Is Metabolism the Key to Disease and Aging?.
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Medical research enjoyed a major breakthrough over the past decade when two factors were isolated that link almost every major disorder: inflammation and stress. Neither came as a total surprise. Inflammation was long known as a paradoxical process in the body. Disease and injured tissues need an added supply of oxygen and immune cells in order to heal, but taken too far, as in the case of severe burns, and inflammation can lead to shock and even death.
Stress is more clear-cut, since it has always been associated with harmful effects in the body and is linked to many disorders from depression and anxiety to hypertension and lowered immunity. But a breakthrough occurred when it was suddenly realized that the culprits in disease and aging were not acute, dramatic instances of inflammation and stress. Instead, the damage to the body is low-level and steady, a chronic condition that does its damage slowly at the cellular level. It turns out that aging and chronic disease actually begin almost invisibly at the cellular level long before any symptoms appear, over a span of years or most probably decades.
Breakthroughs are conceptual, opening a door into new paradigms. What lies ahead is unknown and open to more breakthroughs. This is where modern physics enters the picture. At the quantum level, far deeper than medical research has explored, there is an exchange of energy, which is broadly classified as metabolism, from the Greek word for “change.”
The change is of energy that every cell needs to sustain itself. You might think that this is like stoking a furnace with coal, but such isn’t the case. There are many mysteries about metabolism that require a quantum explanation.
- How do cells know how much energy they need?
- How do cells communicate with each other to balance their energy needs and synchronize with one another?
- What’s the secret of the complex molecular machinery that regulates everything happening in a cell?
- Where is the timer or clock that moves energy through every phase in our bodies from sleep to waking to vigorous activity?
These turn out to be quantum questions for the simple reason that chemistry and biology can’t solve them using the time-honored metaphor of the body as a machine. At the basis of the laws governing energy is entropy, the tendency for heat to move from a hotter place to a colder one. Entropy is why a mother says, “Eat your dinner before it gets cold,” and why all the heat from the stars is being constantly dissipated in the cold void of space, whose temperature is near absolute zero.
The greatest mystery about metabolic energy, however, is negative entropy, the state where heat builds up rather than flowing away, and the human body is a miracle at doing this. Metabolism is a process of renewing every cell’s energy supply, not just offsetting the heat our bodies give off, but trapping energy to deploy it, not simply to keep us warm, but to accomplish the amazing processes behind hearing, seeing, and thinking.
To give you a sense of just how miraculous negative entropy is, consider something as simple as the speed of energy moving from a warmer to a colder place. It is this that creates the so-called arrow of time. In a static universe, entropy might be so slow that change occurs too gradually to create the passage of time. Our universe is so dynamic that time and entropy are intimately linked, which is also true of our bodies.
In scientific terminology, nanoscale molecular motors drive the efficient energy transfer in all cells. It might be that inflammation and stress are distortions of energy transfer, slower than normal, which causes the warmth and red skin associated with an inflamed wound or infection. Chronic stress response is the fundamental basis for the amplification of all chronic disease states. Depression is most often rooted in stress-generated anxiety, for example, along with the degraded processes that cause chronic disease.
At bottom anxiety and depression, which massively drain a person of energy and the vitality of life, are inextricably linked. They inherently drive the chronic stress response. It is this perspective that views chronic diseases as metabolic disorders, whatever the medical diagnosis might be (obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, etc.). Accordingly, the evolutionarily fight-or-flight response, when it stops being short-term in emergencies and becomes long-term in our metabolism, results in pathological processes of inflammation and stress affecting the cells.
The linchpin is that efficient biological energy production is impaired and deteriorates over time in critical parts of the cell. For optimal health, the flow of energy across metabolic pathways must be efficiently transformed into useful work. In other words, the entire system processes energy in an organized, coherent, and purposeful way. It’s the exact opposite of a bonfire throwing heat off in all directions randomly and without purpose.
