Monday, 29 April 2013

Paradigm Shift: A Watershed Moment

There’s a quiet revolution going on that the average person on the street probably hasn’t noticed. It bubbled up to the surface last month, and has continued to bubble in the form of a couple of talks banned by TED.

TED, which stands for Technology Entertainment Design, is a non-profit organisation devoted to the concept of “ideas worth spreading”. Since 1990, speakers from a range of disciplines have gathered annually in California to present 20-minute talks on a wide range of topics. In 2005, the project went global, with conferences held outside the US (in addition to the American conference) and prizes were awarded to speakers with “a wish to change the world”. Recipients have included the likes of Bill Clinton, Jamie Oliver, and religious leader Karen Armstrong. In 2007, was launched, and by 2012 well over 1000 TED talks had been posted on the internet for free viewing. In 2009, TED began granting licenses to third parties wanting to organize their own TED-like events, and these became known at TEDx. Over 20,000 TEDx talks have been posted online.

Now what has just happened is interesting and important. In January (2013), British biologist Rupert Sheldrake and author Graham Hancock spoke at the Whitechapel TEDx conference under the umbrella “Challenging Existing Paradigms”, and when the TED corporation viewed the videos, they decided to pull them off the TED channel, claiming that both talks had “crossed the line into pseudoscience.” 

Sheldrake’s talk focussed around the thesis of his latest book The Science Delusion, in which he examines 10 fundamental assumptions made by the traditional scientific community that do not necessarily stand up to close scrutiny. Briefly, these are:

  1.      Nature (the universe, our planet, living things, humans) operate as machines.
  2.      Matter is unconscious
  3.     The laws of nature are fixed (e.g.,  the speed of light)
  4.     The total amount of matter and energy in the universe is forever unchanging
  5.      Nature has no purpose
  6.     Inheritance is material and genetic
  7.     Memories are stored in the brain
  8.     Consciousness is a brain activity, nothing more
  9.     Psychic phenomenon is impossible
  10.     Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works
      His (in my opinion excellent) 20-minute talk is here: 

In his talk (below), Hancock spoke about consciousness, the drug ayahuasca, and the role of shamanic dreaming in personal transformation.

Now the TED folks are free, of course, to publish or not publish whatever they want on their channel, but to say that these talks are inappropriate (especially given the TED vision of “ideas worth spreading”—I guess these ones aren’t!—and the conference topic “Challenging Existing Paradigms”) because they are PSEUDO science highlights a really interesting paradigm shift. (Pseudo, incidentally, comes from the Greek meaning false or fraudulent).

Maybe it’s because I’m already familiar with Sheldrake’s work with morphic resonance, and I’ve read several of Hancock’s books including Supernatural, which spans the gamut from prehistoric cave art to UFOs, to the shamanic use of ayahuasca, to DNA and DMT (dimethltryptamine), but I don’t find any of the ideas presented in these two talks uncomfortable, let alone PSEUDO: fraudulent. And I suspect a good many other folk don’t find them all that alarming either. For example, even as we acknowledge the general scientific belief that there’s no such thing as a “sixth sense” or ghosts, virtually all of us have experienced the former, and most have experience the latter or know someone whose experience we trust who has.

Well.  The banning of these two TED talks has raised a furore. On 19 April (2013) Dr Deepak Chopra (whose own TED talk in 2002 received a standing ovation but has not seen the light of day since) and a host of other RSPs (Really Significant People) wrote an open letter to the Huffington Post about the decision to remove the talks. TED responded almost immediately with “in our guidance to the thousands of TEDx organizers around the world, we ask that they steer clear of talks that bear hallmarks of unsubstantiated science.” Chopra and colleagues then offered their rebuttal to points raised by TED. One of these, physics professor Menas Kafatos, points out that science evolves because of changing paradigms, not because of defence of existing views, and goes on to say that by TED’s definition, “anyone doing research in consciousness, its relationship with fields like physics and psychology, and yes, neuroscience, should be labelled pseudo-scientist.”
Here’s why I think this controversy is so significant. You know what Mahatma Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” It’s sort of like that. And we’re at the “fight” stage. Traditional science, founded on rational, observable, measurable scientific principles (see Sheldrake’s list for 10 of them, above), is a dinosaur. In its time, it has been  a world view  that has given us many gifts. But some of those old guard scientists still stuck in that mindset are struggling to make the transition to the new world order. Those that don’t transform, like dinosaurs, will die out. Are dying out even now. (Okay, there are still a few tuataras around, so maybe some will linger as tuataras.)

