Renewing Your Mind / Neuroplasticity & Epigenetics

Renewing Your Mind

Neuroplasticity & Epigenetics

by Christine Egbert

Thirty some years ago, soon after graduating from Nursing School and becoming a Bible-reading Christian, God opened the door for me to work as the R.N. charge nurse for a Christ-centered residential treatment program called RAPHA (Jehovah RAPHA, the God Who heals). This RAPHA unit operated independently within a psychiatric hospital in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Like Moses’ mother who got hired to nurse her own son, I was blessed because one of my duties as charge nurse was to sit in on all the group therapy sessions, and those sessions changed my way of thinking.

These sessions focused on what psychiatry calls “Cognitive Restructuring.” When taught correctly, through the lens of Scripture, cognitive restructuring is about renewing the mind. It’s about changing negative emotions and behaviors by changing the way we think . . . and what we ruminate about. Will it be God’s truths or Satan’s lies? We must decide.

During these group sessions the therapist taught patients how to recognize and reject lies that replay over and over in our mind, when we let them, lies like You’re no good! You can’t change! You’re worthless! No one likes you! Everyone is against you! Such toxic thinking must be replaced with the TRUTH of God’s word about WHO we are in Christ, and what our purpose for existing is.

They taught from a book I devoured, cover to cover, titled, “Search For Significance.” It’s principals were founded on Proverbs 23:7, which says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Toxic emotions like fear, anger, and depression are not caused by events, as so many falsely claim. They are generated by our faulty interpretation of events. Sadly, even many disciples of the Messiah interpret life’s untoward events (like illness, rejection, abuse, getting fired), not through God’s truth, but through Satan’s lies. The good news, however, is that when our mind is renewed, our thinking will line up with God’s word. Then our emotional response to life’s distressing events will be healthy (righteous) . . . and our actions will be godly. Our actions cannot change until we change our thinking. Events do not beget actions. Thoughts (right or wrong) beget emotions (right or wrong), and those right or wrong emotions lead to righteous or sinful actions, for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. That’s why Scripture warns us to guard our gates. The good news is that when our thinking conforms to what God says, strongholds of sin can be torn down, lives can be changed.

This biblically based, Christ-centered version of “Cognitive Restructuring” was and is life changing when applied. But during the late 1980s and early 1990s, it remained in the realm of psychology not hard science. Since then (praise Yah) great advances have been made in the area of brain science. What God’s word has always maintained, that we can take every thought captive to the obedience of the Messiah (2 Co 10:5), and in so ding our minds are renewed (Rom12:2), that we can pull down strongholds, cast down imaginations, can now be proven scientifically.

Dr. Caroline Leaf

Dr. Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology and a BSC in Logopedics and Audiology. Her speciality is in meta-cognitive and cognitive neuropsychology. Besides researching the Mind-Brain connection, in the late 1980s, she produced much of the initial research that demonstrated the brain’s neuroplasticity. Dr. Leaf’s thought techniques have transformed the lives of patients suffering Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), learning disabilities (ADD, ADHD), autism, dementias, and PTSD. In seminars, she teaches students of all ages how to detox their mind and develop their brains. The following quotes are from: drleaf.com. To limit the size of this article, I will omit her references, which are available on her website.

Quantum Zero Effect

There is growing evidence that biological systems operate at the level of quantum physics [1].  When applied to neuroscience, the Quantum Zero Effect indicates that the brain becomes what you focus on. Focus is directed attention and is a function of the mind. Thus, quantum physics supports the notion of mind over matter.”

Neuroplasticity

There is mounting evidence for neuroplasticity, that is, the ability of the brain to change according to experience [1]. The anatomy and physiology of the human brain is much more malleable and plastic than we once thought—the brain changes according to how we use it. Hence the saying “use it or lose it,” which is usually applied to the muscular-skeletal system, can now be applied to the brain as well. Thinking, a mind activity, effects gene expression. Gene expression produces proteins. Proteins are fashioned into structural elements and enzymes (biological catalysts), which change brain anatomy (structure) and physiology (function). Essentially, thinking changes brain structure and function.” 

Neurogenesis

It was once thought that nerve cells do not regenerate. However, since the mid 1990s, it has been shown that new nerve cells are actually generated in the brain (neurogenesis), especially surrounding the ventricles and the hippocampus [1]. It was even demonstrated that terminally ill patients still produced new nerve cells [2].  Interestingly, the new nerve cells born in the hippocampus, a structure essential for learning and memory, are only incorporated in the neural network if something new and challenging is learned, otherwise they die [3].  This implies that mental activity, and therefore thinking, profoundly affects neurogenesis.” 

