Chapter Six ∼ψ∼ Fertility and Function
If the whole neuroendocrine model that we outlined in chapter four has any
validity, we would expect clues that offer support to emerge elsewhere on our palette
of human systems. We have already implied that a human system released from the
left hemisphere’s control could exhibit quite fundamental physiological differences.
Digestion, immune function and even structural changes could result from a change
in hemispheric controller via, of course, the chemical messengers that are released
by that controller. In this chapter we investigate the effect that powerful steroid
inhibition would have had on our biology, particularly within those systems in
which hormones play a key role.
When we think of hormones we automatically think of the reproductive system. If
we compare human reproduction to that in any other animal it becomes immediatelyapparent that we are stuck with a very inefficient system. ‘Just as well’ you might say;our planet is crowded enough, but this is to miss the biological point. We havecompensated for the inefficiency by, among other things, being mentally fixated with sexbut we will return to this obsession later.
One essential property of evolution is that it results in exceptionally efficient
systems. It is a harsh process. Traits that do not work well are selected out of populations.
Living systems that do not fit their environment fail to thrive and, without change,become extinct. Most animals have very efficient reproductive systems that ensureconception with a minimum number of matings but in humans the success rate is a lowly5%. In other mammals it is about 95%. This doesn’t necessarily prove anything, but itdoes beg the question of how, in evolutionary terms, such an inefficient system couldhave come about.
The whole process of ovulating, menstruating and rebuilding the uterus every
month also appears extraordinarily wasteful - particularly as it occurs even when therehas been no sexual activity at all. Although there are some parallels with other animals inwhich there are periods of oestrous, the human system is unique in its wastefulness ofresources. In many of those animals that do not have breeding seasons but can breed, likehumans, at any time of the year, ovulation is linked in a direct way to the act ofcopulation. Thus we are left wondering how could the female cycle as we know it todaypossibly have evolved? What is the evolutionary advantage of monthly ovulation andheavy external bleeding? Something in all this is highly unsatisfactory.
Another anomaly of the human reproductive system is menopause. The loss of
fertility long before death is virtually unique to humans. We can see from hormonereplacement therapy that simply replacing a few powerful hormones, even in theirsynthetic form, can restore the reproductive system to something approaching a pre-menopausal level of function. Could this be a clue to what has happened in humans?
Orgasm is another extraordinary feature of the human sexual system. What is it
for and why did it evolve? Why are humans the only animals to be blessed with such apowerful response? In the male, orgasm is coupled with the release of sperm. Could this,in our pre-fall state, have been paralleled in the female? Is possible that female orgasmwas releasing mechanism for the ovum? If so what could have happened to upset thispotentially highly efficient system? We know of course that there is a correlation betweenmale orgasm, the function of the testes and the release of sperm. Foetal development ofmales (see Chapter 4) shows us that males are not much more than hormonal variants offemales. Genetically males and females are virtually identical. Is it not worth at leastasking then, whether female orgasm should have a parallel function to male orgasm? Ifthe female orgasm evolved as a mechanism for releasing the egg, what would this imply?Why doesn’t it work now? In males, there is a psychological and neurological response(the feeling) connected with a mechanical response (muscle spasm). Perhaps in thefemale something has occurred to break the link between the orgasmic responses that wedo see and the release of the egg.
In the previous chapters, we have proposed a variation on the standard model of
human evolution which stresses the importance of the neuroendocrine system. Thedegeneration of neural/consciousness function, that we suggest humanity has suffered,would have in turn affected many aspects of psychology and physiology. Thereproductive system is perhaps the most hormonally sensitive of all our physiologicalfunctions. Even the smallest shift in hormone activity can induce significant changes instructure and function. Thus, if we return to our hypothetical fruit-eating population ofproto-Homo sapiens
, we can ask what would be the effect on the reproductive system of adiet rich in steroid-suppressing chemicals? What would have happened to fertility whenthe proposed powerful internal pineal loop kicked in? Then, having adapted to such analtered hormonal regime, what would have been the result when a rapid loss of steroidinhibition exposed the product of a unique evolutionary variation to a far higher level ofsteroid activity. It is impossible to significantly alter hormone activity within the bodywithout having an effect. Some change in our reproductive system would be inevitable.
To clarify these issues, we can divide our development into three evolutionary
periods: The ancestral period, the period of steroid inhibition with rapid brain expansion,and the subsequent period in which this steroid inhibition was progressively lost.
THE ANCESTRAL PERIOD
It is reasonable to assume that early hominids had a reproductive system, which
was similar to most other primates, with a repeating oestrous cycle that provided awindow of sexual receptivity and ovulation. Mating (at least successful mating) wouldhave pretty much been confined to this receptive time. It may be delightful (or not) tospeculate that our habits may have been like that of our closest relatives, the bonobos,that copulate pretty much all the time. But as their promiscuous habits are in part aresponse to psychological pressures such as fear and security, and cultural reasons ofestablishing alliances and hierarchies, such comparisons do not shed much light on thebiochemistry of the matter. It is interesting to note however that bonobo fertility issomewhat similar to that of humans. They both display so called concealed ovulation(males do not seem to know when ovulation is occurring) and bonobos have a light
external bleed that is equated with menstruation. It is also interesting that, despite such apreponderance of sexual activity, bonobo populations have relatively remained low.
Bonobos are very intelligent. They are, for instance, better at using tools than chimps.
Yet, like chimps, they haven’t had the population explosion that has occurred in humans.
Of course such a population growth is dependent on many interlocking factors, but thebiology of fertility systems may be one that has been largely ignored to date. It is possiblethat the biochemistry from a diet rich in fruit may be having an effect on the fertilitysystems of bonobos and, to a slightly lesser degree, chimps too.
The hominids in the forest would have eaten a largely fruit/leaf/flower/shoot diet.
Some groups or species may have specialised more on one aspect of the diet than anotherbut in all groups, fruit would have been a much-favoured element. As we have seen, thisdiet contains chemicals that mimic animal oestrogen, and it is acknowledged that thesephytosterols/hormone mimics can have a significant effect. They do this by adding to thepool of oestrogen but as they are less potent than their human counterparts they dilute andweaken overall oestrogen activity. They can further reduce oestrogen activity by blockingoestrogen receptor sites and even mopping up oestrogen molecules themselves.
Phytosterols therefore will suppress oestrogen levels in the body, but this suppression, ina roundabout way, very much affects fertility. Recent investigations into the use of soya-based concentrates, such as baby foods, have revealed that the amount of oestrogen-likesubstances that they contain can equate in strength to a couple of birth control pills a day.
It is thought that the sustained high intake of soy isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogen)amongst Japanese women may account for their menstrual cycles being on average 32days in length – about three days longer than those of ‘western women’. Another studyfound that sheep became infertile when they were allowed to graze on a monoculture ofclover – it too was rich in phytosterols. If our ancestors had a daily intake of two to threekilos of fruit and shoots, rich in these compounds, it surely would have had a significanteffect on the reproductive system (and indeed on the functioning of the mind and body asa whole). The bioflavinoids and related phytosterols found in a primarily fruit/vegetariandiet would be powerful enough to modify our internal hormonal balance. It is from thisbackground level of chemical nourishment that we think our evolutionary developmenttook a great leap forward.
THE PERIOD OF STEROID INHIBITION
We have seen that the period of rapid evolution, that mankind went through, was
fuelled by external and subsequently (and crucially) internal chemicals which markedlysuppressed steroid levels and their activity within the body. This would have causedmany changes in structure and function, but potentially none would be greater than thechange to a reproductive system that we know is so hormonally sensitive. Thus areproductive system which had slowly evolved over millions of years was, inevolutionary terms, ‘suddenly’ subject to increasingly powerful steroid inhibition. Whatcould have emerged to accommodate this new regime for it is certain that, if this scenariois correct, it would have to have changed? It is possible that with powerful external andinternal suppression of steroids, fertility could have over time become very low butimmunity and health very high. This may have resulted in a small population made up ofindividuals, who were long-lived and healthy. Our reproductive system would have to
have adapted to the high level of steroid inhibition to compensate for low fertility. Aunique mechanism could have emerged to cope with this unique scenario.
It is evident that our present day reproductive cycle can be altered by diet alone.
In baboons too (a monkey that does display menstruation) it has been found that femalesstop their menstruation when they are fed a vegetable only diet. We know of course thatthe human female cycle can be changed by overt methods like contraceptive pills, but, aswe have already seen, even plant hormones, such as Soya bioflavinoids, can alter the‘monthly’ cycle. Leslie and Susannah Kenton in ‘Raw Energy’ have commented uponthis effect. They state that:
‘Women on an all-raw or high raw diet often report that menstrual problems such
as bloating and pre-menstrual tension and fatigue greatly improve after two or threemonths. For some of them the improvement is so dramatic that they are not aware oftheir periods until they arrive. Heavy periods become lighter – a period that ordinarilylasts six or seven days can be reduced to as few as one or two. In some women,particularly those who did not eat meat, dairy products or large quantities of nuts,periods even cease altogether.’
The absence of periods in women, who follow diets rich in fruit and vegetables,
has been linked to increased levels of carotene. A team of gynaecologists at RutgersUniversity in New Jersey investigated a group of women who exhibited both carotenemia(a change in skin tone due to large amount of carotene absorbed from carrots and othervegetables) and amenorrhoea (a cessation of periods). They wanted to ascertain whetherthere was a link between the two conditions. All the women were in excellent health andwere not adversely affected by these ‘complaints’. The team found that when carotenewas excluded from the diet of these women, their menstrual period returned. When theyreverted back to their original diet they became amenorroiec again.
It is not clear from this study whether fertility was affected. It is possible that
ovulation continued without the need for menstruation. There are cases in which womenhave become pregnant even though they have ceased to have periods. Taking the pill allthe time (not breaking it for a week a month) also stops periods but occasionallypregnancies can still occurs in women following this regime. Menstruation is not fertility,though they are of course linked in our present state. Eating a diet rich in fruit andvegetables can stop menstruation and ovulation can be stopped too. However there maybe a finely balanced point in which ovulation may still occur without the need formenstruation. Whether this is just an occasional aberration or something more is in needof clarification.
