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Alterations of each component of the epigenome are highly coordinated and occur throughout an organism's life, especially in the early stages of development wherein selection for specific organs and sex take place. At any stage, though, environmental stress such as exposure to toxins can produce epimutations that turn on or off the wrong genes. The resulting aberrant DNA methylation has been linked to various cancers, obesity, allergy, and neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, and aging disorders.15-17 In addition, certain kinds of psychosocial stress, such as maternal behaviors, have also been linked with changes in DNA methylation,and, as we'll see shortly, psychological stress such as bureaucratic thinking is another environmentally related influence known to lend itself to disease.18
Placebo research is another area of investigation that directly calls into play the connections between states of mind and health, revealing that they are intimately related. Perhaps more than epigenomic research, this area of investigation illuminates the effects of conditioning, expectation, and authority.
A placebo response is considered to be the psychological component that delivers a therapeutic effect beyond natural history and spontaneous remission.19 In turn, a placebo effect is typically thought of as the physiological mechanisms that are associated with healing. Different opioid pathways, for example, have been linked to placebo responses based on expectation and/or conditioning.20 Other known mechanisms include pathways in the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. For instance, the placebo response has been shown to involve reward pathways related to dopamine-guided learning, dopamine being a neurotransmitter having effects throughout the body. It also has been clearly linked to a variety of psychosocial conditions, and can occur within the context of all medical and psychological treatments.21-23
Moreover, placebo is a learning phenomenon. Studies have yielded two known neurological pathways linked to psychosocial conditions: conscious (expectation) and unconscious (classical conditioning). Expectation forms by verbal cues wherein a subject is led to believe that he/she will receive analgesic and relief of pain, for example. Classical conditioning relies on repeated association of a neutral, conditioned stimulus with a drug, the unconditioned stimulus. A patient's beliefs also play a role as does prior experience and nonclassical or general forms of conditioning.24 All of these tie together to form what some have referred to as placebo being a meaning response.25
Conditioning and expectation are often singled out as driving forces of placebo-related responses.20 These forms of learning form strong social and individual stereotypes, pillars of a bureaucratic mind. For instance, Prozac is more effective in the US than in Western Europe and South Africa, whereas Valium is better in France and Belgium than in the US. Blue-colored pills are better than red ones for tranquilizers, except for Italian men, as blue is associated with the national soccer team. As a result, geography related to culture has become a determinant in clinical trial site selection.26
Over recent years, the placebo response has been validated by science as a real phenomenon. There has also been more mass communication and so more general awareness and education about it. As a result, enrolling in a clinical trial now has an automatic effect.27 Those who simply believe themselves to be in the treatment group respond better.24 Furthermore, placebo responses in trials are increasing. There have even been positive trial results even when subjects are told they are being given placebo.28 Along these lines, the placebo response has gone from being perceived a nuisance in clinical trials to being an active therapy whereby physicians may intentionally influence a patient's state of mind and their relationship with disease in order to promote healing.29 The same dynamics pertain to nocebo responses, wherein a psychosociological condition produces ill health.
Homeostasis is a term used to indicate internal stability that can resist change, a constant state while interacting with the environment. However, since maintaining balance with an ever-changing environment is required, more researchers are describing this as homeodynamics to account for the complexities.30 The response to stress of all forms is a crucial element of homeodynamics.
Stress produces a response by cells, tissues, and organs. It is a fundamental characteristic of living systems to respond to internal and external stresses and disturbances. It represents an ability to survive.31 Imbalance in the innate regulation of the body lends itself to disease.32 Aging disorders, for instance, reflect diminished homeodynamic resilience and can be indicated by changes of DNA methylation.31
During the 1930s and 1940s, endocrinologist Hans Selye's ground-breaking rat studies led to his publications concerning "general adaptation syndrome," later to be known as "stress response." He initially considered this to be a neuroendocrine response, but later found that almost every organ was involved in stress. He also distinguished between distress and eustress in order to differentiate negative and positive types of stress and their effects on the body, noting that how one reacts to stress is the main factor between negative and positive reactions.33
Psychological stress is associated with an assortment of diseases including cardiovascular, depression, and mental and behavioral problems. In addition to producing inflammation, which underlies many illnesses and is linked with aberrant DNA methylation, poorly managed states of mind adversely affect the immune and endocrine systems.34-36
Chronic stress and certain kinds of acute stress can therefore challenge homeodynamics. Research has illuminated pathways relating to psychological stress, finding involvement of cytokines and other inflammation-producing mediators, activation of the sympathetic nervous system causing release of hormones, a stressor-elicited endocrine response, and other physiological events leading to a range of disorders.34-37
Health is also oriented to cultural values.11 This pertains to corporate cultures and demands of the workplace. A bureaucratic mindset by its nature is not flexible and adaptive to other points of view, thereby creating psychological stress which Selye addressed.
