Friday, November 20, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 12/20)

On the Breakdown of Our Adaptive Capacity

Some time ago I wrote about how it is the unrelenting input of pain that taxes our ability to adjust and adapt, causing a breakdown of this capacity. The result is a scrambling of our brain cells and a collapse of our ability to cope. It can lead to early psychosis or mental insufficiency. What does this mean?

For the answer, we must look not only to our clinical experience but also to the latest in brain science. In a recent study, entitled “Epigenetic changes in the developing brain: Effects on behavior,” researchers from Rockefeller University in New York and the University of Cambridge in England looked at how methylation works to stamp in painful memory and imprint it (Keverne, Pfaff & Tabansky, 2015). When you block methylation you prevent the nerve cells from adapting to changes in their environment. It becomes maladaptive. New learning cannot take place without successful epigenetic programming. And this makes me wonder about the insidious effects of this process when so many orphan children cannot learn well, suffer from dyslexia and are slow to form sentences. When there is day-in day-out neglect, indifference and lack of love, deep damage occurs and the ability to adapt falters.

The researchers noted that there are adverse effects on the feeling/hippocampus areas. In short, chronic unrelenting pain overtaxes the native ability to adjust, and we see the results. On the feeling level the person claims, it is all too much. He gives up easily and cannot try hard to succeed. The schizophrenic does not explain it verbally but he lives it. He needs help to navigate his daily life. He cannot adapt to new circumstances. This is the extreme breakdown of adaptation. This is because the adaptation mechanisms help us evolve and deal with different circumstances. They are crucial for our evolution. We can take minor setbacks, such as being left alone for a day or two, but being isolated for long periods damages our ability to adapt.
If we look for confirmation of all this in hard science, it is there. Researchers from The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston discuss cancer in terms of methylation. Their surprising findings are described in an article entitled “Disorder in gene-control system is a defining characteristic of cancer,” posted on the website of the Dana-Farber teaching and research center affiliated with Harvard Medical School(18). Their conclusion: “The behavior of a cancer cell is dictated not only by genetics – by the particular set of mutated genes within it – but also by epigenetics, the system for controlling the expression of genes,” states Catherine Wu, M.D., a lead author of the study.

Scientists know that cancerous tumors are made up of a variety of genetic mutations within many different subgroups of cells. In this study, Wu explained, researchers wanted to find out if cancer’s inherent genetic diversity was matched by a corresponding epigenetic diversity. At first, the scientists expected to find a systematic match between the genetic and epigenetic changes; in other words, they thought the genetic diversity in the tumor would be mirrored in the range of methylation patterns. Instead, researchers were surprised to find methylation patterns with a great deal of random disarray. “
In fact, disorderly methylation pervades the entire tumor," stated Alexander Meissner of the Broad Institute who joined the research team.

The findings, published online in the journal Cancer Cell, revealed that this disarray in methylation is one of the defining characteristics of cancer (Landau et al., 2014). And counter-intuitively, rather than presenting a problem for the disease, researchers theorize that the random disruption of methylation might help tumors survive and even thrive by increasing their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. "Cancer survives through some wildly inventive ways,” Wu concludes. “Methylation disorder is one of the ways it creates the conditions that enable it to adapt."

What I am positing is that Primal imprints are heavily responsible for this epigenetic tumult and disarray, since the entire adaptation process has broken down. Under normal conditions, as I have noted, methylation is part of the natural order of things; it is a key adaptive mechanism. And what I believe is that, in some ways, it gets scrambled and can no longer do its job. It has lost its cohesion. Further, I think the origins of so many catastrophic diseases arise from this disorganization, which is why it is so difficult to treat. The Boston researchers found, for example, that certain leukemia patients had shorter remissions if their tumor tissue showed signs of highly disorganized methylation, which actually benefits the tumors by rendering them less vulnerable to anti- cancer drugs. In other words, the random derangement of the methylation process can make the disease harder to treat.