British gynaecologist C.A.B. Clemetson has investigated another aspect of this
ability of chemicals within fruit and vegetables to change the nature of the female cycle.
He became interested in the subject when a young Italian woman told him that shereduced her excessive menstrual bleeding by sucking lemons – apparently the local folkcure for the problem. As a result of his research, Clemetson has shown that citrusbioflavinoid levels in the blood can indeed reduce menorrhagia (heavy periods). Doses ofcitrus bioflavinoids, combined with vitamin C, given for three or four monthssignificantly reduced excessive bleeding in most of the women who participated in thetrial. And many of these maintained their lighter periods when they acted on his
recommendation to eat three oranges a day. If you are tempted to try this, remember toeat plenty of the white pith, for it is the pith that is richest in bioflavinoids.
Several of the bioflavinoids, found in fruit and vegetables, mimic some of the
effects of the female sex hormone, oestrogen. One of these effects is oestrogen’s abilityto strengthen the fragile capillaries that occur in the walls of the uterus. It seems that atthe times of the female cycle when oestrogen levels are low, as they are duringmenstruation, the bioflavinoids compensate and take over the task of strengthening thecapillary walls that would otherwise break down. This helps to reduce menstrual flow. Itis the cyclical fall in oestrogen that brings on the breakdown of the walls of the uterusand the subsequent bleeding. If oestrogen levels do not fluctuate (but remain either highor low) menstruation does not occur.
We can see then how bioflavinoids can ameliorate the effects of the cyclical rise
and fall of oestrogen levels and that a diet high in carotene can actually stop the processaltogether. It is not a great leap therefore to suggest that at some time in our evolutionarypast, the steroid inhibiting compounds taken in from a fruit-rich diet could have stabilisedoestrogen at a low activity level, resulting in a cessation of monthly periods. By buildingthis missing link into the model of human biochemistry, a different picture emerges thatseems to provide some explanation for the many anomalies that are apparent in thehuman reproductive system.
Indeed the whole fertility cycle as we know it today may be the result of a period
of powerful steroid inhibition followed by the breakdown of this effect. Menstruationmay thus be a symptom of hormone imbalance. However, the fertility cycle is extremelycomplicated. Rafts of different hormones, including estradiol, nor-adrenalin, luteinisinghormone and gonadotropins, together with associated neurochemicals interact to regulateeach other’s activity. Altering any one element would have many knock-on effects; andthe scenario we have proposed would have altered many of these elements. Because ofthe complexity of the system it is difficult to track the full ramifications of the differentinteractions and feedback loops. We can speculate however on the most likely outcomesof this model.
Basically we believe that the combination of the dietary hormones and increasing
melatonin acted like a contraceptive on the archaic oestrus cycle. The hormonal cues andtriggers that regulated the oestrus cycle were increasingly dampened to the point whereovulation became less frequent and the cycle itself began to stall. This scenario wouldhave produced strong selection pressures to find an effective solution. If reproductionwere becoming more difficult, any changes that would have enhanced fertility wouldhave had more chance of being passed to the next generation and so become incorporatedinto the human make-up. A chemical/hormonal trigger produced during copulationsufficient to tip the balance from effective contraception to ovulation would have beensuch a change that could have enhanced fertility.
If the flood of steroid inhibitors held the female reproductive cycle in a state of
suspension, something would have been needed to induce ovulation. And, for maximumefficiency, ovulation would need to be induced at the time of mating. A physicalmechanism, linked to a psychological/neurochemical one, may then have been the key toreleasing the ovum in response to sexual stimulation. Orgasm, therefore could have beena central part of this mechanism, acting in the female in the way that it still works in themale.
As the model we have proposed suggests ever-increasing levels of melatonin, any
solution to this fertility problem would need to keep pace. An increasingly powerfulneuroendocrine response linked with copulation to trigger the now stalled oestrus cyclemay have been the result. Specifically this would mean sufficiently powerful andsustained orgasmic states would have been needed to induce ovulation.
The human fertility cycle is usually portrayed as being regulated by a small
number of key hormones and some neural feedback mechanisms: Cyclical increases inlevels of steroids induce a surge of luteinising hormone that in turn triggers ovulation.
Recent research has found that the picture is more complicated still with the brain itselfplaying a bigger role particularly in regard to the release of luteinising hormone.
Fig 6a: This diagram illustrates the typical hormone patterns in the human menstrualcycle. The line at day 11 represents the hormonal balance that would have been in stasisin our proposed ‘stalled cycle’ until orgasm induced ovulation.
This neural regulation of luteinising hormone may emerge to be greatly significant. Thepart of the brain that helps to regulate fertility hormones, including luteinising hormone(LH), is the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is also involved in excitement and has
direct connections to areas of the brain concerned with pleasure. Thus pathways seem toexist that link orgasm (excitement and pleasure) to neuroendocrine changes that induceovulation. In the past then it is certainly tenable that orgasm may have stimulatedovulation but, for this to occur, orgasm may have needed to be intense and sustained.
In most circumstances today, the hormonal effects induced by orgasm are not
powerful enough to induce ovulation, but some hormonal changes do occur. Orgasm isknown to elevate LH and oxytocin. Oxytocin in turn increases steroid levels that canfurther stimulate LH production.
There are physical affects of orgasm that are consistent with this model too. When
a woman achieves orgasm just after the man, the cervix dips, scooping into the pool ofsperm deposited near it. Female orgasmic contractions can also enhance the passage ofspermatozoa towards the fallopian tube, thus increasing the likelihood of conception.
Significantly, this is under hormonal control. Oxytocin is the hormone that stimulatessmooth muscle tissue in the wall of the uterus and is associated with promoting labourand delivery (oxy = quick and tokus = childbirth). But circulating concentrations ofoxytocin also rise in both males and females during sexual arousal and peak at orgasm.
There is evidence that it stimulates, in males, smooth muscle contractions in the walls ofthe sperm duct and prostate gland, and in females, contractions in the uterus and vaginathat promote sperm transport towards the uterine tubes. There is also evidence that thefluids released during female orgasm can also help sperm reach their goal. Femaleorgasm is then, at some level, still linked to mechanical function, but should it go onestage further and release the ovum too?
It would have been an absolute necessity for a powerful and efficient system of
reproduction to be established to overcome the effects of increasing steroid inhibition.
The increased inhibition may have directly impinged upon the ovulation mechanism. Inaddition, if there was low libido, a reducing window of sexual receptivity and possiblynot a lot of sexual interest, the reward for sexual activity had to be significant, and theefficiency of the system had to be maximised, to ensure the continuance of the species.
The primary role of orgasm in the female could therefore have been the induction ofovulation, linked to maximising the efficiency of the process. Orgasm may have had avery important secondary role too, for in a being that possibly had a suppressed libidoand perhaps a very benign natural state of consciousness, a reward may have beennecessary to encourage sufficient sexual activity for procreation. And orgasm may havebecome such an intense reward because the basic state of the mind of man ‘before thefall’ could have been of a different order than it is today. We may have been blissed-outon wild figs, bananas and beingness!
If this scenario has any validity, we would expect some relics of the system to still
be identifiable. The link between oxytocin and orgasm goes some way towards this, but arecent study on cardiovascular and endocrine alteration after orgasm in women providesmore direct clues. It was found that sexual arousal and orgasm produced a distinct patternof neuroendocrine changes, primarily inducing a long lasting elevation in plasmaprolactin concentrations. Luteinising hormone and testosterone concentrations were alsoincreased, but FSH, progesterone and other hormones were unaffected. This is a veryinteresting set of results. Although there is still much to discover about the many roles ofindividual hormones, it appears that prolactin (its main roles are the stimulation ofmammary gland development and the stimulation of milk production) makes interstitial
cells of the testes more sensitive to luteinising hormone. It is possible or even probablethat it plays a parallel role in females, sensitising elements of the ovaries to luteinisinghormone. Thus we can see that female orgasm, even today, stimulates the release ofchemical messengers that at least go some way towards promoting ovulation. If in thepast orgasm was more intense and of greater duration, the effect on the release of fertilityhormones may have been stronger by many degrees.
As human orgasm is regarded with a certain amount of bafflement, there has been
some research into its possible function. Investigations into orgasm as an inductivemechanism for additional ovulation have been so far inconclusive. However research todate does not take account of the potential changes a much more intense and sustainedorgasm would bring - the kind of orgasm in females that may have been normal at onetime. In circumstances in which the oestrus cycle is stalled, the ovum held close torelease and the uterus is in a partially receptive state, a relatively small change inhormone levels could be sufficient to bring about ovulation.
If there were a link between orgasm and ovulation, this would of course
invariably lead to conception. Thus to follow this line of enquiry, we could look forevidence that links orgasm to conception. We are suggesting that the fertility systemwithin women today has suffered some level of breakdown, therefore we would notexpect to find an obvious correlation, and have come across very few studies in this area.
But there is some anecdotal information available. There are cases in which it appearsthat particularly intense and/or prolonged orgasm has resulted in conception at ‘safe’periods in the cycle. It has also been observed that prolonged intercourse and/ororgasmic states can induce slight bleeding. This may not occur immediately but it doeswithin a day or so. It would seem therefore that the bleeding is not a result of tissuedamage but would be similar to the slight bleeding that can occur with ovulation. ‘SusanX’, a client of hypnotherapist and author David Pedersen, relates how she had the mostcolossal orgasm she had ever experienced with her extra-marital lover. This was followedby almost continuous intercourse for the next three hours, throughout which shemaintained a huge sexual plateau that produced multiple orgasmic peaks. The followingday she started what she thought was her period but it later emerged that she actuallybecame pregnant as a result of this conjugation.
