The Secret Language of Cells: What Biological Conversations Tell Us About the Brain-Body Connection, the Future of Medicine, and Life Itself (Paperback)
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Your cells are talking about you.
Right now, both your inner and outer worlds are abuzz with chatter among living cells of every possible kind—from those in your body and brain to those in the environment around you. From electrical alerts to chemical codes, the greatest secret of modern biology, hiding in plain sight, is that all of life's activity boils down to one thing: conversation.
While cells are commonly considered the building block of living things, it is actually the communication between cells that brings us to life, controlling our bodies and brains, determining whether we are healthy or sick, and directly influencing how we think, feel, and behave.
In The Secret Language of Cells, doctor and neuroscientist Jon Lieff lets us listen in on these conversations, and reveals their significance for everything from mental health to cancer. He explains the surprising science of how very different cells—bacteria and brain cells, blood cells and viruses—all speak the same language. This overarching principle has been long overlooked because scientific journals use impenetrable jargon that makes it hard to be understood across disciplines, much less by the general public.
Lieff presents a fascinating and accessible look into cellular communication science—a groundbreaking and comprehensive exploration of this biological phenomenon. In these pages, discover the intriguing lives of cells as they ask questions, get answers, give feedback, gather information, call for each other, and make complex decisions. During infections, immune T-cells tell brain cells that we should "feel sick" and lie down. Cancer cells warn their community about immune and microbe attacks. Gut cells talk with microbes to determine which are friends and which are enemies, and microbes talk with each other and with much more complicated human cells in ways that determine which medicines work and which will fail.
With applications for immunity, chronic pain, weight loss, depression, cancer treatment, and virtually every aspect of health and biology, cellular communication is revolutionizing our understanding not just of disease, but of life itself. The Secret Language of Cells is required reading for anyone interested in following the conversation.
About the Author
Jon Lieff, MD, brings to bear 40 years as a nationally recognized neuro-psychiatrist, during which he was president of a national medical subspecialty organization, founded a major scientific journal, and was the medical director for 25 years of a large network of psychiatric care for the elderly. He was a pioneer in several medical fields—geriatric psychiatry, brain injury, computer applications in psychiatry, and the integration of medicine, psychiatry, and neurology.
Starting with an interest in brain cell communication, Dr. Lieff found similar signaling among all cells in nature. Five years ago, he established his acclaimed and popular scientific website, Searching for the Mind, about the topic of cellular communication. With weekly posts, he reviewed and synthesized the latest scientific literature in neuroscience and cell biology.
"Using the common theme of 'cellular conversations,' this book covers an astonishing breadth of biological topics. By removing most of the 'impenetrable jargon' from his descriptions, geriatric psychiatry specialist Lieff succeeds in making the complex interactions between cells accessible for most readers."
"The Secret Language of Cells takes us on an exciting journey into a world where we can visualize elaborate conversations among immune cells, brain cells, gut cells, bacteria, and even viruses. Dr. Lieff gives a wealth of examples for his thesis that this cellular signaling is the basis of life. It is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand modern biology and advanced medical science."
—Ray Kurzweil, inventor, author, and futurist
"The Secret Language of Cells explains the complex ways that cells in the body communicate and presents a new paradigm for understanding health and disease. It also suggests new possibilities for treatment and for promoting healing. I'm pleased that my former Harvard colleague, Jon Lieff, has written this important book."
—Andrew Weill, MD, director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, professor at University of Arizona College of Medicine, and author
"Through a brilliant synthesis of cellular biology, microbiology, immunology, and neuroscience, TheSecret Language of Cells offers a lucid explanation of the marvelous intricacies of cellular life. The result is a masterful exploration of the profound implications of cellular intelligence for understanding pathophysiology, human health, and even our origins."
—William B. Miller, Jr., MD, physician, biologist, author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome, and internationally recognized expert on Cognition-Based Evolution
"Jon Lieff's description of cellular communication is insightful, provocative, illuminating, and engaging and provides deep and novel observations into the remarkable symphony of how life happens. Mimicking the cellular world he describes, Dr. Lieff is the great communicator and muse of living things. An inspiring and informative read."
—Ted Kaptchuk, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School
"This journey into the dynamic realm of cellular conversations is a tour-de-force—fascinating, vital, and especially timely for understanding emerging viruses. As we learn about intelligence in smaller and smaller animals, it's not surprising that the tiniest creatures—microbes and even viruses—exhibit elaborate communication and complex decision making. Read The Secret Language of Cells!"
—Marc Bekoff, PhD, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do
"The Secret Language of Cells reveals how the micro world reflects the macro, alive with heroes and villains, shapeshifters and tricksters, vigilant guards and gullible bystanders, helpers that commit suicide for the common good and warriors that seize the day or collapse from exhaustion. Lieff's fascinating exploration inspires awe for the astonishing dialogues and clarion calls at the heart of the intelligence within."
—Antonia Felix, EdD, MFA, New York Times bestselling author
"Calling all physicians, microbiologists, medical students, and fellow science enthusiasts—you're going to love The Secret Language of Cells!This book reveals fascinating ongoing conversations between cells, bacteria, and viral particles that provide the basis for understanding growth, development, healthy biology, and pathology. Perhaps more importantly, they provide the blueprint for novel interventions, treatments, and cures for ailments ranging from chronic inflammatory diseases, to cancers and even viral infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has focused the world's lens on the world of microbes like never before. Read this book and join the conversation."
—Jill Grimes, MD, family physician, speaker, author, and educator
"The Secret Language of Cells is ideal for the education of medical and science students, as well as for practicing physicians. Dr. Lieff's remarkable synthesis of the scientific literature provides a current view of the intricate communication systems determining our physiology. He clearly explains how conversations among cells are the bridge between immunology, neuroscience, microbiology, and cancer research."
—Sharon Redd, MD, senior associate in anesthesia at Boston Children's Hospital and
assistant professor in anesthesia at Harvard Medical School
"In TheSecret Language of Cells, Dr. Lieff, brilliantly and effectively, communicates the complexities of modern biology to clinicians, and even laypeople, in understandable terms. In the process, he elucidates how communications between diverse varieties of cells determine our physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as the potential social implications."
—Sanford Finkel MD, founder of AAGP, cofounder of IPA and APA Council on Aging, and clinical professor of Psychiatry at University of Chicago Medical School
"Dr. Jon Lieff's The Secret Language of Cells is a tour-de-force . . . I highly recommend this fascinating book to science readers and anyone wanting to better understand the role and importance of cellular functions and communications in health and disease."
—George T. Grossberg, MD, director of Geriatric Psychiatry for the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience at Saint Louis University School of Medicine
"Dr. Lieff has synthesized an extensive literature on the biological communications that underlie life into a highly accessible book. His integrative summary will appeal to a broad audience, from high school biology students to professionals with specific areas of expertise."
—Barnett Meyers, MD, professor emeritus at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University
"The Secret Language of Cells makes it possible for a healthy dialogue between biology and philosophy, a step closer to making a bridge between life-science and various monistic and non-dual philosophies."
—Dr. Sthaneshwar Timalsina, professor for the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University