One final note on this important research. The researcher from the Broad Institute, which is associated with both Harvard University and MIT, helped develop the technique to measure this deregulation, using a process known as bisulfite sequencing to track the presence or absence of methyl groups at specific rungs on the DNA ladder. He and his colleagues also devised a simple measure they call, PDR (Percent Discordant Reads), to quantify deranged methylation. I consider this a major step in epigenetic research, which suggests that soon we may be able to quantify the degree of physical and emotional damage to a human being, and ultimately, the degree of resolution we achieve in a feeling therapy. We are rapidly getting the tools to achieve our aims.

In my opinion, the dangerous time for unceasing pain that threatens the adaptation process is in the womb during gestation. Here, the chronic smoking, drinking or pill-taking of the mother, or her continuous depression or anxiety states, become inescapable from the fetus and he suffers. It is ultimately imprinted and endures throughout life. It is as if he lived in a straight jacket for nine, agonizing months and could find no way to stop the input. He goes to a doctor and the doctor asks, “Any stress lately?” Yes, there is stress, but decades before anyone, including the patient, can even remember it. So he shakes his head and says, “Everything has been OK for some time now.” Those imprints are shouting in the only way they can, through the physical system – migraines, asthma, anxiety, depression, and on and on. He just cannot get comfortable in his skin, because just below that skin is a mountain of hurt and agitation that won’t let him relax. Why agitation? Because the pain is sending a message to awareness that there is serious trouble down below. Alas, there is no one to listen. And even if they could, they could not translate that message because – and this is all-important– it is not in English. It is in a wholly different brain language where words do not exist. We have to travel with the patient to the inner depths and see for ourselves. And there it is, the agony is right before our eyes: The suffocation, the shortness of breath, the misery on the face. All finally observable signs that answer the question, “What is wrong with me?"

Epigenetic science can help explain all this. Methylation is the agent for repression, which in turn prevents the person from putting away the pain and moving on. Certain switches turn on and off to accommodate the painful intrusion; when it gets to a certain level there is a breakdown of its efforts and “normal” adaptation is no longer possible. The result: abnormality in physical development and psychological adjustment. The person can no longer be neurotically normal. There is now serious pathology which endures. The imprint literally lasts a lifetime with the person all the while trying to get normal, in and out of mental hospitals, seeing this doctor or that psychiatrist, and all to no avail. They will not respond to current treatment efforts because that is not where the damage lies. It is locked up with the epigenetic switches that were overwhelmed early on and no longer function properly. They almost don’t know what to turn on or off. They are as helpless as the patient because they are far out of reach of understanding. Alas, he is condemned.

But there is a way out. If he can travel back in time with us toward the buried vestiges of the imprinted pain and connect with the Primal feeling we can commute the sentence. Because then the epigenetic switches can be reversed and a salubrious state can be achieved. What does this mean? That soon, we will be able to go back down the feeling chain from current to past imprints, observe how deep the pain is by its methyl traces and know where to go for the least dangerous pains first. That feeling those painful buried feelings in sequential order from current to remote past so as to finally resettle the methylation process; that is, to normalize the biochemistry and allow the genetic switches to normalize so that they can do their job of adaptation.

18 "Disorder in Gene-control System Is a Defining Characteristic of Cancer, Study Finds." Dana-Farber Cancer Institute | Boston, MA. December 8, 2014. gene-control-system-is-a-defining-characteristic-of-cancer-study-finds.aspx.


  1. Why all this people don't want to hear you, goverment etc. Yes, I know the answer.

  2. Yes, let's hope so but also be aware that repression has a kind of 'negative feedback' effect. In so far as without a personal experience of what hides behind your gates you can remain 'blissfully unaware' of the implications. . . Which are not merely (discretely) 'personal'. . . Your imprints can bias anything 'out there' you react to, or fail to respond to, even to the point of denial. . .

    In this respect only those who grasp their own madness are sane. . .

    Paul G.

  3. We have a problem to tackle!

    We have "renounced" compassion in a process to repress our guilt... it for what we do and have made us guilty of in a process in trying to avoid own pain... pain of which symptoms warn us in our efforts to keep the pain beyond consciousness... it with disastrous consequences for us ourselves and our surroundings.

    Well established so-called professional do not even need to explain their understanding of presented science if it is perceived as a threat to their own business. I mean if they do not understand the contents of the science or avoid it for what consequences they might suffer... they can with a contemptuous smile (also from a painful memory) without any further consequences avoid the question of what science presents.

