The Fountain of Youth

Excerpt from Chapter Four
THE PLACEBO EFFECT IN THE BODY

On a crisp old_man_youthSeptember day in 1981, a group of eight men in their 70s and 80s climbed into a few vans headed two hours north of Boston to a monastery in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The men were about to take part in a five-day retreat where they were asked to pretend that they were young again—or at least 22 years younger than they were at the time. The retreat was organized by a team of researchers, headed by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, Ph.D., who would take another group of eight elderly men to the same place the following week. The men in the second group, the control group, were asked to actively reminisce about being 22 years younger but not to pretend that they weren’t their current age.

When the first group of men arrived at the monastery, they found themselves surrounded by all sorts of environmental cues to help them re-create an earlier age. They flipped through old issues of Life and the Saturday Evening Post, they watched movies and television shows popular in 1959, and they listened to recordings of Perry Como and Nat King Cole on the radio. They also talked about “current” events, such as Fidel Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the United States, and even the feats of baseball star Mickey Mantle and boxing great Floyd Patterson. All of these elements were cleverly designed to help the men imagine that they were really 22 years younger again.

old_man_youth3After each five-day retreat, the researchers took several measurements and compared them to those they’d taken before the start of the study. The bodies of the men from both groups were physiologically younger, structurally as well as functionally, although those in the first study group (who pretended they were younger) improved significantly more than the control group, who’d merely reminisced.

The researchers discovered improvements in height, weight, and gait. The men grew taller as their posture straightened, and their joints became more flexible and their fingers lengthened as their arthritis diminished. Their eyesight and hearing got better. Their grip strength improved. Their memory sharpened, and they scored better on tests of mental cognition (with the first group improving their score by 63 percent compared to 44 percent for the control group). The men literally became younger in those five days, right in front of the researchers’ eyes. Langer reported, “At the end of the study, I was playing football—touch, but still football—with these men, some of whom gave up their canes.”

How did that happen? Clearly, the men were able to turn on the circuits in their brains that reminded them of who they had been 22 years ago, and then their body chemistry somehow magically responded. They didn’t just feel younger; they physically became younger, as evidenced by measurement after measurement. The change wasn’t just in their minds; it was in their bodies.

But what happened in their bodies to produce such striking physical transformations? What could be responsible for all of these measurable changes in physical structure and function? The answer is their genes—which aren’t as immutable as you might think. So let’s take some time to look at what exactly genes are and how they operate.

Demystifying DNA
Imagine a ladder or a zipper twisted into a spiral, and you’ll have a pretty good picture of what deoxyribonucleic acid (better known as DNA) looks like. Stored in the nucleus of every living cell in our bodies, DNA contains the raw information, or instructions, that makes us who and what we are (although as we’ll soon see, those instructions are not an unchangeable blueprint that our cells must follow for our entire lives). Each half of that DNA zipper contains corresponding nucleic acids that, together, are called base pairs, numbering about three billion per cell. Groups of long sequences of these nucleic acids are called genes.

Genes are unique little structures. If you were to take the DNA out of the nucleus of just one cell in your body and stretch it out from end to end, it would be six feet long. If you took all the DNA out of your entire body and stretched it out from end to end, it would go to the sun and back 150 times.3 But if you took all the DNA out of the almost seven billion people on the planet and scrunched it together, it would fit in a space as small as a grain of rice.

Our DNA uses the instructions imprinted within its individual sequences to produce proteins. The word protein is derived from the Greek protas, meaning “of primary importance.” Proteins are the raw materials our bodies use to construct not only coherent three-dimensional structures (our physical anatomy), but also the intricate functions and complex interactions that make up our physiology. Our bodies are, in fact, protein-producing machines. Muscle cells make actin and myosin; skin cells make collagen and elastin; immune cells make antibodies; thyroid cells make thyroxine; certain eye cells make keratin; bone-marrow cells make hemoglobin; and pancreatic cells make enzymes like protease, lipase, and amylase.

All of the elements that these cells manufacture are proteins. Proteins control our immune system, digest our food, heal our wounds, catalyze chemical reactions, support the structural integrity of our bodies, provide elegant molecules to communicate between cells, and much more. In short, proteins are the expression of life (and the health of our bodies).

 

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7 thoughts on “The Fountain of Youth

  1. Last month I decided to be 35, and I swear – it’s working. I work out more, I look younger, men are turning to take a 2nd look again, and I am living as though I am 35 years old. It was my own experiment, so I was delighted to see this come up on this page. I love Dr. Dispenza’s work, and have been thinking of applying to volunteer or work for his program. His books have helped me to change my life, and I am so happy. Much gratitude, Nita

  2. Sustainability. I am 62, have been on a vegan diet for almost 3yrs (to correct high blood pressure and high cholesterol). Lost a lot of weight and I feel really healthy — although I am taking some testosterone supplement and a low dose of Cialis, which I admit means I have some medical problems. But I don’t feel healthy like when I was 30, which was just different. So, seeing as I am already 62, I hope your book addresses sustainability as well as recovery. That may be the same process as ‘becoming younger.’ Just saying.

  3. I heard Deepak Chopra speak about this experiment before. I’ve been studying Dr. Dispenza’s books and videos and working on reinventing myself. It’s ironic that Nita below said she decided to be 35. Because I have had a harsh past 15-20 years, I have been pondering the idea of going back to age 33 with Dr. Joe’s technique – a sort of “restoring the years the locusts have eaten.”

    I am happy to hear it’s working for Nita and I’d love to hear more about your new thoughts around this, Nita. I’m giving it a go!

    Thank you for your work Dr. Joe. I think it’s the answer to the future of wellness and happiness.

    Wanda

  4. I feel this internal belief system is magical but one must embody it 100 percent in order to transform. It reminds me of people who say they are not photogenic and you see that in pictures. However, if they felt comfortable in their bodies it would show up on film. Just what Dr. joe says your body expresses what the mind is thinking.
    Really looking forward to the new book.
    Hillari Hsmilton

  5. we get sick because we believe so
    we get old because we believe so
    we get unhappy because we believe so
    we stay poor because we believe so
    our animals get sick and die to soon because we believe so

    broke my neck (C2)in July94. Took me 10 years to decide that my life wouldn’t stop at being sick all the time because of it. Took me an other 5 years to find a place who would give me a job not even in my field.

    I have cats that got a cancer and got cured. I have a cat that had ,’Hyperthyroïdie” and got so sick and got radioactive idoine ,and he is healthy today…( you go with standard medecine, homeopathie and you and all off them were 17-18 years old when they had that health issue..but I beleive that if you believe,you have the power to modify your perception and make it beleive to your animal and what is called miracles happens and all the entities of the univers are there if you just ask and do your share by knowing what and who you are….it’s not perfect , you have to work on it every day…sometimes you fall, but you remember, once, you have been able to stand up and create ,because you changed your perception and your vibration and then you stand up again…

    I am french quebecer and I was please to see that someone from our province Dr” Paul Drouin was part of the Quantum University

    Thank you Dr. Joe for all the knowledge you are allowing us to have

    Ginette Gregoire