It is widely known though rarely openly discussed, that for many women their
ability to orgasm at all, let alone maintain a highly intense state for extended periodsseems to be a difficult area. In contrast, the rapidity of the male orgasm has been an issuefor as long as anyone can remember! However there are exceptions. Some femaleorgasms are much more intense that others. These tend to come about after a sustainedlevel of sexual activity. And sometimes they can be accompanied by a female ejaculate.
There isn’t very much known about female ejaculation. It seems only to occur rarely andwhen it does the orgasmic state is extremely intense. There may be a parallel here toorgasm in males in which Cowper’s glands and the prostate release fluid to increase theefficiency of the conjugative process. In vaginal ejaculation, it seems that, fluid isreleased from the Skenes’ glands, which surround the urethra and are similar to the maleprostate. It has also been noted that high levels of testosterone and oestrogen are found inthe bloodstream during these particularly intense orgasms. As we have already notedelevated levels of these hormones stimulate LH production. This strengthens the possiblelink between ovulation and intense orgasm. More research on this unusual function is
necessary to answer all the questions posed by the mere existence of these states, but weare left wondering how could these high orgasmic states, and their accompanyingphysiological alterations, have evolved if they were not at one time the norm? Theycouldn’t have been hanging around latent just waiting for sexual researchers to discoverthem!
It is in this area that this theory intersects with our consciousness model, for ‘high
orgasm’, as we may term it, could be primarily a right hemisphere function. The veryintense states may no longer be available to the damaged left hemisphere, and itsdominance may be one reason why orgasm is suppressed in some women and difficult oreven impossible to achieve. The switching of balance between the right and lefthemispheres may also explain why sexual activity and particularly orgasm can take usaway from our limited ego state into blissful transpersonal states of being. Sometimehowever, in males particularly, there can be a negative reaction to this - a post orgasmirritation. This may be a response to the brief loss of ego self and the vulnerability thisbring to the left hemisphere self that always needs to be in control. We have alreadyhighlighted recent research that suggests that the brain may play a direct part inregulating fertility hormones. The ‘pre-fall’ brain may have had an even larger role.
Orgasmic response and subsequent hormonal release may have been more significant. Itis likely that the dominance today of the left hemisphere may in some way be inhibitingthese effects.
Most of the structural and functional changes within this model would have
occurred on the female side but what about the males? The corresponding aspects of themale side of this story would again arise from a background of a different state ofbeingness. With steroid inhibition, testosterone levels or activity would be at a lowergeneral level than they are today. As testosterone is a primary factor in libido (for bothsexes), we can speculate that at this critical time in our evolution, male libido would alsobe low and it would have been more difficult to reach orgasm. (Almost the reverse of thesituation today.) Thus a sustained amount of sexual activity would have been needed inboth males and females to achieve both orgasm and a release of sperm and ova. If a maleclimaxed without a corresponding female orgasm, the ovum would not be released andconception would not occur. Male and female sexuality thus had to match for successfulreproduction, and the reward was an intense feeling of bliss which was greater than thealready benign state of consciousness that we enjoyed at this time. This scenario providesa realistic explanation for the presence of orgasm in humans. Something unique musthave occurred somewhere along our line of descent for the strange anomaly ofpleasurable orgasm to become such a strong feature of the human bio-system.
Diet certainly affects libido. In one touching account, ‘alternative’ writer Robert
Wilson reminisces about a natural-food crusader he once knew. This fellow regardedmost food fanatics as hopelessly corrupt compromisers; only he
had the correct ‘natural’diet, which consisted entirely of fruit, nuts and uncooked
vegetables. When asked, “whatwas the greatest single benefit he got out of that regime,” he replied at once that it solvedall his sex problems. He expanded on this beguiling statement: “I hardly have any sexdrive anymore,” he said, unabashed, even a bit proud. “I don’t need
women the way Iused to. I’m free. No problems in that
area at all
.” Many followers of raw food andfruitarian diets have noticed a similar decline in libido.
Could all this have a bearing on the very small numbers of humans or proto-
humans that studies suggest we are all descended from? As we will see later, humansexuality may have been very different when we had a very different sense of self. Therewas nothing really to stop us exploiting our environment at any time in the past butnumbers remained low. We were clever and highly adaptable but we didn’t appear tohave the overwhelming desire to populate the whole globe. There wasn’t the inherentdrive (in males particularly) to continually chase the shallow orgasm that seems to bepresent now. We seem addicted to sex but could we really be addicted to the feeling wegain from being momentarily free from our ego-based, fear-ridden, left hemisphere senseof self. Is the sexual drive, which has reached obsessive levels in our society today, aresult of a striving to regain something that in our deepest being we know that we havelost? Is there a parallel here with our deep desire to ‘know ourselves’, to ‘reach nirvana’or to become ‘one with God’? At some fundamental level, we know there is somethingmore to the sexual experience but, because we don’t know where to look, the cravingbecomes attached to the whole raft of sexual expression from glossy car adverts to thedarkest depravity. All this is without doubt coming from a human mind system that hasbecome disconnected from the true needs of the body and from a much more balanced,intuitive and complete side of us. This obsession, which is everywhere in western society(sex sells everything), compensates for the very inefficient reproductive mechanism weare left with today. In fact it has over compensated by a very large factor! We are out ofbalance in many truly fundamental ways. 6000,000,000 sex-obsessed humans to date andstill copulating!
According to our hypothesis, our direct ancestors moved or were forced out of the
forest some 200,000 years ago. This eviction from ‘the Garden of Eden’ necessitated achange of diet which initiated an increase in steroid levels. This would have caused acorresponding decrease in the production of melatonin and pinoline. These two factorswould have profoundly affected many areas of the body’s biochemistry but particularlythe reproductive mechanism. Melatonin has been used, in trials at least, as the basicingredient of a contraceptive pill for it has been found to stall (what is regarded as) thenormal female cycle. This stalled cycle would, we propose, have been the normalitybefore the ‘fall’. Higher melatonin levels resulting from a highly boosted pineal pumpwould have produced a system that remained in stasis between copulation-inducedovulation/pregnancy events.
A female (and male) in the African Forest some 200,000 years ago would have
conceivably reached puberty at a later age than females do today. (Perhaps an age of 18would have been the norm compared to the 9 to 13 or whatever age it has been reduced tonow). In the Ecuadorian Mountain village communities, mentioned in chapter two, girlswere found to be ‘immature for their age’. They started to menstruate at the age of 13 atthe earliest and some didn’t start until they were 18. The boys too didn’t show signs ofpuberty until they reached the age of 15 or so. Though the overall framework for pubertyis under genetic control it would, as it is today, have been fine-tuned by individual
variation in hormonal levels. But the extent of the age range shows there is a great deal ofplasticity within the system, and this variation is dependent on hormonal regime.
The medical and scientific community largely assumes that the increasingly early
puberty, that appears to be linked to our modern western diet, has no consequences but isthis laissez-faire attitude justified? A shorter juvenile period means a shorter window forneural development, and this reduction may even produce a mild retardation. Eunuchsapparently have a greater longevity than testosterone-pumping males so it seems thatlower steroid levels do have some positive effects. Perhaps a late puberty would allow theneural and neuroendocrine systems to develop a little more which would increase boththe life span and the health of the individual.
According to this part of our hypothesis, when our ‘pre-fall’ ancestors reached
puberty the cycle that we are familiar with today would not have occurred. Within thematuring female, the uterine system would partially build in response to her maturinghormonal regime and from then on it would be set to go. With a diet high in naturaloestrogen-like mimics and the pineal pumping high levels of melatonin andbetacarbolines, her uterus would have been held in partial readiness for conception withno regular ovulation and no monthly uterine breakdown. The system would thereforereach a stasis, similar to the regime under the control of contraceptive hormones, with apartially mature ovum and a partially built uterus. Ovulation would have been held incheck by the very different hormone regime but it would have been held close to releaseall the time (Similar to the period around day 11 of a typical cycle now - see figures 6a
All it would have taken would have been powerful sexual stimulation for the
whole thing to kick in. Sustained and intense orgasmic states would have been enough totemporarily alter the delicate hormonal balance by inducing higher levels of LH, steroidsand others hormones that would in turn allow the egg to be released at the time of mating.
This represents a highly efficient fertility/reproduction system without any needlesswaste.
With the loss of the steroid inhibition the brakes came off. The system started to
behave strangely. It was no longer held waiting in readiness. Before the fall, as pubertyset in, internal hormone production merely had to raise the background oestrogen levelsto a point where differentiation leading to sexual maturity took place. Then, as levelsreceded, the sustained external oestrogen mimics kept the uterus stable and intact. Butnowadays the female hormones do their work without the background level of steroidinhibition to act as a buffer. Once the ‘build a sexually mature human’ phase iscompleted, the newly mature system is exposed to a much higher background steroidlevel than it was designed for.
As the fertility cycle is today, rising steroid levels trigger a surge of LH that in
turn induces ovulation without sexual activity. Ovulation without fertilisation triggers anumber of feedback mechanisms similar to those that used to regulate the archaic oestrus.
A new cycle is created that still allows incidental fertilisation but is greatly inefficient anddamaging.
Fig 6b: This diagram also illustrates the typical menstrual cycle. In the normal cycle it isapparent that the uterus lining is only partially thickened before the hormonal changesthat occur with ovulation. Even this degree of thickening may be due to excess steroidactivity. Again a line has been added to give some idea of how an oestrus cycle in stasismay have looked: A rise in key hormones brought about by intense and sustained orgasmbeing enough to trigger ovulation that in turn bring further hormonal changes.
The high levels of steroids promote the uterus lining to grow rapidly and possibly
to excess. But within a few days, this same hormonal imbalance also induces ovulation.
The hormonal effect of ovulation in itself further stimulates the lining to grow. Howeverwithout fertilisation further hormonal changes including a reduction in steroids eventuallylead to its breakdown. Steroid levels begin to rise again and the cycle continues. Incontrast, in our ‘pre-fall’ days, ovulation itself would have induced the hormonal changesthat would have brought the lining of the uterus to a state in which it was ready forimplantation. And this would only occur after a successful mating.
