Caution- Living Systems are Complex Systems

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Why there cannot be an RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for vitamin D and why genes aren't the answer...

 There is a constant pressing sense that the discovery of the secret of life is just around the corner, that there is this secret scientists are looking for and will soon find that will give us all disease and pain free eternal life. As we have yet to conquer the common cold perhaps we need a more realistic way of looking at things.

Life is dynamic, not static. The very ˜essence" of life is that it is constantly changing. The earth spins around on its axis while moving around the sun as the sun moves through space and we move about the earth. Internally cells are constantly being born as old cells are dying. The chemicals of life move in and out and through our cells moment by moment, second by second.  All this MOVEMENT in response to never ending change. Life is eternal but man is not.

While certain academics attempt to sell DNA as the secret to life (though DNA is not living and cannot be made to be alive) and stem cells as key to cure of all disease and easy body repair more thoughtful scientists draw quite different conclusions based on 'more realistic data. Their conclusions don't sell all that well as they don't offer predictable outcomes or eternal life.

But the facts can help us deal realistically with the body we have been given, now.

Buying (or even believing in) a new drug or supplement  that will purportedly lead to some utopian longevity is expensive in more ways than cash. Believing in magic may cause you ignore warnings and signals suggesting things need changing now; changes that might really make a difference in your life today and tomorrow.

Eternal life, in a body, is no where is sight, ever, for some very provable reasons. Life in all forms is comprised of interacting, constantly changing, non-linear complex systems.  The nature of living complex systems is that they are not "completed" but emerging, endlessly. How they emerge is altered by any number of other complex non-linear systems both inside out outside the living system. While calculated outcomes can be ˜suggestive" they are not now nor ever will be guaranteed. Each bit of life is somewhat like every other bit and yet not alike at all.

From It Ain't Necessarily So edited by Richard Lewonton, Chapter 5 Not in Our Genes (with Steven P.R. Rose and Leon J. Kamin, pg. 147

...it takes more than DNA to make a living organism. I once heard one of the world's leaders in molecular biology say, in the opening address of a scientific congress, that if he had a large enough computer and the complete DNA sequence of an organism he could compute the organism, by which he meant totally describe its anatomy, physiology, and behavior. But that is wrong. Even the organism does not compute itself from its DNA. A living organism, at any moment in its life, is the unique consequence of a developmental history that results from the interactions of and determination by internal and external forces. The external forces, what we usually think of as environment, are themselves partly a consequence of the activities of the organism itself as it produces and consumes the conditions of its own existence. Organisms do not find the world in which they develop. They make it. Reciprocally, the internal forces are not autonomous, but act in response to the external. Part of the internal chemical machinery of a cell is only manufactured when external conditions demand it.

When we interact with our environment we change it and are changed by it. Our genes may tweak the way we interact or respond but they do not create either our internal or external realities. It (life) really isn't in our genes. It's not in our proteins either. There is little evidence genetic engineering will prevent disease and it has the potential to create more unusual or devastating conditions than those it attempts to ˜correct". Stem cell research faces the same inevitable complexity with proven inability to control long term outcomes.

Why is this all so difficult? Just one small example: Your brain contains some 10,000,000,000 (10 billion) cells making some 13,000,000,000,000 (13 trillion) connections with each other, just your brain, not your entire nervous system or muscles or skin or other tissues and organs. Healthy communication between all of your cells and your cells communication with your environment and your action in and upon your body and environment, all are players in your state of health and vitality. Not one of the players stays in the same place or even in the same ˜state" for any length of time. Everywhere there is movement and change. If you feel like you are spinning, good. My point is made.

Life, when expressed in its fullness is very much like ˜dancing on the head of a pin". For humans it requires keeping balanced within a moving object (your body) that is constantly changing shape, content, direction and speed on a moving object (earth) that is constantly changing shape and content. Earth's€™s movement, direction and speed, remains somewhat constant, BUT always moving.

Food sustains life. Food that sustains life comes from life. Only life can feed life. Food provides elements that compose the human body and elements that provide fuel and flame for the energy we need to keep moving.

But life is more than food. Man is made to move. There is no cure for ˜lack of exercise" except exercise. Machines have given us the illusion of freedom from work. We no longer have to move to get somewhere. We are moved through space by a machine. We no longer dig a ditch, wash a dish, scrub the floor, clean the laundry, hang out clothes to dry, push a lawn mower or scythe a field. We operate machines that do these things for us. Food is not hunted or gathered but collected by car at the local supermarket and stored in a machine to keep it fresh for days.

def. Machine: any mechanical or electrical device that transmits or modifies energy to perform or assist in the performance of human tasks

 What these marvelous machines can't do for us is give us freedom from the need to move, the necessity of physical exercise.

Movement is significant character of living organisms. A hint from the universe, when movement stops it signifies death. Life IS movement and disequilibrium.

Nutrition- An Integrated Approach Third Edition Pike and Brown Chapter 9 pg. 295

...All cells are units separated from their environment by a membrane. This is a barrier whose presence determines the shape and encloses the substance of the cell. Despite the variability and potential hostility of the outside environment, it is the membrane on which the constancy of the internal chemistry of the cell is dependent. Mass invasion of potentially toxic materials or rejection of essential nutrients can lead to cellular death by asphyxiation, hydration, desiccation, poisoning, starvation, or other equally effective means.

               A cell in equilibrium with its environment is a dead cell. One of the fundamental attributes of a living cell therefore is the ability to prevent the establishment of an equilibrium.

 

What does any of this have to do with vitamin D or my health?

 

Essential elements of health and life include light, air, water, food, friends, environment, work, and exercise. Some necessary elements may get lost as diets and lifestyles change dramatically within a few generations. While looking to science to cure our ills we may overlook these essential elements and thereby suffer harm. Certainly sunlight and vitamin D fit this profile.