EPIGENETICS

 “The science of epigenetics describes how gene expression is controlled by mechanisms other than changes in DNA sequence [1]. The mind thinks and produces thoughts. Thinking epigenetically affects DNA and gene expression. Thinking therefore lies within the sphere of epigenetics. Thinking affects gene expression in somatic cells of the brain and the rest of the body. This in turn affects the anatomy (structure) and physiology (function) and subsequently the health of the body [2].  Therefore, aberrant (toxic) thinking can adversely affect the normal functioning of the body, leading to particular psychological and somatic disorders and diseases.  Epigenetic mechanisms have been demonstrated in germ cells (eggs and sperm) and can affect our progeny. [Might this be scientific proof of generational curses brought on by sins of the fathers?] Therefore thinking can affect our children. There is even epidemiological evidence of epigenetic effects in multiple generations [3].”

THINKING AFFECTS HEALTH

Thinking affects the entire body. There is mounting scientific evidence demonstrating the intimate relationship between the brain, the rest of the nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system, highlighted by the emergence of psychoneuroendocrinology [1] and psychoneuroimmunology [2]. These two fields of medical study and practice are shedding light on how the relationship between thinking, stress, the brain, hormones and the body’s immune defenses affect psychological and physical wellbeing.

Because mind controls matter, therefore, thinking is the pre-eminent influence on health.  It has been shown from various sources that 75% to 98% of illnesses are a direct result of our thought life [3]. The association between stress and disease is a colossal 85% [4]. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization has concluded that 80% of cancers are due to lifestyles and are not genetic, and they say this is a conservative number [5]. According to Dr. Bruce Lipton [6], gene disorders like Huntington’s chorea, beta thalassemia, cystic fibrosis, to name just a few, affect less than 2% of the population. This means that the vast majority of the world’s population come into this world with genes that should enable them to live a happy and healthy life. He says a staggering 98% of diseases are lifestyle choices and therefore, thinking. Interestingly Herbert Benson MD, the president of Harvard Medical School’s Mind-Body Institute [7], toxic thoughts lead to stress, which affects our body’s natural healing capacities. Toxic thinking literally ‘wears down’ the brain and the rest of the body. According to Dr. H.F. Nijhout [8] genes control biology and not the other way around. According to W.C Willett [9] only 5% of cancer and cardiovascular patients can attribute their disease to hereditary factors. According to the American Institute of Stress [10] it has been estimated that 75 – 90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems.”  

I will close with this last quote from Dr. Leaf, but I encourage you to go to her website and read the entire article

Effect of Worship On Brain & General Health.

The Miriam-Webster dictionary [1] defines worship as: “The act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other people who believe in the same god: the act of worshipping God or a god.” We will use this broad definition of worship in this section. ‘The act of showing respect and love’ for God can include prayer, thanksgiving and praise, and what you do during your everyday life. The above definition implies that worship can be individual or corporate. We will use the broader definition, which implies a more general engagement with God. This is because the scientific literature tends to adopt the broader view of worship.

As well as electroencephalography (ECG), which measures the electrical activity of the brain, the emergence of various types of brain imaging technology has enabled a more comprehensive assessment specific religious activities, such as worship, on the brain [2]. We have already examined the positive effect of a particular type of worship, praying in tongues, on the brain (see above). In this section we will focus on the worship of the God of the Bible in general.

The Bible has proposed worship as an antidote to mental conditions such as worry and anxiety. For instance, Jesus told us not to worry about the necessities of life, but to seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to us [3]. Seeking first the Kingdom of God involves worship. Paul’s cure for anxiety is prayer, supplication with thanksgiving [4]. Much of the Book of Psalms is an intimate look into how to overcome mental anguish through worship. Do we see evidence of worship having a positive effect on the brain and therefore on the rest of the body? The answer is yes!

“Interestingly a number of scientific studies indicate that we are wired for God [5], that is, our brains have been designed to commune with God. Studies of Carmelite and Franciscan nuns engaged in worship has shown positive changes in numerous anatomical structures of the brain—the occipital-parietal circuit, the parietal-frontal circuit, frontal lobe, thalamus, amygdala, striatum and anterior cingulate gyrus [6]. The emerging medical field of psychoneuroimmunolgy (see section on Thinking Affects Health) is recognizing the central role of worship in the prevention, amelioration and cure of disease. For instance in a study by the University of Miami on the progress of AIDS Dr. Gail Ironson [7] found that: “Turning to God rather than rejecting God appears to boost your immune system and stave off the disease nearly five times as effectively,” [8].

Corporate worship has also been shown to have health benefits. Regular church attendance is associated with a 30-35% reduction in the likelihood of death [9] and a reduction in the probability of stroke. In a major longitudinal study [10], those who do not attend church regularly have higher rates of death from circulatory, digestive and respiratory disorders. Amazingly, it has been found that as people sing together in worship to God, as in a choir for instance, as well as the beneficial effects of the heart, their heartbeats actually synchronize. In other words their hearts beat as one [11].”

I encourage all of my readers who are fascinated with this amazing new brain science to watch Dr Caroline Leaf’s videos on You Tube as well as those of Dr. M.K. Strydom with “Eagle’s Wings” Ministry. Dr. Strydom’s video teaching is incredible.

Book your tickets