The female cycle today varies in length from 15 to about 32 days. This is a
massive variation. The belief that that the cycle follows the moon, or at least that itshould do, doesn’t appear to fit the observations. The moon does indeed have some affecton all of us – males included. More babies are born at the time of the full moon and oursleep patterns often change around this time too. The moon may even have a tidal affecton us (we are after all 70% water!) but the menstrual cycle does not appear to follow thelunar one at all closely. Women do not all bleed at the same time. There may be some
lunar affect for the average length of the cycle is
close to the lunar one. But it seems thatthe length of the menstrual cycle depends more on the time it takes for the individualwomen to get through the hormonal process, which in turn is dependant on her individuallevel of steroids. This is why external factors, such as diet, can modify the system andwhy activities such as meditation that boost melatonin production in theory can also. Astudy on fertility in women meditators would be a worthy one. Couple this with theeffects of a raw food diet and it would be worth a doctorate! It would be extremelyinteresting to see the results of a serious study that really investigated in depth the linksbetween bioflavinoids, raw food, melatonin and female fertility. Would a low steroidregime restore some stability to a system that appears to have become one of runawayself-destruction?
It may be something of a hit and miss affair but, in sexually active women who
are fertile, ovulation will sometimes coincide with intercourse and a pregnancy mayresult. The steroid-induced ovulation, via additional hormonal release, precipitates furtherhormonal change that will either support conception and development or start the cycleagain. In some situations, for instance early menopause or early sexual maturity, thehormonal cycle does not bring about ovulation: insufficient steroid levels do not triggerthe LH release of the ovum. This may hint at what can happen if the current steroid cycleis moderated.
Although we have remained able to reproduce, the continuing background of
high steroid levels will still, as we have discussed earlier, have a detrimental effect on thedeveloping foetus in the uterus, particularly on the neo-cortex of the left hemisphere. It isalso possible that stress in pregnant mothers will add to these negative affects via theincreased levels of cortico-steroids that circulate round her and her developing child’sbody. A damaged, fear-based left hemisphere self may in itself be responsible forincreased levels of cortico-steroids; and this may be the basis for another negativefeedback loop that potentially could increase with every succeeding generation. The fearof childbirth that is particularly prevalent in the west could conceivably also feed in tothis unhelpful loop.
This may have some relevance to the way the human birth process is approached,
particularly in hospital deliveries. In modern western culture, intervention is the norm.
The hormone oxytocin is administered almost as a matter of course. Oxytocin is a feel-good hormone that stimulates smooth muscle tissue in the walls of the uterus, promotinglabour and delivery. (It is also involved in the release of breast milk and as we havealready seen, concentrations of the hormone rise during sexual arousal and orgasm.) Thehuman body is quite capable of producing sufficient levels of its own oxytocin, yet aboost is deemed necessary within hospital environments which, due to their clinical andimposing nature (not to mention their association with illness), is bound to increase levelsof apprehension. If, however, a relaxed state is induced by music, meditation, immersionin water, aromatherapy oils etc., the birth process appears to work more smoothly. It isprobable that such relaxed states enhance the release of oxytocin. A comparative study ofoxytocin levels between women who experience hospital deliveries and perhaps waterbirths would be very interesting. We could justifiably speculate that the relaxed mother isin more of a right hemisphere mode of function. Her birthing process may be easier thana mother who is more locked into her left dominant-hemisphere, fear-based self. Againthe implication is that a right hemisphere mode of operation is more efficient than the leftmode.
Before the ‘fall’, the rebuilding of a receptive uterus would have occurred once or
perhaps a few times at puberty and thereafter only following a pregnancy and on the rareoccasions when a copulation/ovulation failed to result in conception. There would havebeen long windows between rebuilds for, after a pregnancy, it is likely that the inhibitoryeffect of breast-feeding (on the fertility system) would have been stronger under a lowsteroid regime. [The hormonal changes brought about by regular breast-feeding even nowwill inhibit conception 99% of the time in the first year and about 97% in the second.
This further illustrates the degree which changes to the hormone regime can affectfertility. It is an extremely hormone-sensitive system.] For a child with a delayedpuberty/longer juvenile period, five or more years of breast-feeding may have beennormal. Chimps on average have seven years between conceptions and so similar periodin humans may be ‘more natural’ than the relatively short periods we are familiar withtoday. Thus with relatively few conceptions during a females life and consequently fewrebuilds, the system would be well able to cope. It cannot however cope with a rebuildevery month coupled with the hormonal ‘roller-coaster’. The consequence is menopause– a mammalian anomaly virtually unique to humans. The system collapses in on itself. Itcannot do any more. The high steroid regime wins in the end and women become a bitmore like men.
HAIRY WOMEN AND BALD MEN
Whilst we are looking for symptoms that might suggest we are at the wrong end
of the re-emergence of a high steroid low melatonin regime, it may be fun to turn ourattention to the perennial problem of hair. For this discussion and indeed this wholechapter, we need to keep in mind that the steroid regime which is regarded as more orless normal, is in fact, within the context of this model, abnormally high.
Male pattern baldness is accepted as a natural consequence of ageing. Baldness
however is not deemed acceptable to most middle aged men inspecting their recedinghairlines in the mirror every morning. A full head of shiny hair is a symbol of youth and
attractiveness and we want to hang on to it for as long as possible. Hair is power!Throughout history long hair on warriors has been a symbol of strength, and even thewords Caesar, Kaiser and Tsar mean hairy in their original form. As a consequence ofthese feelings about hair, a whole host of treatments have been devised to counter its loss.
Perhaps one of the earliest documented cures goes back to around 400 BC. The Greekphysician Hippocrates recommended rubbing the scalp with an ointment made of opiummixed with wine, acacia juice and the oil of olives and rose. For severe cases, a paste ofcumin, pigeon droppings, beetroot, nettles and horseradish was prescribed instead. Manymodern approaches are similarly bizarre and most have only minimal effect but that thereare now hormonally based remedies that do partially reverse the process is interesting.
The hormone most often fingered for this crime against hair is the androgen
dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This can cause hair follicles, of both men and women, tobecome dormant. Excess DHT can be combated with anti-androgens. The very fact thatwe can respond to such treatment again shows how much plasticity there is within thehuman system, especially where hormones are concerned. That balding can be treatedwith something that reduces the activity of the testosterone group of hormones is a furtherindication that we are suffering from too high a level of these hormones. Baldingtherefore, in itself, can be seen as an outward expression of our dysfunctional system. Asan aside, it is also worth noting, in the light of the previous section, that one of the effectsof taking hormones for the ‘hair today, gone tomorrow’ problem can be a loss of(standard ideas of) libido.
One could also ask what the evolutionary advances of early hair loss are –
particularly for those savannah dwelling and evolving humans? How could this trait ofbalding have possibly come about? That it is an anomaly, thrown up by an archaic changein steroid levels, makes more sense than any existing theories. Perhaps those who stillthink that man evolved on the savannah would like to explain the advantages that hairloss would bring to a male on the sun-drenched plains of Africa!
With increasing age, many women also experience head hair thinning along with
hair thickening on the upper lip and sometimes other areas of the face. As, in general, wevalue a glamorous idea of beauty more highly than just about anything else, this is seenas a problem. Female pattern baldness like male baldness involves genetics,vitamin/mineral uptake and stress but the key component of the problem is againhormonal balance. As well as excess of (DHT), balanced thyroid hormone production isalso critical; hypothyroidism results in coarse lifeless hair which easily falls out, whilehyperthyroidism causes soft, thinning hair. In women at menopause, the ratio ofandrogens to oestrogen change and this is often the trigger that leads to increases in facialhair and head hair loss. These problems, in both men and women, are almost certainlycompounded by the reduction of melatonin production that occurs as we age. We haveseen that steroids, or at least their activity, can be inhibited by bioflavinoids andmelatonin, thus it is possible that diet as well as activities that boost melatonin production(like meditation) could ameliorate these negative effects. Doesn’t all this really suggestthat we have a body system today that is abnormal? With a much lower level of steroidhormones none of these strange things would happen.
Stress can also cause hair problems. Cortico steroids (the stress hormones that are
closely related to testosterone) are enough on their own to activate facial hair follicles inwomen. It has also been noted that, in stressed middle-aged women with a facial hair
problem, dealing with the stress alone can have an effect. For example, changing theconsciousness system, from that of stress to one blissed out on love, can actually stop theunwanted hair growth!
Some psychologists think that dominance in females (and probably men as well)
is a trait closely associated with high levels of testosterone. And the research so far doessupport the contention that female students, managers and professionals secrete aboveaverage levels. Can this be related to hairiness? Hirsutism is a more extreme ‘hairycondition’ in which, in response to abnormally high levels of androgens, there isexcessive growth of hair on the face or body. Usually it is only regarded as a problem forwomen – hairy males are more or less socially acceptable. And in women it can beaccompanied by other changes such as balding, deepening of the voice, increased musclemass, loss of breast tissue and acne. These masculine traits are typical of our (cruel)characterisation of ‘dominant’ woman. New research from the University of Aucklandhas found that even the way women view themselves is directly related to the degree oftestosterone they secrete. Women who actively thought that they had dominant traitsactually secreted higher levels of testosterone. So like the above example of the womanin love, it seems that what we do with our consciousness can affect our biochemistry, andthis in turn can feed back into our physical structure as well as our behaviour. What acomplicated system! No wonder we have such a problem with relationships, wars etc!
The link between acne and abnormally high levels of testosterone has a bearing
on another anomaly of our human system that can also be explained by too high levels ofthese pesky steroids. Sebaceous glands in humans seem to have gone crazy! These glandsare an appendage of hair follicles, and they produce an oily substance called sebum thathelps to keep the fur of mammals sleek and waterproof. In a naked ape, it would bereasonable to expect these glands to have become largely vestigial, but the oppositeseems to have happened. The sebaceous glands of African apes are found scattered allover their bodies, but they are small and few in number. In man, they not only are morenumerous but also much bigger, especially on the face and scalp. Sebum does not seem tohave any usefulness to us in our hairless state – it is not needed to keep the skin moist orsupple. In fact, if anything, it causes problems. Sebum provides a breeding ground fordandruff and dermatitis, and is associated with pimples, black heads and inflamednodules.
