerability for psychiatric disorders in which serotonin plays a major role.”
Recently, researchers have found that children with OCD, Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder, are much more likely to have suffered a birth trauma than controls (Geller et al., 2008). And the question is, why does this reaction get imprinted and last so long? Because it is essential for survival that we remember what is dangerous and how to react to it. We need to have the capacity to feel terror and get galvanized to react immediately. Part of this is that the secretion of noradrenaline affects the amygdala and elements of the brainstem, which are mobilized. We become hyper-alert and ready for action, and this alertness interacts with the memory system to direct our efforts.
If we had the ability to employ words at birth we would say, “Oh My, such terror”. But we wait years to have those words, and then we call it anxiety. Why? Because we lost the connection to the origin of it. Now it seems like a different disease with no known cause. It is the same old imprint with a new title. Yet it is a powerhouse, and when we begin our study into the development of cancer later in life we expect to see strong correlations. Remember, terror – now called anxiety – has a purpose: it is essential for memory to alert us to danger from inside and out. We try to do away with anxiety with pills when it is a life-saving mechanism and needs to be available.
Terror is mobilized so deep in the brain that an individual is often unaware of its onset. Thus, people who suffer panic attacks often say they seem to come out of nowhere, even though their bodies are trying to send early warning signals. In one experiment, scientists at Southern Methodist University in Dallas attached mobile monitors to panic sufferers and recorded round-the-clock readings of vital signs (Meuret et al., 2011). What they found was that subjects were completely unaware of physiological symptoms that could have signaled an impending panic episode, the biological precursors to manifest symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, trembling or hot flashes. Patients were oblivious to these “waves of physiological instability” for at least an hour after the symptoms had started. Suddenly, as if on a time-delay, the patient becomes aware that he is having a full-blown panic attack. It is as though the pain/terror is on the rise and we are not aware of it until it engulfs our consciousness. (The experiment is also explained in a YouTube video posted online and featuring the study’s lead researcher, Alicia Meuret, Associate Professor Of Psychology and Director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at SMU(12)). Because the terror is set down so early, in the beginning months of gestation, and imprinted so deep in the brain, we have no idea where it comes from. Terror surely begins its life in the brainstem and in archaic parts of the limbic system (amygdala). It is only when the gates falter and the terror bursts through that we become aware of it. Attention Deficit Disorder means that the gates have let through scattered pain and terror, distracting our focus and attention. This means that we pay too much to a multitude of inputs. It is not a deficit; our attentional processes are overwhelmed. And what is the message it is trying to unravel? It is not one message but a myriad of them, all shouting “I hurt.”
(12) Meuret, A., Ph.D. (2011, July 26). SMU: Out-of-the-blue panic attacks aren't without warning. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3SLGt8smTw
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.