Monday, June 20, 2005

Every single cell of my body's happy

I got this one from Carmelite Sisters from whose school three of my kids were graduated from. They have this snatch of a song that packs a fusion metal and liebeslaud beat and whose lyrics go like this:

"Every single cell of my body is happy. Every single cell of my body is well. I thank you, Lord. I feel so good. Every single cell of my body is well."

Biology-sharp nerds would readily agree with me in this digression... Over their lifetimes, cells are assaulted by a host of biological insults and injuries. The cells go through such ordeals as infection, trauma, extremes of temperature, exposure to toxins in the environment, and damage from metabolic processes-- this last item is often self-inflicted and includes a merry motley medley of smoking a deck a day of Philip Morris menthols, drinking currant-flavored vodka or suds, overindulgence in red meat or the choicest fat-marbled cuts of poultry and such carcass.

When the damage gets to a certain point, cells self-destruct. The process: apoptosis or cell death. Over a 12 to 24-hour period, the cell's energy powerhouses, the mitochondria, shrink. Its genetic material break into pieces. Eventually the cell corpse is eaten by scavengers called macrophages. Yeah, we all walk through the valleys of death every shining or dark moment of our lives.

We don't lament a zillion or so deaths inside us...

In some body tissues, these dead-and-gone cells are replaced. In other tissues, like muscle, they aren't. The muscle shrinks. (Thank goodness, my muscle tone's intact.)

In the brain, the dead cells are replaced by fibrous material.

Even in tissues where cells are replaced, the replacement doesn't go on indefinitely. Cells stop dividing after a certain number of reproductions – around 50 – due to specialised stretches of DNA called telomeres, found at the end of every chromosome. Are you still with me?

On each division of the cell, the telomeres shorten, until a point when apoptosis is triggered. So the telomere acts as a biological clock, limiting the supply of new cells. This means that even if an organ survives a battery of assaults/insults, it will eventually fail.

The maximum life span for the body's tissues is thought to be around 120 years. Ah, I'm turning 50 on the 31st of July and I really could use 70 more years...

It's not just changes within cells we have to worry about. Other materials are important to the functioning of healthy body parts. These include proteins laid down between cells early in life. Most of these proteins, the building blocks of life – they give a tissue elasticity (as in the artery wall) or transparency (as in the lens of the eye) or high tensile strength (as in ligaments and gristles).

But as time passes, chemical cross-links form between them, reducing their strength or elasticity and interfering with their functions. Oh we alter the wonderful alchemy/biochemistry inside us with a deck a day of smokes and currant-flavored vodka and SMB cerveza negra, and all that good stuff. And the damaged material is recycled only very slowly, if at all.

So, how do we just coax 'em cells and the powerhouses in 'em -- the mitochondria -- to set records beyond the 50 reproductions that they've been wont to?

Inform 'em. In-form. I'm such a sucker for this threshold between the scientific and the arcane-- I plunged in. Information, the re-shaping and shifting of 'em zillions inside us ought to be done with lots of meditative prayer and laughter.

I'm 50-- and the zillions of cells that went inside me, fed on by dutiful macrophages, each one of 'em died laughing and praying, not ruing or lamenting-- just letting go and letting God. Even affirming in metal rock and liebeslaud:

"Every single cell of my body is happy. Every single cell of my body is well. I thank you, Lord. I feel so good. Every single cell of my body is well."

Mwa-ha-ha-haw!

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