The sebaceous glands do not begin to operate until puberty. This is why
adolescents have such a sudden problem with acne and related skin blemishes. Sebaceousgland activity is a response to sex hormones. It is likely that it is an anomalous response.
We don’t need sebum except perhaps to add gloss to our head hair, and, as children, wedon’t produce much of the stuff at all. Thus hugely active sebaceous glands have notevolved in man for a purpose. Their ebullient activity is rather another indication of ouranomalous levels of steroid hormones. Under a much lower steroid regime, the sebaceousglands would not develop in the same excessive way.
SEROTONIN, TESTOSTERONE, DEPRESSION AND MURDER
Studies of individuals who display psychopathic behaviour and have been
convicted of the darkest of crimes show that they suffer from low levels of serotonin andhigh levels of testosterone. This is in effect, according to our theory, the extreme end ofwhat all of humanity has been exposed to. The combination of low serotonin/hightestosterone appears to be linked to violence, the willingness to kill, uninhibitedaggression, and a detached unemotional mental state with a total absence of compassion.
Such individuals have a greater sense of disconnection from others and a greater sense ofisolation. We can surmise that within these individuals there is even less of thebiochemistry to fuel the sense of connection to all life, and left hemisphere dominance ismore complete.
In instances when chemical or physical castration has been carried out on the
worst offenders (which in cases of sex attacks and serial murders are virtually alwaysmen) the incidence of re-offending has been reduced by a massive factor of twenty.
Reducing testosterone levels thus stops the criminal behaviour almost entirely. This is astaggering finding. Just by changing one or two core biochemical pathways, behaviourcan be changed. There may be a massive web of chemical interaction that make up ourbehaviour patterns but this work shows that testosterone has a disproportionate effect; animbalance can lead to violent results. If, as we believe, we are all suffering from too highlevels of testosterone this connection between testosterone and violence has enormousimplications for society.
Recent studies suggest that anti-social conduct may be linked to diet too.
Increasing the levels of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids in the diets of young,imprisoned offenders reduced the number of disciplinary offences committed by over aquarter. Significant infringements of the rules, including violence, fell by 37% whensupplements were given to a trial group. Though this research has come as a surprise tomany people, it doesn’t surprise us. It is what we would expect if our thesis were correct.
Bernard Gesch, who conducted the work whilst he was at Surrey University, hascorrectly pointed out that nutrients are crucial ingredients in the biological processes thatproduce brain transmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which affect mood. As a junkfood diet free from fresh fruit and vegetables is becoming more prevalent, this evidencesuggests we are sowing the seeds for a much more disruptive and violent society.
Furthermore, research on monkeys reared in isolation has found that in
comparison to those benefiting from a normal interactive upbringing, they were lesssocialised and grew into more aggressive adults. These monkeys had less serotoninactivity. Linked to this, there is some evidence that suggests that touch, particularly amother’s touch, is very important to babies and young children. It can affect life longlevels of serotonin. Perhaps a society that isolates its children into cots and crèches isstoring up more and more problems. We should all ask ourselves ‘is this normal primatebehaviour’? A lack of touch in early childhood may make depression in later life morelikely. It has been stated that depression will soon be the second most widespreadmedical condition. We also know that the prescription and consumption of Prozac isincreasing all the time. Does this not indicate something about our internal levels of thesechemicals? Does it not suggest that something has not only gone seriously wrong but thatit is getting worse? There is a direct connection between the levels of neurotransmitters
like serotonin and steroid hormones like testosterone; more steroids lead to lessneurotransmitter activity.
MELATONIN, THE PINEAL AND SEX
In medical cases in which damage, such as a tumour, blocks the function of the
pineal gland in children, puberty is rapidly initiated. The high levels of melatonin foundin children are therefore implicated in the suppression of their sexual development. Whenlevels drop, puberty begins, and in girls, ovulation commences. It is known thanmelatonin regulates many hormones including those that regulate the menstrual cycle.
Fluctuations in melatonin levels stimulate the pituitary gland to release, among others,luteinising hormone, oestrogen, follicle stimulating hormone (which regulates theproduction of sperm in men and stimulates the maturation of ovaries in women), prolactinand oxytocin. Thus we can see that melatonin and the pineal play a crucial role within thehuman fertility system. Anything that alters the balance of pineal function will also affectfertility.
All this has raised the possibility of using melatonin as an oral contraceptive.
Endocrinologist Michael Cohen, formally of Dijkzigt University Hospital in Rotterdamhas discovered that high doses of melatonin, when combined with the female hormoneprogesterone, can block ovulation. Because of questions concerning the safety of theoestrogen-based contraceptive pill (oestrogen has been shown to increase the risk ofcertain forms of cancer), Dr Cohen set out to develop a new oestrogen-free pill. Hisresearch resulted in a contraceptive pill that contained a dose of 75mg of melatonin witha small amount of synthetic progesterone. During trials, carried out in Holland, over twothousand women took this pill for over three years. It proved every bit as reliable as thestandard pill and what was perhaps just as remarkable was that the women reported nounpleasant side effects – no headaches or bloating, both of which can occur with theoestrogen pill. In fact the women in the trial reported a generally heightened sense of wellbeing.
This is all very interesting from the point of view of our hypothesis. It is
significant and reassuring to see that even when melatonin is taken in very high doses, itappeared completely safe. A trial that raises melatonin levels to such a high degree, andresults in, not only no negative side effects but also positive ones, certainly doesn’tcontradict the idea that at some point in our past our pineal glands may have pumpedmuch more melatonin. Additionally Michael Cohen found that the high levels ofmelatonin did not, as one might expect, increase drowsiness. Melatonin taken in lowdoses acts as a sleep regulator but at the 75mg a day level the trial subjects experiencedno sleepiness. It seems that, like other hormones, melatonin works differently at highdoses than it does at low doses.
Hormones are extremely complicated, perplexing and powerful chemicals! There
is much more waiting to be discovered about their roles and particularly how they interactwith one another. We have seen that as a result of steroid suppression it is possible thatlibido can be reduced, and it is probable that what can be described as ‘the rush to lust’can be calmed under such a regime. There is evidence that more melatonin can make sexa more pleasurable experience too. Melatonin heightens the effect of our internal
endorphins. These are substances that alleviate stress and help to produce sensations ofpleasure and relaxed well being. It has even been reported that melatonin, via itsstimulation of oxytocin and prolactin, may encourage the physical contact and intimacythat leads to sensual activity. When these hormones were experimentally injected intomice, a dramatic increase in the mouse equivalent of cuddling and hugging took place. Inaddition, when melatonin was added to the evening drinking water of old mice, it wasfound that not only did they show signs of rejuvenation and increased longevity but alsothat they engaged in sexual activity again.
Melatonin may help preserve the health of the prostate gland too. This male gland
produces the fluid that carries sperm. Nowadays the prostate glands of some fifty- percentof men over the age of fifty become enlarged and this can interfere with both urinationand sexual function. That so many men today are inflicted by this ailment suggests thatsomething about our biological system is indeed out of balance. Proscar, one of the drugsused to treat this condition, works by inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. Thisenzyme breaks down male hormone into a more potent form that can stimulate thegrowth of prostate cells. Melatonin also inhibits this enzyme. In fact, when the pinealgland is experimentally removed from mice (resulting in a decline of melatonin) theirprostate glands become enlarged but when additional melatonin is given, the glandreturns to its normal size.
If in our ‘natural state’ we had a much more active pineal that pumped more
melatonin, we can assume that many aspects of our biology and particularly oursexuality/fertility would have been different. A lower level of steroid hormone activityand more melatonin may have produced a much more efficient, healthy and a lesswasteful reproductive system. This regime may have lead to more ecstatic, joyful, sensualand prolonged lovemaking with less of an emphasis on, or a least less of a rush towards,orgasm. We can only wonder what spin-offs this would have had on our consciousness.
SEX AND DRUGS AND TANTRIC TABOOS
There is a wealth of evidence that humans can still access prolonged transpersonal
states of bliss through sexual union. All the major religions, with perhaps the exception ofthe most patriarchal and fear inhibited strands of Christianity, have had their sexualmystics and have honoured them. Various Tantric traditions from India to China haveused sexual union, in conjunction with awareness of subtle energies within the body andhigher states of consciousness, to attain oneness with the ‘divine’. The ancient Greeksand Romans also had their cults that combined ritualised sex with magic and often winetoo. Sex, drugs and rock and roll has a long history. From Bacchanalian revels to therituals of present day underground culture, there are many anecdotal accounts ofheightened sexual experiences in combination with particularly drug use. (Alcohol,despite perhaps enhancing relaxation and inhibiting fear, in large amounts definitelydoesn’t enhance sexual experience. Its negative properties are well known and all toocommonly experienced.) In Robert Anton Wilson’s book ‘Sex and Drugs there is thefollowing:
‘Pot lends itself to every form of sensory enrichment and has been associated with bothsex and religion for a long time. In India, Hindus of the Shivite sect are often seenstumbling out of their temples, stoned into the middle of next week, muttering themarijuana mantra, Bom-Bom-Mahadev, which translates as ‘Boom! Boom! Great BigGod’ – a sensation that even irreligious pot smokers will vaguely recognise.’
And again:‘With pot, sexual intercourse becomes more pleasurable and more relaxed. It makes youa better lover. You feel closer to your partner than you would otherwise. I can feel myselfactually fusing with the other person – it is difficult to know even anatomically what partof myself is me and what part is the women.’
‘And the acid made my consciousness go into the very top eighth of an inch of the head ofmy penis. That’s all I was – just that fragment of flesh entirely surrounded by cunt andpulsating with joy. Then – boom! – I wasn’t even that. I was nowhere and yet I waseverywhere. Now, that’s exactly what the Hindus call Samadhi – union with the All.
