On Thursday, October 12, Dr. Deepak Chopra, MD met with fellow speaker Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and moderator Reverend Liz Walker held a HubWeek forum in Faneuil Hall entitled “Healthy Brain, Enlightened Brain.” Chopra and Tanzi were also celebrating the release of their New York Times bestseller Super Brain which explores the content of the lecture—how to maximize the brain’s ability through increased self-awareness to overcome memory loss, depression, anxiety, and many other diseases.
Chopra is the founder of the Chopra Foundation, which provides funding for scientific research about mind-body practices. Notably, the foundation has compiled research that proves meditation evokes quantifiable change in human body function. Tanzi is the vice chair of Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Neurology and as well as the MGH director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit, and director of the Alzheimer’s Genome Project, where he has identified several of the Alzheimer’s genes.
Chopra came to speak on the “Enlightened Brain” section of the lecture in which he explained his foundational philosophy that self-awareness is key to an enlightened, healthy brain. He explained that human beings have evolved such that all exterior experiences affect the body and the brain biologically. Tanzi supported this statement in his section “Healthy Brain” by explaining how external habits, such as smoking cigarettes, can rewrite expressions within genes to form habits within the user. Chopra gave the statistic that 95% of gene mutations that cause illness are because of our environment.
“We can no longer think of the body in reductionist terms,” said Chopra. “It is a holistic system.” External factors create change within the body, particularly stress, which he believes is “the number 1 epidemic of civilization.” Stress is known to contribute to significant health risks such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.
Tanzi further iterated the consequences of stressors on the brain, particularly in the population of Alzheimer’s patients. He explained how stress causes inflammation that leads to plaque and tangle buildup in the brain. The plaques are abnormal clusters of protein fragments that build up between nerve cells and the tangles are dead and dying nerve cells which are made up of twisted strands of protein. These plaques and tangles, while not always indicative of disease, have been used to predict whether patients may develop the disease 10-15 years before diagnosis.
Tanzi lauded the “forward thinking” of the Alzheimer’s Foundation and their support of his research at MGH, saying “they are a foundation that is willing to take risks.” His research on the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s is now being conducted on neurological tissue rather than mice. Tanzi says he can develop the tissue in 6-8 weeks rather than the years it takes in mice specimen. Further, he announced 38 new potential drugs that have been created specifically for Alzheimer’s or have been repurposed that may be put on the marketplace to combat the disease.
While he is optimistic about the development of these new drugs, both him and Chopra emphasized maintaining a healthy lifestyle to combat external factors that affect the brain and body. They shared their method to prevent stress and the bodily inflammation it causes through the acronym SHIELD, which stands for Sleep, Handle stress (through meditation), Interact with others, Exercise, and Diet.
Leah D’Sa is a Junior studying Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. She is currently a copyeditor for the school newspaper the Berkeley Beacon as well as Poetry Editor for the literary magazine the Emerson Review. She is looking to begin her career with health technology writing as she seeks to combine her lifelong love of writing and science.
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