Psychological stress occurs when an individual perceives that environmental demands exceed adaptive ability. This can produce changes in psychological well-being and behavioral responses that influence disease onset and progression.34 Stress can lead to atherosclerosis, for example.35 Psychosomatic disorders such as pain, acidity, and anger increase with levels of psychological stress, including that from work, home, and interpersonal relationships.36, 38
In the case of religious fundamentalism, studies revealed significant emotional distress in members where an authoritarian leader exerts control. This is also associated with mindsets independent of religious content where leadership traits included intolerance, denial, and imposition of beliefs.39
Psychological homeodynamics, in turn, refers to a state of mind that cor-relates with physical homeo-dynamics. Maslow's growth needs provide reference to engage life and respond in such a way as to maintain mental and emotional health as well as to learn and adapt, behaviors supporting physical health. In contrast, lack of mental and emotional health may reflect a deficit need orientation producing stress that results in physical disease.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a component, if not a regulatory aspect, of psychological homeodynamics and mind-body states. It pertains to recognizing your feelings as they occur, and incorporates the ability to manage emotions and relationships of all kinds. It is a skill that fosters immersion in learning and emphasizes tolerance over personal bias.40 Emotional governance is fostered by reappraisals of sudden, emotion-driven behaviors without suppressing awareness. This process thereby cultivates objectivity, discernment, and the wherewithal to change behaviors.41
Connections among emotions and physiological processes are documented. Research has shown, for example, how neuropeptides and the cellular receptors are underpinnings of awareness and manifest in emotions, beliefs, and expectations.42 In addition, signaling molecules such as neurotransmitters and cytokines are messengers acting across regulatory systems and so connect all parts of the body into a whole, with emotions influencing their release. Emotions can therefore be viewed as a bridge between mind and body that influences homeodynamics.43
Other research has shown that the analytical neocortex sprouted from the emotion-producing limbic system. Emotions are therefore key to neural architecture. The limbic system provides for types of learning, remembering, and empathy with different areas of the system responsible for various tasks. Yet the cortical area helps one decide appropriate emotional responses.41
Behavior, including thinking, reflects a formation of neural networks. These weblike channels of communication facilitate how information is perceived, processed, interpreted, and acted on.43 Conscious recognition of stress, for example, can allow you to employ EQ. Explosive emotions produce a reaction before reason can alter the course. At the same time, well-regulated emotion is crucial to effective thinking.44 EQ is therefore the regulation of stress, an antidote to hardened thinking, and an avenue to emotional well-being which assists physical health.45
Models form when the abstract is reduced into something understandable and manageable. From bench lab studies to paradigms to worldviews, models come in all shapes and sizes. While they serve as valuable references, people may cling to them in order to maintain a sense of stability.
Due to the expanse of life, we need models for something to grasp, something to help us relate to life and to learn. But they may also hinder learning by commanding rather than guiding perception. They may determine outcomes such as those found with experimenter bias when a researcher unwittingly establishes expectations and thereby influences the results. Or they may unduly affect diagnosis such as when only those symptoms reported by a patient that fit a textbook model are noted even though other symptoms may tell a different story.
And while models evolve, it isn't just a matter of knowing that change occurs. As evidenced by the evolution of DNA and placebo research, it is a matter of understanding that mindset carries power. Not so long ago, brain activity was viewed as being locked in place once a person reached a certain age. This long-held dogma was replaced with considerations of neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to rewire neural networks through the positive stress of learning, no matter one's age.46 The elderly were once considered to be more or less doomed to senility due to an age-related deteriorating brain. With a new understanding of neuroplasticity and learning, one wonders how many elderly people in the past were subjected to nocebo influences that led to senility when they only needed to be influenced by a different model.
On a global level, new models of medicine, education, business, and politics would result in a shift of worldview. However, conditioned thinking due to forming and educating a different worldview would still be part of this new mindset. For good and ill, then, the force of the bureaucratic mind is inherent within a culture, institution, or social organization. But it is a manageable situation.
In general terms, the basic remedy for a bureaucratic mind is to educate oneself in order to avoid getting corralled by any mindset. Fluency in looking at the world in different ways interferes with the natural tendency to close off perception. Inquiry and verification of information establishes personal responsibility and a more enhanced sense of the world.
Since the bureaucratic mind removes us from self-actualization, Maslow's hierarchy offers a model for growth. Maslow lists characteristics of psychological health as including having a clearer perception of reality, a firm identify with personal meaning, increased objectivity, and the wherewithal to blend concreteness with abstractions.47 Each of these counter bureaucratic processes.
Another proven, mind-based technique to better manage the bureaucratic mind is meditation. Once considered a fool's folly, meditation is now recognized as a deautomatization process of suspending automatic, conditioned responses.48 It is well established as reducing stress and having a positive effect on cardiovascular health.49 Mindfulness mediation is now practiced in various health-care environments.50
Bureaucratic thinking is prevalent and unavoidable. As such, it offers a multifaceted, multidisciplinary reference to examine the nature of the human mind. Epigenetic, placebo, and psychological research provide ample evidence that states of mind produce physiological responses leading to health or illness. Realizing the nature of the bureaucratic mind, however, may not indicate the absence of a stultifying mindset but having reached a higher level of it. The point is that the bureaucratic mind is always with us as part of our heritage, part of what we bequeath, and always something to manage.
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Kenneth Smith serves as the communications director of Beech Tree Labs Inc. (www.beechtreelabs.com), a discovery and early-stage development biopharmaceutical company, and as the executive director of Beech Tree's sister company, the Institute for Therapeutic Discovery (www.tiftd.org), a nonprofit organization focused on bridging biochemistry and biophysics.