Cannabis and tantric practices, we deduce, both help access to the right
hemisphere self. Of course within the bliss of orgasm the small ego sense of the lefthemisphere is also temporarily suspended. Unfortunately, as noted by no lessercommentator than William Shakespeare, ‘normal’ orgasm is often nothing more than a‘momentary trick’. D. H. Lawrence called it a ‘sneeze in the loins’ – orgasm hasdescended to a very fleeting and limited experience. By extending orgasm via practicesthat often include delay or abstention of ejaculation, profound oceanic states can, not onlybe reached, but also dwelt in for lengthy periods. Masters of Tantric yoga are reputed tobe able to continue the act of love for seven or eight hours. Aleister Crowley, whodabbled in most aspects of Eastern yoga and Western occultism at some stage in hiseventful life, was convinced that sexual yoga was the quickest and easiest way for theaverage westerner to expand their consciousness. Dr Richard Alpert, who transformedhimself from a clinical psychologist working on LSD to the guru Baba Ram Dass, wrote:
‘Tim (Leary) is absolutely right about LSD enhancing sex. Before taking LSD, I neverstayed in a state of sexual ecstasy for hours on end, but I have done this under LSD. Itheightens all of your senses and it means that you’re living the sexual experience totally.
Each caress or kiss is timeless.’
Despite Ram Dass’ interesting experiences he concluded that drugs in themselves
were not the answer. Such states may be attained more safely and more sustainably using‘spiritual’ practices that heighten our consciousness. And these states are
Some drugs do have the effect of enhancing the senses but how are they doing this? Someof the effect may be purely chemical hallucination but part may be due to an opening ofthe gates to the flood of sensory information that normally ‘we’ filter out. (Our damagedleft hemisphere cannot access all this information due to its inability to cope with
anything but a simple flow of incoming data.) This opening can lead to intensesensations of pleasure that course through the entire body. Sensitivity and sensuality isheightened, all touch and interaction becomes a shared oceanic experience, and the desireor drive for orgasm seems to dissipate. Sexual interaction can last much longer withextended periods of complete merger with one’s partner. There is often a loss of the senseof time and a general feeling of oneness and euphoria in which, paradoxically, the ‘I’ thatstarted the process disappears. The body becomes the whole universe and the wholeuniverse the body. Something else is accessed in these experiences – something larger orwider than oneself and something that is not restricted by space and time. If therestrictions of space and time stem from the processing capacity of our dominant lefthemisphere, where is this other sense coming from?
Perhaps we all know somewhere in the depths of our unconscious that sex offers
more than it routinely provides in this day and age of instant gratification. This is thereason why we, particularly in western societies, are so obsessed with sex, and why someget distracted by deviant practices. We know there is a deeper secret hidden somewherewithin our sexuality but most of us are looking for it in the wrong place. The result is ahigh level of psychological frustration that is externalised to produce a society swampedwith sexual images. An increased amount of testosterone coursing through ourbloodstream does not help matters. This has not only boosted our libido to perhapsuncomfortable heights but also (as we have seen in hyenas) testosterone can markedlyaffect levels of aggressive behaviour. Aggression linked to sexual behaviour is veryunpleasant. We do not need to really comment here on the problems to society that thisobnoxious combination brings beyond noting that it too is consistent with our hypothesisof a dysfunctional part of the brain.
We must also remember that the brain runs on ‘drugs’; drugs, despite the
connotations of this label, are after all only chemicals. If the brain under our presentsteroid regime is chronically short of some chemicals, perhaps serotonin and other keyneurotransmitters, it is possible that the long history of using DMT mimics inreligious/shamanic ritual has been a crude attempt to redress the balance. This culturaluse may not have merely been a quest for experiential perceptual effects but for arestoration of health, and perhaps represented an attempt to regain lost states ofconsciousness brought about by a failing pineal gland. The plants used in these rituals,those that make up South American ayahuasca and Middle Eastern soma, have basicallythe same biochemical properties. This convergence provides a pointer to the idea that ashortage of DMT may be one missing piece of the consciousness jigsaw.
DMT, THE PINEAL AND SPIRIT
Di-methyl-tryptamine (DMT), despite its complex sounding name, is a
structurally simple chemical, derived from tryptophan, an amino acid present in our food.
DMT occurs in plants and animals and is part of the normal make up of living things. Ithas been found in human brain tissue and in our blood and urine, so there is no doubt thatwe internally produce what is one of the most powerful hallucinogens of all. DMT isparticularly abundant in plants of South America, and it is there that, within the culturaltraditions of particularly the rainforest tribes, humans have explored its remarkable
psychedelic/consciousness expanding properties. In large doses DMT blows open thedoors of our normal perceptions to allow access to worlds beyond our imagination.
Fantastic visions, out of body travel, near-death experiences, predictions of the future,contact with the dead and ‘alien’ presences, are all part of the DMT realm. Some of theseexperiences sometimes occur in people spontaneously, without resort to any extraneouschemicals. There are even cases in which individuals are totally convinced they havebeen taken to another world by aliens. If drug-induced and naturally occurring mentalconditions appear to overlap, it certainly hints at some natural function for thisendogenous brain chemical.
If one chemical can do all this, many questions arise about the nature of our
normal consciousness. In the early 1950s, the discovery of the related tryptomines, LSDand serotonin, raised such questions, and rocked the foundations of the comfortabledomain of psychiatry. In 1955, Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist, Stephen Szára,having been frustrated by unsuccessful attempts to procure LSD and mescaline for aresearch project, synthesised some DMT in his Budapest Laboratory. He then tried it outhimself, at first, by eating it. This had no effect; it was later discovered that there is amechanism in the gut that breaks down DMT. (The secret of the South American tribalbrews, like ayahuasca, is that they include chemicals that inhibit this mechanism.) Szárathen injected DMT and its effects became very evident indeed. He wrote:
‘The hallucinations consisted of moving, brilliantly coloured oriental motifs, and
later I saw wonderful scenes altering very rapidly. The faces of people seemed to bemasked. My emotional state was elevated sometimes up to euphoria.’
Szára then co-opted thirty volunteers who were all given the full ‘psychedelic’
dose. Their accounts are extremely interesting, particularly those that speak of spiritualexperience. Here are some fragments: ‘The whole room is filled with spirits.’… ‘I feelexactly as if I were flying’ . ‘Everything has a spiritual tinge but is so real.’ … ‘In frontof me are two, quiet sunlit Gods…I think they are welcoming me into this new world.’ …‘I am finally at home.’
With the explosion of interest in hallucinogenic drugs within the youth culture in
the 1960s and the subsequent authoritarian backlash, legitimate research into LSD andDMT was halted for a generation. This was a shame for some of the research was verypromising. For example, consciousness researcher Willis Harman found that LSD had avery positive effect on creativity. Now however a few studies are being undertaken again,the most notable being Rick Strassman’s investigation into, what he has called, ‘the spiritmolecule’. Such research is deemed important, not only for the light it shines on thenature of the human consciousness system, but also for the potential of these chemicals tohelp resolve deep psychological problems.
After a lengthy battle with the relevant state departments to gain the go ahead, and
further difficulties in procuring the highest grade of DMT, Strassman finally administeredthe drug to a carefully chosen group of volunteers. Most of these found the high dose ofDMT exciting, euphoric and extraordinary pleasurable. Sometimes this elation related tothe unfolding visions themselves and sometimes it arose from the revelatory insights thatwere gained during the sessions. For some, however, the experience was extremelyfrightening and this could have been, in part at least, to the almost complete loss ofcontrol the participants felt.
Intriguingly, some of those that managed to go beyond this loss of control barrier,
noted an ‘outside’ intelligence or force directing their minds, and a few of these believedthey had contact with beings. Several volunteers experienced ‘abduction by aliens’ andinteractions with them. Despite the bizarre nature of these scenarios, they felt very real.
One volunteer reported that ‘it felt more real than real’ Though the high doses of thehallucinogen were without doubt creating all sorts of perceptual peculiarities, theseincidents are reminiscent of the split consciousness effects within schizophrenics. Werethe alien voices and visions arising from the part of the mind beyond the ego mind? Theyhad to come from somewhere! The unlikely alternative is that they really were comingfrom an external source and the DMT was facilitating some sort of access. This is an ideathat Strassman seriously considers. His findings suggested that DMT provides regular,repeated and reliable access to ‘other’ realities and these could be thought of assomething like TV channels. He then goes on to ask whether these other channels ofexistence are always present, ‘transmitting’ all the time, but under normal circumstancesare not perceptible. He speculates that our natural (chemical) balance keeps us tuned to‘Channel Normal’ but, when subjected to a flood of DMT, our minds open to these otherplanes.
Does DMT remove a filter that then allows access to different dimensions? It
would take a lot to convince us that there really were aliens out (or even in) there! But itis possible that there could there be a link here to a filter imposed by the left hemisphereself. We have seen in the last chapter how the brain, under certain conditions (asdemonstrated by autistic savants) can take in vastly more detail than it does whenworking ‘normally’. If DMT was allowing the brain to open to a flood of sensory data aswell as distorting that data, it could explain some of the reported results. Much moreresearch needs to be done in this area, but it may be significant that the ‘aliens’ tended tocommunicate using a language of universal visual symbols rather than sounds and words;a means of communication more in tune with the right-hemisphere self.
Whenever possible Strassman tried to recruit volunteers who had already had
some experience of hallucinogens. It appeared that those that were more familiar with theeffects of mind-altering drugs were less prone to fear and were less likely to project suchthings as alien encounters into their experience. Could it be that the left hemisphere,which we know tries its best to make up stories to fit experiences it cannot cope with, wasgrasping at ideas of aliens to try to get a handle on the flood of unusual sensations?Certainly this would be the simplest explanation for these bizarre encounters.
