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Dag Kättström

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Time to prepare for the future

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In waiting for signs on which path the virus and our societies will take, the best you can do is to prepare. Take the opportunity to develop. We are biologically made to deal with challenges and exit them stronger, even on a cellular level.

Some people have been hit hard during these weeks and it can take a long time to recover from traumatic experiences. But we all have access to a deep evolutionary concept that we share with all living beings. It can be consoling to seek contact with these powerful mechanisms.

The old saying “what does not kill you makes you stronger”, is correct on a cellular level. Hormesis is the term for a phenomenon in which biological systems work better after being exposed to stress. These effects have been shown in lots of studies from food shortage to radioactivity.

But it is dose-dependent. A small amount of radioactivity makes the cell rise to the challenge and improve the capacity to repair damaged DNA. Too much radioactivity destroys the cell. The same thing with food shortage. A balanced fast limited in time improves health markers. Prolonged starvation will hurt you.

The scientists are now mapping out these mechanisms and have discovered that deep down in our bodies there are basic switches that we share with most organisms. When life is good, no threats are in sight and there is plenty of food, then life goes into growth and initiate processes for propagation. When times are bad, food is scarce and dark clouds threaten on the horizon, then life hunkers down and waits for better times. And takes the opportunity to repair itself.

A mechanism that governs this is a group of enzymes in our cells called sirtuins. This is a system that reacts on signals from the environment. When food is scarce for example, the sirtuins are activated and tell other systems that there seems to be a problem with life conditions and that the energy might be better used for repairs, not reproduction.

These sirtuins are also activated by certain compounds, like resveratrol. Many plants form resveratrol as protection when they are exposed to stress, hence there is speculation that we prepare for upcoming food shortages by reacting to compounds in what we eat. This is a remarkable and exciting theory about how intertwined we are with all living things on earth.

Like the sirtuin feelers, our constantly deepening knowledge about the world has now alerted us to the new corona virus. For the first time in history we are not totally taken by surprise. We can track the virus relatively well in comparison with earlier pandemics and we have adjusted life accordingly. Time will tell if the adjustments are balanced, but obviously we react on a societal level by withdrawal before an external threat.

This can be compared to how the sirtuins makes our cell systems hunker down when they become aware of a potentially dangerous situation. Remember that it is not about giving up. The sirtuins change focus to DNA repair and waste manangement, waiting for better prerequisities for growth. The natural thing to do now is therefore to do an inventory, tidy up and prepare for better times.

Work out, eat well, ponder your place in life and your goals. Maybe you should take the opportunity and do some fasting. Then you trigger the sirtuins and make yourself more resilient in many ways.

The new corona virus exposes us to grim death and tragedy. At the same time the challenge could have been so much worse. The situation is not so overwhelming that it causes a total breakdown in our societies. We are being exposed to stress, but also hormesis. Much indicates that we will be stronger when exiting this, if we use the opportunity to prepare for better times.

This is a guest post. The opinions expressed are the writer’s own.

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