There IS more to consciousness than a tangle of neurons firing some chemicals in our individual brains. We are part of a vast web of consciousness, and it affects everything we perceive, everything we think, everything we do. It goes beyond here and now. Sheldrake and Hancock and Chopra are part of the new order that sees beyond the old ways. I’m glad there are folks like these willing to step outside of “rational science” with an open mind to explore and try to make sense of this marvellous universe that we live in, and who are brave enough to stand up and tell us what they’re thinking. Even if that thinking doesn't align with the scientific, rational beliefs we've grown up to regard as "truth".

Friday, 26 April 2013

Creating Head Heart Coherence

I’ve been a fan of the Heart Math folks for some time now. The Institute of Heart Math, founded by Doc Childre in 1991, is a non-profit research and educational organisation established to help people understand and harness the energy of the heart. Childre and colleague Howard Martin wrote the book The HeartMath Solution over a decade ago in which they shared the research and outlined several simple techniques for creating health and well-being by aligning the brain and heart centres.
There is a good article on this topic here 

Most of us assume we are run by our brain, that amazing super-computer in our heads. Fewer of us realise that the heart, too, consists of a vast network of sensory neurons that process information, learn, remember, and make functional decisions, and may be the emotional powerhouse of our psyche.  Indeed, after conception, the heart is the first bodily organ that begins functioning, even before the brain.

The heart plays an important role in synchronizing the body. It also has direct-line communication with the brain. When you are feeling emotional upset, anxious,  or stressed, or feel in need of a little inner harmony, HeartMath recommends using the Quick Coherence Technique (similar to the Freeze Frame process advocated in the book). It’s just three quick steps and only takes about a minute to do, but can be really helpful.

Step 1: Focus your attention on your chest/heart area. It may help your focus to put your hand there if you’re new to this technique.

Step 2: Breathe deeply but normally, and feel as if the air is coming in and going out through the heart area—keep your attention focussed there. Just focus on your breathing for several breaths, until you feel like it’s taken on a comfortable, natural rhythm.

Step 3: While remaining focussed on your chest/heart area and breathing, recall a time when you felt really good, perhaps a time when you were with friends or family or a pet you love, or when you were in a favourite place, or simply a time when you felt a great sense of gratitude or appreciation.

This simple process can bring your brain and heart into an energetic alignment and coherence that will enable you to feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions. It’s a simple technique I teach to almost all of my coaching clients during their first visit, because it’s so easy and so useful.

The HeartMath organisation is interested in more than just personal health and wellness gains that can be achieved through their techniques. Research suggests that the electro-magnetic fields produced by our hearts extend beyond our bodies and interact with fields of others within our vicinity. You are energetically affecting—and affected by—those around you. Furthermore, our personal and group electro-magnetic fields may affect, and be affected by, the earth’s magnetic field. They’ve just put out a new video explaining the important and relevance of these understandings for our future. 

If this stuff interests you, I highly recommend a browse around the HeartMath website, where you can find plenty of free articles, research, e-books, downloads, a free stress test, and a few plugs for their products.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Do Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer?

This morning someone flicked an article about the connection between antiperspirants and breast cancer onto my Facebook page, along with this illustration. 

I stopped using antiperspirants some years ago (except for those occasional social events where sweaty armpits would be likely, and definitely not considered a social asset), after my mother’s lymph nodes were removed as part of her breast cancer treatment. It just didn’t seem to me a natural, sensible thing to go clogging up the pores that Mother Nature so carefully provided for my body. So my natural response to this little Facebook post was to click the thumbs up and hit “share”. And then I thought this would be a good topic for a post here.

Now, I don’t post stuff on this blog—unless it’s about personal experience--without doing a bit of research on the subject first. That’s my science training coming to the forefront. So I set out to discover (as much as one can in a couple of hours): Can antiperspirants cause breast cancer? And this is what I found out.

