It has become well known that our brains are not a fixed and static blob of material that we are born with. To the contrary, our brains are constantly changing, a notion called plasticity. For Example, the idea of “making a lawyer out of a student” after three years of a specific type of cognitive bombardment turns out to be truer than expected. Every occupation and lifestyle results in the building of a particular type of brain, which can physically change if the environment and stimulus changes.
It was never thought that a human could, without drugs, alter in any significant way their own immune system. The immune systems change, get stronger or weaker, depending on the health and genetics of an individual. However, a Dutchman by the name of Wim Hof, also known as “The Iceman” has changed this idea completely. For years he has been known as a person who, through meditation, breathing methods and exposure, is able to withstand far lower painful temperatures than any other human. At a University in the Netherlands, his methods were put to analytical science. They found that his system of resistance involved his ability to consciously raise the level of adrenaline in his blood stream. Twelve healthy volunteers were trained in Hof’s techniques. When the blood levels of adrenaline in the trained volunteers was measured, it was significantly higher than controls. These people were also increasingly able to withstand cold temperatures like their teacher does.
Skeptics, which were almost universal, now have to come to grips with our ability to alter our own immune systems through practice, meditation, and concentration. This is an exciting breakthrough which may lead to additional non evasive, therapeutic types of training which could, for example, make patients less susceptible to the pain of a chronic disease, the distraction of pain, and increases in infectious responses during illness.
In a related, but very different experiment, a lungfish from Africa was taken out of its normal environment to see if that would have an effect on its biology. Lungfish can live for some time out of water and can “walk” across dry land, usually to get from lake to lake. Scientist asked the question if a lungfish spends most of its life out of water and just a small percentage in water (reversed life style) whether this would have any effect on the biology of the lungfish. They found out that the lungfish, which stayed out on land the longest, had changes in their biology that allowed them to “walk” more efficiently than other lungfish. This is yet another exciting part of the “plasticity revolution” that is going through all of the biological sciences. We can change our brains, our bodies, and our immune systems and that is very exciting.