One further effect that was experienced by many of the DMT volunteers was a
loss of normal time perception. Most believed their entire session had only taken a fewminutes. Many felt that, at the highest point of their DMT experience, they entered atimeless zone, but within that zone an enormous amount happened. We can also note herethat, according to our speculation, the right hemisphere self functions within the timelesspresent, whereas the left functions within a constructed time scale of past events andanticipated futures. All our worries and fears occur within these projected places, thus bybeing forced to step outside these ephemeral time zones, insight can be gained into thenature of our personal problems. Strassman found that the euphoria brought on by DMThelped volunteers to look at their lives and conflicts.
While the most bizarre and extreme effects came from high doses of DMT,
Strassman experimented with smaller ones too. The lowest category of dose was
experienced as pleasant, and almost all the volunteers said they felt like smiling orlaughing after receiving it. If we can accept that our usual mental state of somethingbordering on worry and fear is an imbalance and not ‘normal’, it is possible that thisimbalance is due to a chronic shortage of this natural brain chemical. Strassman thoughtthere was something ‘peerless’ about DMT despite its overt chemical and hallucinogenicsimilarities to LSD and the other tryptamine hallucinogens. One of its differences thoughis the speed of its action – the hallucinogenic effect is felt within a few seconds of itbeing intravenously administered, and the entire ‘trip’ only lasts some ten to fifteenminutes. This points to something that is unique about DMT. It appears that our brainshave some mechanism that rapidly ‘consumes’ this chemical.
DMT is the simplest of the tryptamine psychedelics and the smallest. Its
molecular size is only slightly greater than glucose. The brain, being a highly sensitiveorgan, possesses a nearly impenetrable shield, the blood-brain barrier, which preventsunwelcome chemicals leaving the blood and entering brain tissue. Even complexcarbohydrates and fats that other tissues use for energy are kept out. The brain uses onlythe purest form of fuel – glucose. However a few essential molecules, like the aminoacids needed for the construction of brain proteins, are actively transported across thebrain-blood barrier. Twenty-five years ago, Japanese scientists made the startlingdiscovery that DMT is one of the select number of chemicals that are actively taken intothe brain. Once in the body or brain, certain enzymes break it down within seconds.
These enzymes are none other than the monoamine oxidases (MAO) that we have comeacross before. The very enzymes that are inhibited by the bioflavinoids found in fruit!Strassman points out that the brain is acting almost as if DMT is a ‘brain food’ – glucoseis treated in a similar way. Both are part of a rapid turnover system. All this suggests thatDMT is a highly significant part of our functional make-up but what is it actually doing?
One of Strassman’s speculative conclusions is that a certain level of DMT is
needed by the brain to keep it on the perceptual straight and narrow. That is it acts as a‘reality thermostat’ keeping us within a narrow band of experience. Too much of thechemical and all manner of unusual visions and feelings appear on our ‘mind screens’.
Too little and our view of the world dims and flattens. These latter effects are just whatnormal volunteers feel when they are experimentally given antipsychotic drugs. It ispossible that these ‘medicines’ cause such depressive symptoms by blocking theproduction or action of endogenously produced DMT. If this were so, who is to say thelevels of DMT that we produce today are correct for optimal human performance. If ourbrains have suffered some degeneration over the last however many thousand yearsperhaps our DMT levels are a little low.
We must also reconsider the work of Serafetinides, who, you may remember from
chapter one, discovered that LSD did not work in the left hemisphere. If LSD, forwhatever reason, has no perceptual effect on the left hemisphere, we must ask whetherthe structurally very similar DMT cannot work its magic here too. Further research intothis area would be useful. Although it seems simplistic, it is just possible that, if the lefthemisphere is damaged and cannot respond to its optimal quota of DMT, our perceptionof our self is distorted. As all our individual and collective problems stem from ourselfish, ego-based, disconnected sense of self, all this has profound implications.
Though the crucial diagnostic experiment has yet to be done, all the evidence
points to the pineal gland as the site of DMT production. Most spontaneous experiences
of alien abductions occur in the early hours of the morning – just at the time the pineal isat its most active. The pineal contains the highest concentrations of serotonin in the body.
This chemical is the raw material for melatonin and in all probability DMT too. Thepineal has the ability to turn serotonin into tryptamine and it also contains high levels ofmethyltransferases – the enzymes that attach methyl groups to other molecules. Theseenzymes only have to do their job twice to construct di-methyl-tryptamine (DMT). As wehave noted in earlier chapters, the pineal also makes beta-carbolines, and it is thesecompounds that inhibit the breakdown of serotonin and DMT too by blocking the actionof the body’s MAO. Thus the pineal gland may not only produce DMT but also thechemicals that prolong its activity.
But how could DMT production be activated? We know that melatonin synthesis
in the pineal is ‘turned on’ by the neurotransmitters, noradrenaline and adrenaline, whichare released by nerve cells that almost touch the gland. We also know that the adrenalglands produce these two neurotransmitters and release them into the bloodstream inresponse to stress. Thus stressful conditions could potentially upset pineal activity,particularly as the pineal exists outside the brain-blood barrier and so should beresponsive to blood borne chemicals. However the pineal has its own security system thatprotects it from such interference. This mechanism is very efficient: It makes it difficultfor melatonin to be produced during the day but even so the system can be overridden.
We have already discussed how meditation and cannabis use can initiate melatoninproduction and boost levels in the blood to a marked degree. Could parallel mechanismsinitiate DMT production?
For enough DMT to be produced to precipitate extraordinary visions the security
system around the pineal would presumably have to be overcome as well as the activityof the methyltransferases boosted, and MAOs inhibited. Some research suggests that, ifthe body/mind is subject to enough stress, it is possible to breach the pineal gland’sdefence shield. If this stress then precipitated excessive DMT production, it could helpexplain the bizarre perceptions like alien abductions. In studies of people who claim tohave had such encounters, it has been found that they usually occur at times of personalcrisis, loss or trauma. There is some indirect evidence to suggest that, in psychoticindividuals, the pineal gland’s defences do not function normally: Stress can worsenhallucinations and delusions, and the intensity of such symptoms is related to levels ofDMT. It has also been found that DMT levels rise in animals exposed to stress.
To add a further twist to this fascinating story, it is possible that the odd
experiences and weird visions are actually distorted interpretations arising from thelimited perceptual abilities of the left hemisphere. If the dominant hemisphere ispresented with an experience beyond its computational abilities, its attempts to makesense of it may result in a distorted fear-based picture.
To tie this all together then, we can tentatively conclude that DMT is produced in
the pineal, used in the brain and that overproduction, brought on by stress, can lead tostrange experiences. DMT affects how we feel. Low additional doses have been found tobring on feelings of laughter and happiness and a shortage of the chemical has beenassociated with depressed states. DMT may be acting in the brain therefore as some sortof regulator of consciousness. It is also possible that the chemical does not work in theleft hemisphere as it does in the right. If this were indeed the case, particularly as our lefthemisphere sense of self is dominant, the implications would be enormous.
Before leaving this discussion on DMT we should touch on the subject of ‘spirit’.
The pineal has, in many cultures, been associated with spiritual experience. It has beencalled the ‘third eye’ and the ‘seat of the soul’. It is associated with internal light andspiritual illumination. Such spiritual experiences that include visions of angels, hearingheavenly sounds, a sense of timelessness and near-death experiences occur within allreligious traditions. They are also characteristic of a fully psychedelic DMT ‘trip’. So ifstress can cause the pineal to produce DMT can its opposite, meditation, do likewise?Rick Strassman believes it can.
Meditation (as well as prayer, chanting, visualisations) can effect the pineal and
brain activity by shifting the balance between left and right hemispheres. Studies showthat in meditation, brain wave patterns are slower and better organised than thoseproduced during our usual states of awareness. These brain wave patterns can lead to adeep state of bliss that we can feel throughout the body. Within the brain, Strassmanspeculates, these patterns may induce a resonance that would effect all our structures. It isjust possible that such a resonance within the pineal could weaken the barriers to DMTformation resulting in a surge of the chemical that could become stronger as themeditation became deeper. The highly blissful states that can be attained by meditationare certainly similar in nature to the euphoric ones experienced by Strassman’svolunteers. Furthermore, in the light of two of our previous sections on fertility and sex,we can also make the connection between these highly euphoric states and those attainedduring the deepest, most loving orgasms. We suspect that DMT is playing its part heretoo.
THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
The thymus gland is the most central and essential organ of the body’s immune
system. It lies in the upper chest and in infants and children it is relatively large,commonly extending from the base of the neck to the area of the upper heart. The thymusreaches its maximum size and weight (about 40 grams) just before puberty. After thissignificant life change, it gradually diminishes in size and by the age of 50 it will usuallyweigh less than 12 grams. It is believed that the decreased size and secretory abilities ofthe thymus may make the elderly more susceptible to disease.
The thymus produces several hormones that are important to the development and
maintenance of our immunological defences. These thymic hormones (thymosins)promote the development and maturation of the white blood cells (lymphocytes) whichare the ‘sharp end’ of our immune response. Approximately 80% of circulatinglymphocytes are ‘T-cells’ and these are dependent on the thymus gland. There are manydifferent types of T-cells and all are important in maintaining the health of the body.
Some attack foreign cells or cells infected with viruses. Some stimulate regionalinflammation and local defences in injured tissue. Some are ‘helper’ T-cells thatstimulate the activation and function of both T-cells and B-cells (those that are derivedfrom bone marrow, and some are ‘suppressor’ T-cells that together with the helper cells,regulate and fine tune immune response.
The thymus then is of crucial importance but strangely at puberty, in response to
increasing levels of steroid hormones, it starts to shrink. As it does, its internal structure
becomes so ‘disorganised’ that many researchers believed that it ceased to functionaltogether. But Richard Boyd and Jayne Sutherland of Monash Medical School inMelbourne have recently found that, in mice at least, the thymus does continue toproduce T cells at about one tenth of the rate it does in a young animal. Furthermore,when they physically castrated mice they found that the thymus regained its youthfulappearance within four weeks and that the number of T cells it produced increased tonear pre-pubertal levels. In a related study, Richard Koup and colleagues at theUniversity of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas measured the levels of agenetic by-product of the release of T-cells by the human thymus. Koup’s team foundthat, as in mice, the gland continues to function after puberty at a similarly reduced level.
