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Cell Suicide for Healthy Living - Apoptosis

Cell Apoptosis is a peculiar characteristic of a cell life cycle which is commonly understood as ‘Cell Suicide’. Actually I feel it is a wrong interpretation, though it is technically correct. Generally the word ‘Suicide’ has a negative connotation which is intrinsically connected with mental depression and gloomy mood. But Apoptosis is nothing of that sort. It is a vital and natural process in the life cycle of any cell. It is a healthy life process. If it goes wrong then terrible consequences arise. In other words, if cells stop doing ‘suicide’ then the body will have cancer, with unrestricted cell growth. On the other hand if cells in the body start committing ‘suicides’ in unrestricted manner, then the body will develop a deadly disease of Alzeimers. Therefore we need to have cell ‘suicides’ in a measured manner - not more not less. 

This is not a note about cell biology. The process of cellular apoptosis is intrinsically related to Sri Anand Yoga and our overall well being. We will see how in a moment.


Before delving deeper into the spiritual and yogic aspects of cell apoptosis let us first understand the biology behind cellular apoptosis.Apoptosis is the process of cell killing itself in a programmed way. Here again I have reservations about using the word ‘programmed’ because in a ‘programmed’ way, there is no flexibility, everything is like the railway engine running on the railroads.  I feel the better word is ‘self induced planned way’. Therefore I would like to call apoptosis the process of a cell disintegrating (again disintegrating is a better word than killing) itself in a self induced planned way. There is a reason for my view. It is explained in Sri Anand Yoga as I will elaborate shortly. 

Apoptosis plays two crucial roles throughout our lives, acting in distinct ways:

  • Sculpting our organs during fetal development: In the womb, apoptosis precisely removes excess cells, shaping our organs and features like fingers and toes.

  • Maintaining healthy tissues in adulthood: Throughout our lives, apoptosis eliminates damaged or unnecessary cells, ensuring our tissues function properly.

1 As a master sculptor 

Apoptosis, a way a cell dies in a controlled manner, acts like a sculptor for your organs during intrauterine fetus development. It works in two main ways:

  1. Trimming the Fat: Apoptosis removes unnecessary cells that aren't needed for the final organ shape. Think of it like removing extra clay from a sculpture to define the final form (e.g., separating your fingers in the womb).

  2. Shifting Things Around: Apoptosis can also trigger nearby cells to move and rearrange themselves, shaping the organ further. Imagine taking away a small piece of clay to create space for another part of the sculpture to move into position (e.g., closing the opening on a frog's back or rotating an animal's genitals during development).

By carefully removing and influencing the movement of cells, apoptosis helps sculpt your organs into their final form.

2 During the normal life cycle in adulthood

Our bodies are constantly making new cells, but to keep things balanced, about 10 billion cells need to die each day in adulthood. This isn't a random massacre, though! It's a carefully controlled process, almost like a well-organized cell cleanup crew. This system is super important to make sure our bodies stay healthy.

To put it differently, In the human body, nearly one lakh cells are dying by apoptosis in every single second and a similar number are produced by mitosis (mitosis is the process by which a cell replicates its chromosomes and then segregates them, producing two identical nuclei in preparation for cell division).

  • In average children of ages 8 to 14, about 29 to 30 billion cells die in a day.

Full epithelial lining (skin) in our body changes every 23 days due to apoptosis.

Methods of Cell Suicide: There are two main ways a cell can undergo apoptosis:

  • Inside the Cell: A Self-Check with Serious Consequences

Every cell is like a tiny watchdog, keeping a close eye on its own well-being. When problems arise within, like DNA damage or stress, the cell triggers a built-in self-destruct mechanism. This internal pathway relies heavily on the mitochondria, the cell's power source, to kickstart the process.

  • The Neighborhood Watch: Eliminating Cells for the Greater Good Cells communicate with each other, and sometimes they determine that a neighbor has become harmful or unnecessary. In such cases, they unleash "death signals" that latch onto receptors on the target cell's surface. This triggers apoptosis, a cellular disposal system that ensures the organism eliminates cells that are no longer helpful or even pose a threat.

A Clean Breakup: Dismantling the Cell Without Drama

Regardless of the trigger, both internal and external pathways ultimately lead down a similar road: the controlled breakdown of the cell. This ensures an orderly "cellular breakup" that avoids a messy death, which could harm nearby tissues.

Now let us understand what happens when this process of cell suicide does not function the way it was meant to be. 

When Cell Death Goes Wrong: A Link to Many Diseases

Apoptosis, the body's way of cleaning the house at the cellular level, is crucial for health. When this process goes awry, it can contribute to a variety of illnesses. Defective apoptosis has been linked to autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, bacterial and viral infections, heart problems, and even cancer. In particular, research suggests a strong connection between poorly regulated apoptosis and autoimmune diseases, where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. This link involves both the failure of immune cells to self-destruct when they should and the body's inability to properly remove dying cells.

Apoptosis and Aging: A Double-Edged Sword

As we age, the way our cells respond to DNA damage through apoptosis becomes unbalanced. Apoptosis might become overly sensitive, leading to the unnecessary death of healthy cells and contributing to degenerative diseases. Conversely, it could become less responsive, allowing damaged cells to survive and potentially leading to cancer. This highlights the delicate role apoptosis plays in maintaining health throughout life.

Some open ended questions about apoptosis 

Apoptosis research has come a long way, but there are still some key questions scientists are trying to answer:

  • Cell-to-Cell Communication: We know neighboring cells can trigger apoptosis, but exactly how they communicate these "kill signals" and how different cell types respond differently is still being explored.

  • The Role of Autophagy: Autophagy is another cellular recycling process. Scientists are trying to understand the interplay between autophagy and apoptosis, and whether they can work together or compete in certain situations.

  • Apoptosis in Cancer: While uncontrolled cell growth is a hallmark of cancer, the role of apoptosis in tumor development is complex. Researchers are looking at ways to manipulate apoptosis to target cancer cells more effectively.

  • Neurodegenerative Diseases : The link between abnormal apoptosis and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's is well established, but the specific mechanisms are not fully understood. More research is needed to develop treatments that target these pathways.

The crucial question we still need to answer is ‘Why apoptosis malfunctions leading to Cancer or Alzheimer (and other neuro degenerative diseases)?’ When nature has made a perfect mechanism for a ‘planned self induced cell disintegration’ then why should it go disarray?

The clue to many of the unresolved questions in cellular apoptosis can be found in the concept of ‘Life Field’. To quote from a note on Life Field

The life field of every cell in our body pulsates at its own unique rhythm. This rhythm aligns itself with the rhythm of the life field of our heart. There is a sort of symphony of all trillions of the life fields of all the elements in our body. When this symphony is broken, disease conditions set in. Practices in Sri Anand Yoga stabilise and enhance the quality of this symphony. “

This also reminds us of quote from Albert Einstein

What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.   

..... Albert Einstein

When our life field gets disturbed for various reasons, it will directly impact the smooth functioning of the cellular apoptosis. Sri Anand Yoga helps us to have a robust life field. 


Sources and further reading

  • What is apoptosis, and why is it important?

  • Programmed Cell Death (Apoptosis)

  • Shaping organisms with apoptosis

  • Apoptosis – Examples, Steps, Significance and Role

  • Apoptosis in Embryonic Development

  • Roles for apoptosis in tissue and organ sculpting

  • Apoptosis

  • Apoptosis - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

  • Programmed Cell Death Not as Sledgehammer but as Chisel

  • 50 years on and still very much alive


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