Physics, to turn to a more technical explanation, would say that inflammation is like the “de-coherence of quantum physical systems.” In layman’s terms, the tiny quantum motors that drive metabolism must remain orderly and connected. Quantum processes level the playing field for everything, not just our cells but hundreds of biological clocks, thousands of chemical reactions per second, hormonal cycles, and the life cycles of the micro-organisms known as the microbiome.
The recent Nobel Prize awarded for the discovery of the molecular clocks embedded in all our cells emphasizes the importance of living in harmony with the circadian cycles of the Earth. They synchronize all those tiny cellular time-keepers.
At that point a complex new horizon appears, known as the “fitness landscape.” In evolutionary terms, some species thrive and evolve while others reach a dead end and remain the same or become extinct. Darwin’s theory of evolution broke this down into two factors, getting enough food to survive and finding a mate in order to reproduce and carry on the species. But modern evolutionary biology deals in what is happening at the level of genes, because ultimately, survival is a genetic process. Your own genes are affected by every experience you and your ancestors have ever had. The same is true of every species, so a fitness landscape attempts mathematically to envision every factor that might create changes in genes over time.
Imagine a saber-tooth tiger faced with stresses in its environment and meeting them within the animal’s range of metabolic controls and regulation. If a condition appears that the tiger’s genes cannot adapt to (known technically as a bifurcation point), disaster awaits. In our bodies a major bifurcation occurs between being healthy and being sick and aging. Enter the field of quantum metabolism. It provides the rules of the road that quantum motors follow, which leads, using elegant mathematics, to why rules of energy transfer are being violated when metabolic inefficiency appears, leading to disease and aging.
It turns out that the most important metabolic parameters of the human body are: redox (the rise and fall of oxidation rates), free energy, and acid-base balance. These factors are maintained in a narrow physiological range in healthy states. The deterioration from health to disease involves stress pushing these key metabolic parameters out of their narrow ranges. There are many ways that the deterioration might start, in something as basic, chemically speaking, as oxidation rates. Small, localized imbalance can eventually bring down the whole body, exemplifying the old adage, “for want of a nail the kingdom was lost.”
The common thread in this complex train of investigation is this: physiological fitness declines as energy is lost from the system. This results in the degradation of structure and function in cells and the body as a whole. These are changes of state, not simply linear processes moving from A to B. Specific events can trigger a change of state, just as a broken hip in the elderly can lead to death, even though breaking a hip isn’t considered fatal in itself.
Quantum processes determine, regulate, and control changes of state, so understanding them can allow us to forestall disease and aging at the deepest level. Aging in terms of symptoms is personal, unique, and unpredictable. Quantum processes aren’t. A much-needed foundation is provided akin to how DNA and gene mapping gave a foundation to evolution and inheritance.
Because it triggers disorder in a cascade through molecules, cells, tissues, organs, and the whole body, stress is critical in the fitness landscape human beings occupy, along with all other living creatures. Stress response, when viewed technically, is a measure that can be quantified of a person’s, or a species’, evolving physiological fitness.
In human physiology, unpredictable changes in the course of a disease might arise due to an astonishing complexity of molecular interactions. Even modern physics finds itself challenged by this complexity. If we are to reach the cherished goal of a truly precise medicine, massive amounts of data are being accumulated by genomics, metabolomics, proteomics, etc., allowing us to rely on computers and artificial intelligence to clarify the essential things we need to know.
The human body is literally being reinvented before our eyes. Insights from modern physics are needed to realize the full potential of this emerging paradigm shift. Yet without a doubt it is proceeding and accelerating every day.
DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com
Jack A. Tuszynski, Ph.D., D.Sc.Professor, Department of Physics, Adjunct Professor, Department of Oncology, Adjunct Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Member, The Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Brian J. Fertig, MDF.A.C.E.Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism, Associate Professor Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Chairman, Department of Diabetes & Endocrinology Hackensack Meridian Health at JFK University Medical Center, President Diabetes & Osteoporosis Center