Koup also has evidence that the increase in T cell numbers in HIV patients receivingaggressive treatment with combinations of AIDS drugs is caused, at least in part, by therelease of T-cells by the thymus. This strongly suggests that boosting the gland’s functionmay help combat aids and possibly any other invasive disease. If this research iscombined with the Australian work, an extremely powerful therapeutic tool can beidentified. If drugs can be given that suppress the production of sex steroids, the thymusmay regain some of its size and function. If it starts to pump out more T-cells, theimmune system will function much more efficiently and viruses that were thought to betoo much for the human immune system may be dealt with not only efficiently but also ina much less toxic way.
This could have far-reaching medical consequences but, if our hypothesis is
correct, we were once and still could be living with much lower levels of steroidhormones flooding our bodies. With lower levels of steroids or at least a suppression ofthe activity of those steroids, a thymus that functioned fully, perhaps even into old age,may have been the norm. This would have had attendant effects on health and longevity.
The unique circumstances within our evolution that we have outlined in chapter fourwould not have only produced a big brain but also a much more efficient immune system.
Could we today then be running a system with only a fraction of its potential? As it isnow, our immune system builds but then is suppressed at puberty. It is still prettyamazing (as all human systems are) but possibly it is only a shadow of its former self.
If we all have the potential of a much more powerful immune system, it is
conceivable that, from time to time under unusual circumstances, it may be stimulated tocome on stream. Such an alternative pathway could explain aspects of ‘spiritual’ healing,healing with hallucinogens, spontaneous remissions and even old tales of a golden agewhen everyone was reputedly long lived and bounding with health. There is something inall this that is worthy of further investigation. The overall picture is simple and wouldn’tbe difficult to conclusively prove. We already know that if steroid hormones aresuppressed the thymus reactivates and can act powerfully. That this occurs is regarded asan anomaly but if in fact the anomalous feature is our overactive steroid hormones, thewhole way we look at our immune system radically shifts. The levels of steroid hormonesthat we regard as normal today significantly suppress our immune function. If the levelsof these steroids or at least their activity were experimentally reduced or inhibited byincreased levels of melatonin, beta-carbolines and nutritional chemicals, our immunesystem should be enhanced. This, if our theory were correct, would have been theimmunological scenario ‘before the fall’. As these steroids are the same ones thatGeschwind and others suggest have a deleterious effect on particularly the left cerebral
cortex of the brain, the picture could be broader still. Just by inhibiting these steroidseverything could start to function very differently.
When the body/mind is under stress, cortico-steroids are produced in the adrenal
glands and the brain. There is a recognised link between stress and immune function.
When we are stressed our immune function doesn’t work so well – we are more prone tocatch colds because our resistance is lower. Stress thus suppresses immune function viathe cortico-steroids that are structurally very similar to our steroid sex hormones that alsosuppress our immune function. (That steroids do suppress the immune system is widelyacknowledged for they are administered to transplant patients to help suppress the body’simmune rejection response to the alien tissue.)
Stress and fear are very damaging. As we have been continually pointing out,
steroid hormones are implicated in causing damage to particularly the left cerebral cortex.
What is particularly significant is that due to this damage our dominant left-hemisphereself is now reduced to abiding in a perpetual background state of fear that is of coursestressful. And this stress presumably results in higher levels of cortico-steroids beingproduced. Thus within our less than perfectly functioning neural systems, there are loopsof damage that interact with one another. If we could be released from all this internalwarfare what would emerge? Could we have a lost layer of function that is latent and justwaiting to be kick started or would it just be a relief to be free from the chains of fear?
When we meditate we reduce our internal levels of stress. We know too that
meditation results in more melatonin being produced that will suppress steroids that inturn will enhance immune function. Meditation also affects consciousness. Reaching astate of quietness by calming the internal verbal dialogue suggests shifting the balanceaway from left hemisphere dominance. Less stress means less cortico-steroid activitywhich leads to less negative impact on the immune system. All these elements willimprove health and well being. Under right hemisphere control, the thymus gland maywork a little better too.
There are clues that at least tentatively point to the possibility of latent and
enhanced physiological (and consciousness) functions within some humans. We havetouched on this before. People with multiple personality disorder, for example, can healat a faster rate than is normal. Perhaps they are not so locked into one neuroendocrinecontrol loop but are at least partially shifted to the other. This of course presupposes thateach side of the neo-cortex has its own version of a one time cohesive system. It is themost evolved layer of the brain and, though we mustn’t ignore the roles of the otherlayers, it can be regarded as the final ‘filter’ and the ultimate controller. The neo-cortexhas no direct links to, for example, the organs of sensory perception such as the eyes butsuch information does come up through it from the lower levels of the brain. And its putsits own ‘spin’ on this information which fine-tunes function and perception. If the rightneo-cortex runs a more efficient neuroendocrine system than the left (because the left isdamaged) it may explain many anomalous events in the healing arena. And as the neo-cortex fine-tunes many other functions too, shifting left hemisphere dominance mayresult in a body run in a much more efficient manner. Even our digestive system could beaffected by such a change.
A SECOND BRAIN
Research by Dr Micheal Gershon has shed new light on the murky world of
animal digestion that is of significance to our own story. Almost single-handedly, he haselevated what is generally regarded as a mundane process to the dizzy heights ofneuroscience. He has shown that the gut is definitely more than a tube that processesfood. It contains a highly complex neural system and displays a great degree ofautonomy.
Gershon’s major breakthough came about when he demonstrated that serotonin
was extremely active in the gut. In fact, it is now known that the gut uses 95% of thebody’s serotonin. Since his initial discoveries, every neurotransmitter known in the brainhas been found in the gut too. Furthermore, the human gut has a complex self-containednervous system containing more nerve cells than the spinal cord, and indeed moreneurones than all the rest of the peripheral nervous system. There are over 100 millionnerve cells in the human small intestine alone. Structurally and neuro-chemically, theenteric nervous system (ENS) is a brain unto itself. Within those yards of tubing lies acomplex microcircuitry driven by more neurotransmitters and neuromodulators than canbe found anywhere else in the peripheral nervous system.
Though connected to the brain by the vagus nerve, it has been found that the gut
has a great degree of autonomy. In 1899, physiologists studying dogs found that unlikeany other reflex, the continuous push of material through the digestive system (nowcalled the peristaltic reflex) continued when nerves linking the brain to the intestineswere cut. The vagus nerve only directly connects with a comparatively tiny number ofgut cells and while it has overall control, the brain does not instruct the gut how
to carryout specific tasks. That is strictly an inside job, and one that the gut is marvellouslycapable of performing. In addition to propulsion, the ENS bears primary responsibilityfor self-cleaning, regulating the luminal environment, working with the immune systemto defend the bowel, and modifying the rate of proliferation and growth of mucosal cells.
The gut is a major ‘immune organ’ too, containing more immune cells than the
rest of the body combined. The enteric nervous system interacts intimately with theimmune system, and can affect mood and behaviour by signalling the central nervoussystem. Indeed, the vagus nerve mostly carries information from the enteric nervoussystem to the brain not vice versa. For every one message sent by the brain to the gut,about nine are sent in the other direction. Feelings of fullness, nausea, the urge to vomitand abdominal pain are all the gut's way of warning the brain of danger from ingestedfood or infectious pathogens. And recent research has found that stimulating the vagusnerve can have antidepressant and even learning-enhancing effects. Gut feelings aregenuinely more than just a metaphor. We could go so far as to say that the gut can evenmodify who we are.
Melatonin may play its part in this. Though the pineal is responsible for most of
the melatonin that circulates around the body, it is now known that synthesis of melatonincan occur locally in cells throughout the body. The gastrointestinal tract is a major sourceof extra-pineal melatonin. Here melatonin protects the gut from ulceration by itsantioxidant action, by stimulating the immune system and by fostering microcirculationand epithelial regeneration. We also know that melatonin monitors our mood, thus it is
possible that gastrointestinally produced melatonin may play some part in our feelings ofwell-being.
There are clinical implications to all this too.
Because the neurotransmitters and
neuromodulators present in the brain are nearly always present in the bowel as well,drugs designed to act on serotonin metabolism are likely to have enteric effects. About25% of patients taking antidepressant medicines report some initial nausea or diarrhoea. Mood-altering drugs like Prozac, acting simultaneously on both brain and gut systems,may have even more effect on the bowel than on the brain, because serotoninpredominates in the bowel and the drug moves through the digestive system beforereaching the brain. Fortunately, in most people, the bowel quickly develops tolerance tothese drugs, and gastrointestinal side effects usually subside within a few days or weeksof the start of treatment.
Despite many interesting findings, research into the second brain is still in its
infancy. For instance, it has been found that there are more serotonin receptors in the gutthan there are known functions of serotonin. We have no idea yet what most of theseenteric receptors for serotonin are doing.
From our perspective these discoveries have great significance. Our digestive and
Trabajos de autores extranjeros • Traducción realizada por la Dra Claudia Rodari con autorización de las partes involucradas Recomendaciones y bases para el tratamiento de la enfermedad pelviana inflamatoria Oluwatosin Jaiyeoba, Gweneth Lazenby, David E Soper Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Medical University of South Carolina. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther 2011;9(1):61-70 Rep
COLLOQUE INTERNATIONAL Mères empêchées dans la littérature espagnole contemporaine PROGRAMME Jeudi 19 octobre – Salle du Conseil – Mairie de Pau 9h-10h : ouverture du colloque par Monsieur Urieta, Maire de Pau, par Monsieur Christian Manso, Directeur du Laboratoire Langues et Littératures Romanes de l'UPPA et par Madame Nadia Mékouar-Hertzberg, Maître de Conférence à l