Does your Biography become your Biology?
Updated: Dec 24, 2020
It was about 1989 when I stumbled upon a cassette tape with the title “Why People Don’t Heal,” by Carolyn Myss. I will never forget the feeling in my 13 year old body and mind when I heard her say “Your Biography becomes your Biology.” I knew at my very core that this brave pioneer, this outlier, knew something important. A quarter of a century later mind-body researchers and researchers in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology and Neuroscience are proving that she, and many others like her, were right. Science today is constantly proving the connection between the things we feel and experience and their physiological implications in our bodies. The main problem now is that most of us don’t yet hear or understand what our body is trying to tell us through symptoms until it has to resort to the more desperate and universal language of illness and disease.
In this new reality we can now start to understand how our personal story (biography) and all its stresses and events, is like a map that traces the path our body (biology) has followed to its current state of imbalance. In my own practice I find that this path, traced backwards, can provide some valuable guidance on the journey back to health. It wasn’t my education in nutrition that showed me how effective this kind of investigating could be though. Rather, it
was a decade of learning and working across the world with all manor of health practitioners, doctors, teachers and mentors. As the evidence of the accurateness of this language and importance of the story grew, I really had no choice, I had to evolve. My decision to open up my mind to see the bigger picture turned me into a bit of a health detective and strategist. In my work I am always determined to reconstruct the map back to health from my client’s life story and to decipher clues from their symptoms. Nutrition is still a fundamental and valuable tool for me or course. However, if you don’t know where you are going or how to get there, packing a healthy lunch might not get you far enough.
There are many physiological systems, paths and loops through which the body speaks to us. One of them is called the ‘Immune-Brain Loop.’ This loop is the pathway through which our immune system informs our brain that we are under attack. Until recently, science believed that our vagus nerve, the nerve bundle that relays messages between the gut (digestive system,) and the brain, consisted mostly of nerve pathways that relayed messages from the brain down to the gut. We now know that there are actually far more pathways that go from the gut up to the brain. Steven Maier, a researcher and professor of psychology at
the University of Colorado, says that the signals that the immune system (largely located in your gut) sends up to the brain when it perceives a threat, “potently alter neural activity… everything that flows from neural activity, mainly behaviour, thought and mood.” This means that your gut and the parts of the immune system that are in your gut, have significant control over your thoughts and your mood. Diving even deeper, we also know that your immune system can be triggered by stress the same way it is triggered by foreign bacteria and viruses. This means that when you are stressed, what appears to be a typical “sickness response” can in fact be a “stress response.” Your immune system sees stress as an attack on the body. This is one of most obvious ways your body tells you that the current stress in your life is making you sick, or maybe even killing you. When your immune system senses stress it tells your brain to mount a defensive response. Suddenly you have a ‘random’ cold. When the stress is over or resolved, suddenly your cold is too. Or, if your adrenals are strong, you get sick after that event is over (when your adrenaline and cortisol run out.) Sadly, we most often dismiss the messenger as a ‘24 hour bug,’ or a mistake by ‘my stupid body.’ The message goes underground... until next time.
And that's the just one system, one loop. I haven't even touched on the Microbiome or the HPA axis. (you can read more about these things in a different blog called "How Mental Health Isolated Itself".
So here is the imperative question we must ask then: What would happen if you added up a lifetime of stress? If you took family, relationship, tragedy, work, divorce, abuse, trauma, death and accidents, and then put them into this context? What if you add in the crisis of 2020? What if you had a solid grasp of what it means when I say that stress happens in the body? And, what if you knew that those thought patterns of yours triggered a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones in your body that damaged your intestinal lining, causing "IBS" after you ate that hot dog. Would you continue to ignore the ‘random’ stomach bugs, the migraines and your thinning hair or bleeding gums? Would you dismiss how tired you get right after lunch or around 4 pm every day or how you wake up at 2 am almost every night? Would you simply accept how bloated you feel after eating and just keep popping antibiotics for those recurring infections?
You probably wouldn’t.
Morden's Mental Health Week 2019 Keynote, photo courtesy of the Winkler-Morden Times