Sunday, November 8, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 8/20)

Womb-life and the Mystery of Twins

On my desk is a scientific paper concerning how early life affects adulthood. Chris Murgatroyd and Dietmar Spengler (2010), molecular biologists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, have shown rather conclusively that life events can induce long-lasting changes in our brain, physiology, and behavior. Early life stress can cause over-secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn weakens our ability to remember things clearly and cope with stress. (For the more scientifically minded, the article includes a detailed explanation of the long-duration effects of methylation.) In their study of mice, the researchers and their colleagues found that periodic infant-mother separation just after birth was a major cause of anxiety. And it is my view, as I’ve noted, that when it comes to humans, the earlier the separation occurs, the more likely the anxiety will result in a shortened life span. The published results from the study end with a rather bleak assessment: “Adverse events in early life can leave persistent marks on specific genes that may prime susceptibility to neuroendocrine and behavioral dysfunction.” Yet further evidence that early events have a profound effect on later life.

One of those behavioral dysfunctions may be ADD, so commonly diagnosed in children nowadays. There is a good deal of evidence that a mother’s hyperactivity, frequently the result of drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine taken during pregnancy, can leave an imprint that affects the offspring for a lifetime. Just that early exposure is enough to set up a child to be revved up and jumpy for life. Of course this may stem from more than just drugs, as we saw with the study of Holocaust survivors. I say that a better approach for understanding and treating Attention Deficit Disorder is to trace its origins, back to womb-life, as well as an individual’s ancestral history.

These critical experiences are left out of the usual psychotherapy, but they are key motivations for how we behave, how we learn and how and if we make love. It also plays a part in whether the offspring can have children or will be sterile. It can also help determine if we become obese, to say nothing of mental illness. In this period when the body and brain are rapidly developing, it is not a surprise that adversity affects so much of us – body and brain.

In addition to altering metabolic function and reshaping our personality, traumatic experiences in the first years of life may weaken the disease-fighting ability of the immune system. A report from researchers at the University of Wisconsin demonstrated how children who had had an abusive early life or had spent time in an orphanage showed a compromised ability to defend against disease (Shirtcliff, Coe & Pollak, 2009). Even after the children were removed from the adverse environment, damage was still apparent. The scientists point out that though the immune cells are ready at birth, how they develop and become a dependable cohesive system depends on experience. As part of the study, the investigators used the body’s ability to control latent herpes viruses as a measure of immune competence. People with an intact immune system can usually keep these viruses under control. Those who are neglected and unloved cannot. Thus, such afflictions as the herpes virus, which often lie latent, are more likely to be activated in those who have poor immune control. In this case, traumatized patients had higher levels of herpes antibodies, indicating their immune systems were compromised against the herpes virus. Those later living in a stable environment still showed higher levels of herpes antibodies.

There is little question now that stress and chronic anxiety of the mother affects the baby’s HPA axis, as we have seen. Thus, stress sets the stage for later anxiety in the offspring, partly accomplished by methylation. It heightens cortisol levels, and chronically high stress hormones affect so many functions later in life, not the least of which is thinking and memory (Radtke et al., 2011). Much further down the road it may affect the development of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. What is important here is that in-utero trauma sets the program for adult behavior, especially afflictions such as heroin addiction. The person is trying to calm something inside but has no idea it exists or what it is. Years later there may be panic attacks that seem to come out of nowhere. But they come out of somewhere; it is our job to find out where. If we ignore early womb-life experience we will never discover origins, and we will keep looking into the current environment for answers. What is clear now is that some get addicted to heavy drugs to keep panic attacks from happening. That is, it may be the same imprint involved in both the panic attack and the addiction, only the drug user has found a way to block it. Addiction may be forever a mystery because it comes from archaic imprints that share common cause with sharks. How can anyone find that ancient cause? There is a way. Allow the patient, after a time in our therapy, to descend to deep-lying imprints organized millions of years earlier. Patients are not led there nor are they forced there; the process of resonance will accomplish it (which I explain more fully below in connection with new research about how traumas get embedded in the system). To repeat: as we evolve there are more and more neurons that take part. They evolve out of earlier neuronal processes and are related to them. Thus there is an interconnectedness so that they form a neuronal circuit. Each different level of brain function has a link to yet other higher levels. It is what I call the chain of pain. When we start with a patient about his current life, eventually, over months he will descend automatically to lower connected levels. Until after at least a year of therapy he may touch on brainstem imprints. Here lies the deepest and most remote memories, also the most devastating in terms of the force of the imprinted pain. It is later the most disruptive of imprints. It is ineluctably the neuronal chain that will lead the patient there. When we look at mental illness and severe physiologic afflictions we need to focus on these early memories. Here may lie the origins of our mysterious maladies.