 Sun avoidance, removing the fat and skin, rich sources of omega-3 and vitamin D, from fresh caught fish, overall eating fewer fish, and altering the habits of animal husbandry create significant losses in sources of vitamin D.

 Vitamin D has receptors on the plasma membrane as well as the nucleus of many cells. Vitamin D is considered to be a member of the steroid hormone family.

 

def. hormone (from Greek horman - "to set in motion") is a chemical messenger from one cell (or group of cells) to another. All multicellular organisms produce hormones including plants.

 

Vitamin D, like the other steroid hormones, has genomic functions. It acts upon the receptors designed for it within living cells. Depending on the balance  of all of the other hormone-messengers (dancing partners) on receptors of any given cell at any given time, instructions are transmitted to stop making something or start making something or make more or less of something.

Vitamin D does not work alone. Cells containing receptors for vitamin D also contain receptors for other steroid hormones including vitamin A derived RAR and RXR, thyroid, and estrogen. Calcium, which plays a significant role in cell-cell messaging, also interacts with vitamin D.

There is not one single nutrient, enzyme, hormone or other protein, including DNA, that can be controlled to guarantee a given cellular outcome WITHIN A LIVING SYSTEM.

In a Petri dish some control may be possible, to some small extent, but NEVER within a complex living system. It is this fact that has prevented and will continue to prevent the ˜miracle" outcomes predicted by some delusional researchers.

By conversation (exchanging information) with other hormone-messengers vitamin D helps decide what happens next. The absence, presence, relative excess, or relative deficiency of any given hormone-messenger will send DIFFERENT instructions determining what happens next in that cell.

Some scientists, from the earliest beginnings of the study of our physical and natural world, believed one could "know" a thing by tearing it apart and determining its "elements". The goal has been to reduce the studied organism or disease to its most elemental parts. Finding the atom has not brought us even one step closer to understanding "life".

When scientists use the dissection (tear into and examine the parts) approach it reduces "variables", those differences that confound outcomes. The goal is to make the object more understandable. Unfortunate for the scientists, variables are exactly what makes life "alive".

 

def. reductionism:

noun:   the analysis of complex things into simpler constituents

noun:   a theory that all complex systems can be completely understood in terms of their components

 

Lifelines Life Beyond the Gene Steven Rose pg. 79

     But living systems are not simple, they involve many interacting variables. Parameters are not fixed; properties are non-linear. And the living world is highly non-uniform. Reductionist methodology is helpful in chemistry, say, because (so far as is known) the chemical world is the same everywhere. In the living world, the exception is nearly always the rule. So if one is not careful, the simplifying constraints that the methodology offers soon cease to be helpful support to theory, and instead become straitjackets. The Zuckerman trap awaits us if we are not careful to remember that what happens in the test-tube may be the same, the opposite of, or bear no relationship at all to what happens in the living cell, still less the living organism in its environment.  

 

Emphasis is mine.

 

DNA does not inevitably determine disease or outcome. Neither does vitamin D or any other hormone or nutrient or protein or chemical. OUTCOMES ARE DETERMINED BY THE PARTICIPANTS AND THE CONVERSATION. It is the elements gathered for the conversation, the time of day, the season, the latitude, the longitude, the mood, the meal, RELATIONSHIPS. There it is, outcomes are determined by and through the relationships of living things to living things to all things.

 There is not a test nor will there ever be a test to know what you will die of or what diseases you will get or avoid. What is fascinating is that some very learned academics suggest differently even though their colleagues continue to disprove the validity of any theory of genetic determinism. We continue to have choices, about what we eat and drink and how and where we live and who and what we love, in our daily lives, and these simple choices will have more effect on outcome than all scientific knowledge distilled and swallowed whole.

 No one can decide for you what will make your life journey __________. What goes in the blank? I can think of many things. Most of them are for the moment, here and gone. Lovely, joyous, thrilling, satisfying, fulfilling, peaceful, courageous, happy, content, exciting, productive.

 For me the blank would be "useful". That is what I most want from my life, to be useful. A healthy body and mind helps me be more useful and stay useful longer.

 Whatever your goal in seeking health, listen to your body and work to find those things that you need, enough but not too much, and avoid those things you do not need. Learn to make wise choices from the myriad of choices set before you every day.

When evaluating any diet, supplement, medication, lifestyle, or relationship consider equally the implications of ˜dancing on the head of a pin"; the importance of disequilibrium.

 

def. disequilibrium- noun:   loss of equilibrium attributable to an unstable situation in which some forces outweigh others

 

Life is, by its very nature, unstable, unequal, vibrant, moving, exciting, dangerous, insecure; like the sea, it is never still. There are no guarantees. Your dance must be constantly changing, moment to moment, to safely navigate your life's journey. Keep dancing. Maintain moderation in all things, including exercise, food, supplements, sunlight, and friends.

Gently search in your diet, environment, work, and relationships for those things that are of sensible (you are able to recognize their value) use to you.

 


Find your voice, your music, and your partners, and trust the Still Small Voice that gently reminds you of the wonder of it all; of the wonder of you; of the wonder of life.

 

Books I Love:

Lessons From The Living Cell- The Limits Of Reductionism. Stephen Rothman, Mcgraw Hill

It Ain't Necessarily So- The Dream Of The Human Genome And Other Illusions. Second Edition Richard Lewontin, New York Review Books

Lifelines- Life Beyond The Genes  Steven Rose, Oxford

The End Of Certainty- Time Chaos And The New Laws Of Nature Ilya Prigogine, Free Press

Sync-The Emerging Science Of Spontaneous Order Steven Strogatz, Hyperion

The Black Swan and AntiFragile-Things That Gain From Disorder Nassim Taleb