The short answer is: we don’t have any proof that antiperspirants cause breast cancer. But, on the other hand, we don’t have any proof that they don’t either. The truth is, there isn’t enough research into this question to give us a definitive answer.  Here’s what we DO know:

The lymph nodes located in the tender area under the arms are connected to the breast tissue, and in the case of breast cancer are often surgically removed along with breast tissue. Lymph nodes, which as you can see in the diagram on the left, occur all over the body and operate as part of the body’s immune system, filtering, trapping, and destroying bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens, including cancers. Cleansed fluid from the lymph nodes is then released into the blood stream. But the lymph glands are not sweat glands, they are not directly linked to the skin surface, and they probably are not directly affected by antiperspirants. Sweat glands, on the other hand, are.

Most antiperspirants contain aluminium, which blocks the body’s sweat glands where it is applied. Sweat is a salty liquid excreted by the eccrine glands in response to stress (which can be physical, like exercise or heat, or psychological). It has little or no odour[i], but develops a smell with the presence of bacteria, or sexual pheromones[ii].  

Blocked sweat glands do not cease producing sweat, they simply are unable to expel that fluid to the skin’s surface—as they are designed to do--because the duct has been blocked. Besides causing the disruption of a natural bodily process, the aluminium in antiperspirants is a concern for another reason.

Aluminium is a toxic metal that has been linked to cancers, including breast cancer[iii]. One recent study shows changes in human mammary cells indicative of tumour and pre-tumour stages caused by exposure to aluminium chloride[iv], and another recent study showed elevated levels of aluminium in the nipple duct fluid of breast cancer patients compared with that extracted from healthy women[v]. Earlier studies noted the disproportionate number of breast tumours occurring in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, closest to the underarm area where antiperspirants are applied, and where the concentration of aluminium is highest[vi]. None of this research is adequate for “proof” that the aluminium in antiperspirants causes breast cancer, but there does appear to be a correlation. And obviously, breast cancer can be caused by other things as well.

Among those “other things” are parabens, a group of man-made preservatives commonly used in antiperspirants, deodorants, shampoos, and other skin and body products. Parabens can mimic estrogens in the body. Although the female body naturally produces estrogens during the reproductive years, high life-time levels of estrogens are correlated with an increased of risk of breast cancer[vii]. In one recent study where they collected and examined malignant breast tissue following mastectomies, 99% of the samples revealed the presence of parabens[viii]. Not all of the women in that study had used antiperspirants (although they may have used other products containing parabens), but of those who did, the greatest concentration of parabens was found in tissue samples taken from the outer, upper quadrant of the breast.  This doesn’t mean that the parabens caused the women to develop breast cancers, it just suggests there is a correlation. In spite of these concerns, there have been no modern toxicology studies examining the safety of parabens.

Back to the underarm lymph nodes:  It seems unlikely that the substances in your antiperspirant actively affect your lymph glands. Lymph glands deal to infections and undesirable biological organisms like bacteria, but they don’t clean out toxic metals or play with artificial hormone mimics. It seems likely that cancers that develop in the breast area migrate TO the underarm lymph glands from the breast rather than the other way around, and that the lymph glands are trying to mitigate the cancer cells. Nevertheless, research DOES suggest that using antiperspirants containing aluminium and/or parabens may increase your risk of developing breast cancer because of their effect on sweat glands and through skin absorption.

For another good summary of these issues, see Dr Mercola’s article on parabens, aluminium, and the breast cancer link. For the “official” story, the American Cancer Society reports “no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use”. You can read their debunking of this “myth” here.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to use soap and water and forgo spraying or smearing chemical concoctions under my arms.

[i] That’s what the literature says. I DO think the foods you eat play a part. I know some foods, like garlic and curry, make me smell a little pongier than usual the day after I’ve eaten them. Just my personal observation.
[iv] Sappino, A.-P., Buser, R., Lesne, L., Gimelli, S., Béna, F., Belin, D. and Mandriota, S. J. (2012), Aluminium chloride promotes anchorage-independent growth in human mammary epithelial cells. J. Appl. Toxicol., 32: 233–243. doi: 10.1002/jat.1793;jsessionid=82FFF75E0138F8E3F80056B9EA064379.d03t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false
[v] Mannello, F, Tonti, GA, Medda, V,Simone, P, Darbre, PD. (2011), Analysis of aluminium content and iron homeostasis in nipple aspirate fluids from healthy women and breast cancer-affected patients. J. Appl. Toxicol., 31:262-269.