The study of twins provides fertile ground for demonstrating the far- reaching impact of womb-life on who we turn out to be and what we suffer from years later. In one study, researchers investigated the perplexing case of identical twin girls born with vastly different physical conditions. One girl was normal while the other had severe birth defects, born with two vaginas, two colons and a spinal cord that split in two towards the bottom of her back. “So how could twins who shared the same genes be so different?” asked the author of a report on the epigenetic research, “The Third Factor: Beyond Nature and Nurture,” in New Scientist(13).

We have long known of epigenetic marks – chemical labels added to DNA that alters the activity of genes without altering the sequence. In particular, if a stretch of DNA has lots of added methyl groups, the activity of nearby genes is suppressed. So the team took a closer look at the Axin gene in blood cells from the twins. Sure enough, the girl with the split spine had unusually high levels of methylation. So while other causes cannot yet be ruled out, the researchers think the most likely explanation is that in one twin something pushed methylation levels high enough to shut the gene down. Mystery solved? Far from it. What pushed methylation levels above a critical threshold in one twin but not in the other? ''That's the million-dollar question,'' says team member Nick Martin, of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia.

In another study at New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a private, not-for-profit research center specializing in molecular biology and genetics, researchers also found great differences in the methylation patterns even between identical twins (Gordon et al., 2012). Investigators looked at umbilicord tissue, cord blood and the placentas of newborn twins and found differences that play an important role in individual development. And here is their important conclusion: “This must be due to events that happened (in the womb) to one twin and not the other,” said senior author Dr. Jeffrey Craig of Australia’s Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, in a press announcement from the research laboratory.(14) So although twins share a womb, what happens to each of them can be quite different. The study, published online in Genome Research, has “for the first time shown that the environment experienced in the womb defines the newborn epigenetic profile.”(15) And, no surprise, the authors believe that womb-life events may have a more profound effect than previously thought. They claim that this discovery is a powerful tool for managing future health and modifying risk.

The lead author believes we can modify risk through dietary intervention and other environmental approaches. He does not say what is crucial: how about we intervene during womb-life and make it salubrious and salutary? How about we make womb-life a great place to be? We can do it through education and we can also do it by reliving those adverse womb events and reversing their deleterious effects.

(13) Pilcher, H. (2013). The third factor: Beyond nature and nurture. New Scientist, 219(2932), 44-47. doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(13)62149-1

(14) Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "Differences between human twins at birth highlight importance of intrauterine environment." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 July 2012.

(15) Differences between human twins at birth highlight importance of intrauterine environment. (2012, July 16). Retrieved from


  1. Dr. Janov and all,

    “Early life stress can cause over-secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn weakens our ability to remember things clearly and cope with stress.”


    “And it is my view, as I’ve noted, that when it comes to humans, the earlier the separation occurs, the more likely the anxiety will result in a shortened life span.”

    The years around 1969, what I call the pre and post Woodstock years (flower power years) produced many neglected and genetically damaged children all over the United States. Pregnant girls attended parties with free drugs, alcohol and free love. Young mothers dumped their children into orphanages, gave them up for adoption, or newborns ended up with babysitters or in grandparents laps.

    What are the consequences?

    A recent statistic shows shocking results:

    “Has despair led to a stunning hike in mortality rates for some Americans?
    Death rates in the United States have declined steadily for decades. But a study out this week found a disturbing reversal in mortality rates for white Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 who do not hold a college degree.

    For that group, the rate of death has climbed since 1999, even as rates for people of different ages, races and education levels have continued to fall. The causes of death driving the reversal were suicide, alcohol-related liver diseases, and prescription opioids and heroin overdoses…”

    ANNE CASE, Princeton University failed to answer the most important question: “Why”
    As always, everybody is shocked, puzzled and in disbelief but not willing to search into the past, or ask about their life as an infant or childhood.

    The tragedy will continue because again none of these “professionals” ask the question, how many of this now dead have passed on their damaged genes to their children. Will their children face the same destiny?


  2. My need for love is painful!

    An attempt to explain mental suffering... ulcer... cancer do not come close to what the pain that causes it contains in the world of science! To suffer is one thing but to feel the pain that is caused to it... that is quite another. All symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg for the content of pain.

    We can forget all explanations about it... explanations are only meant to alleviate and perpetuating the suffering... they just becomes like all the others symptom... and how do I know that? No... I do not know that... I feel it when I approach the reason why I am suffering. "Strangely" I experience not feelings around pain to be of suffering... I'm one with it throughout my whole system... it is without reference... but a question of why... so there is no collisions between thought and feeling. My need for love is painful and not thoughtful!



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.