A couple months ago I read, The Last Best Cure: My Quest To Awaken The Brain and Get Back My Joy, and My Life. One of the things that really captured my attention in this book was the Orchid Hypothesis. I had not heard about this before. It essentially states there is an actual gene that people carry (or don’t carry) that makes them more sensitive.
15 percent of the population has this behavioral gene that researchers call, The Orchid People – They are more sensitive to their soil, their day-to-day environment. Life’s stressors seem to affect them more powerfully.
Then there is the other 85 percent of the population that does well almost anywhere. They are called the Dandelion People – They flourish in any soil and they can grow in a well-tended garden or an abandoned lot. It doesn’t matter.
Orchids possess a variant of a gene called 5-HTTLPR that regulates the neurotransmitter serotonin— the expression of this gene is associated with being highly impacted by one’s environment and less able to mange or recover easily from trauma or stressful events. On the upside, they can be more creative, emotionally successful, and happier when shaped by a positive environment.
Meanwhile the dandelion’s life may be very hard, but they just don’t seem to feel the pain of life quite so much.
Why does all this matter? And why am I so interested in this? Well, I feel like in the past people have gotten stuck with these “emotionally sensitive labels” and lived in a victim state for years, or even their whole life. But there is now growing evidence that Orchids are not doomed. In fact, not only do they respond well (perhaps even better than Dandelions) to meditation and integrative therapies but there is actual evidence to back this up.
The scientific consensus tells us that efforts to meditate and retrain the brain might help rewrite bad epigenetics and even induce new, better epigenetics. Meditation and mind/body therapies can undo the damage of gene methylation, or what some scientists now term our “DNA memories” from past trauma and stress.
The same plasticity of the brain that makes the Orchids highly reactive to stress also makes them more easily impacted by what is good in their environment: the love they’re shown, the mentor or teacher who helps them, the opportunity to be creative and express themselves— and even efforts (therapies) to reshape and retrain their brain.
The test for this gene is expensive and hard to obtain outside of a research setting, but The Last Best Cure author, Donna Jackson Nakazawa says:
“I want people to know that even if they are sensitive and feeling, and came through a lot, although they might sense all that as a handicap, they also, hypothetically, have a leg up.”
Nakazawa is a scientific journalist and she also has a rare autoimmune disease which is similar to Multiple Sclerosis. Nakazawa researches and writes about psychoneuroimmunology – the study of how our thoughts, actions, and state of mind can trigger different immune responses in the body. But it wasn’t until she herself started working with a new Internist from Johns Hopkins, who studied integrative medicine with Andrew Weil M.D., that Nakazawa began trying and testing alternative healing practices on herself.
The book goes on to describe (in a page turning manner, I read the whole book one Saturday afternoon) the connection between trauma, the fight or flight response, emotions, illness and brain chemistry. Nakazawa weaves in her own story to show how this plays out up close and personal. She references numerous scientific studies and current day research around meditation, mindfulness, yoga, exercise, acupuncture and spending a lot of time in nature. These are all therapies that she used to manage her symptoms and they are therapies that anyone reading her book can easily access and use as well.
I admit, there were a couple times as I was reading and I thought, “She’s making it all look so easy.” But you can’t argue with her blood results and various tests that changed and improved for the better. I will let you read the details and not give away anymore of her story. All in all, I enjoyed this well researched book that was part memoir.
If you’ve thought about trying acupuncture, meditation or yoga, but question its validity, I highly recommend this book. If you are struggling with any type of chronic or autoimmune disease and want to incorporate some integrative therapies into your traditional medical care, I highly recommend this book. Or, if you just like memoirs (like me) which expose you to new and different experiences and ideas, I highly recommend this book.
If you end up reading The Last Best Cure, leave me a comment on this post. Let me know what you think. I’m curious if you enjoyed the book as much as I did and what you think about the Orchid Hypothesis?