    The following issue has to be brought through for what now journalists are blind! No blind who experience a winning konsept will ever comes to the recognition of being blind! The survival of long ago still resonate just too much... but a vocabulary equation with an emotional content to ask the right questions to the right part of our brain could help us... a vocabulary equation for its task to be answered!


    1. Frank, maybe the right question to the professionals would be: Do you think something is missing from your life, that gnawing feeling that all is not right.

  4. just a thought> can this "highly disorganized methylation" be a consequence of higly disorganised gates, i.e leaky gates. and generally how much of methylation is a result subsequent suffering? we can suffer from early, early on...
    another thought> if non primal therapeutic approaches seem to affect epigenetic changes,
    can we conclude that it is because they affect suffering? suffering could be important factor.
    that is why there could be much overlapping in diagnose that uses epigenetic as a marker, between primal therapy and other therapies.

    in ideal case primal therapy reduces the root cause of suffering by helping patient gain access to key events through the feeling vehicle. if done at right pace, patient won't suffer much if at all. this could be very important (good gates) for his/her health. lack of suffering and resulting absence of confusion, guilt, anxiety, depression and emanating good sleep, relations, lifestyle, perceptions... maybe should not be disregarded.
    the feeling heals but also access heals. they are mutually supportive. and prolonged severe suffering is devastating. maybe much more than it is written about it here.
    because it is one thing to be wounded (and not know about it) and another to suffer from it whole life, or a period of life. one person can have vastly different relation to his/her pain throughout life. and that could really matter for the adaptive processes. the importance of original wound is obvious. but later life circumstances could be decisive in triggering that wound and subsequent compromised ability of the system to contain relatively healthy state.
    maybe that is where other approaches find their way to call themselves "helpful" or even "healing".
    we might get sick from the original trauma but also from the challenge to contain it within close boundaries around it. and i don't mean that cortex should do the job of first line gate. the success of primal therapy could be in this perfect balance of leaking and gating that results in access and occasional connection with trauma. it also mean the access to outside reality that can occasionally trigger the inner.

    to conclude, that is why early trauma is so devastating. it is not only the trauma, but also the damage to our gating system. the suffering is almost guaranteed. but let us just not forget later life experiences.

  5. Dr. Janov,
    Did you read “Super Brain” by Deepak Chopra MD and Rudolph Tanzi PhD?
    "You are the user and controller of your genes, the author of your biological story."
    While Deepak Chopra MD is an advocate and promoter alternative medicine and popular forms of spirituality, Rudolph Tanzi PhD is Professor of Child Neurology and Mental Retardation. Tanzi’s research is primarily aimed at identifying and characterizing Alzheimer’s disease (AD)-associated gene mutations/variants with the ultimate goal of defining the molecular, cellular, and biochemical events leading to neuronal cell death in the brains of AD patients.
    What both are saying is de-methylation is possible. In a speech, Tanzi revealed that we can influence epigenetic, prevent and reverse damage - the same way external influence has methylated our genes.

    What he is not saying is how we can go back to early childhood or prenatal. Example: Cytokinesis is the physical process of cell division, which divides the cytoplasm of a parental cell into two daughter cells. Result: Interleukin23, the most active T-Cell producer that cause incurable inflammation.
    What is your take on Chopra’s and Tanzi’s theory?

    1. Sieglinde: I have known a lot about Chopra over the years and I never take him seriously. He has been into so much non-scientific ideas that his science leaves me skeptical. I would like to get the letter you sent me about 10 days ago on methylation. Good work Sieglinde. art

    2. Sieglinde, you need to write to them more than me. But I guarantee, Deepak will pay no attention. art

  6. Dr. Janov
    I suspect Chopra is out to get fame. Just that he states meditation and yoga can prevent gene methylation sounds like cognitive therapy “cures” PTSD. The problem is the desperate and needy will cling to it and end up disappointed again. I’m reading his book. After I will write an appropriate critique from a patients point of few.
    I wrote to Tanzi. No answer yet.
    However I believe I will get an answer from Dr. Buckner . Right now he is on a sabbatical.
    I’m writing very much at the moment and don’t remember (Nero-defect hahah) the letter I sent you about 10 days ago on methylation, I gladly will look for.


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.