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Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine
by Candace B. Pert completed: 11 Dec 2015

Amino acids are the letters. Peptides, including polypeptides and proteins, are the words made from these letters. And they all come together to make up a language that composes and directs every cell, organ, and system in your body.

She was the scientist who discovered the opiate receptor. This book is partially a memoir and partially a breakdown on how emotions can affect our physical health. You'll have to read this with an open mind, as she goes into new-agey stuff. I discovered this book through reading "My Age of Anxiety."

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  • Amino acids are the letters. Peptides, including polypeptides and proteins, are the words made from these letters. And they all come together to make up a language that composes and directs every cell, organ, and system in your body.

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  • This process can go on for years as you keep gathering pieces of a puzzle that gradually add up to a big picture of which you catch only fleeting glimpses along the way. And then one day, when the light flashes on in your brain, you see the big picture, the grand scheme, and it all comes together; all the data you’ve been accumulating for years starts to make sense. Or maybe you never get to that point and, instead, continue to create new techniques, brainstorm more questions, create more data, massaging it all into shape for publication.

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  • Most people think of science as a series of dramatic results, breakthroughs, advances, but science is really first and foremost a process. You start out on one path and then take a sudden turn to find yourself going down a totally different road. Sometimes the steps are small and the progress incremental.

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  • Every change in the physiological state is accompanied by an appropriate change in the mental emotional state, conscious or unconscious, and conversely, every change in the mental emotional state, conscious or unconscious, is accompanied by an appropriate change in the physiological state.

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  • Think of the brain as a machine for not merely filtering and storing this sensory input, but for associating it with other events or stimuli occurring simultaneously at any synapse or receptor along the way—that is, learning.

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  • …memory is encoded or stored at the receptor level means that memory processes are emotion-driven and unconscious (but, like other receptor-mediated processes, can sometimes be made conscious).

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  • Emotional states or moods are produced by the various neuropeptide ligands, and what we experience as an emotion or a feeling is also a mechanism for activating a particular neuronal circuit—simultaneously throughout the brain and body—which generates a behavior involving the whole creature, with all the necessary physiological changes that behavior would require.

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  • There is no objective reality! In order for the brain not to be overwhelmed by the constant deluge of sensory input, some sort of filtering system must enable us to pay attention to what our bodymind deems the most important pieces of information and to ignore the others.

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  • Through visualization, for example, we can increase the blood flow into a body part and thereby increase the availability of oxygen and nutrients to carry away toxins and nourish the cells.

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  • …neuropeptides can alter blood flow from one part of the body to another—the rate of blood flow is an important aspect of prioritizing and distributing the finite resources available to our body.

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  • Emotions are constantly regulating what we experience as “reality.” The decision about what sensory information travels to your brain and what gets filtered out depends on what signals the receptors are receiving from the peptides. There is a plethora of elegant neurophysiological data suggesting that the nervous system is not capable of taking in everything, but can only scan the outer world for material that it is prepared to find by virtue of its wiring hookups, its own internal patterns, and its past experience.

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  • The superior colliculus in the midbrain, another nodal point of neuropeptide receptors, controls the muscles that direct the eyeball, and affects which images are permitted to fall on the retina and hence to be seen.

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  • The immune system was potentially capable of both sending information to the brain via immunopeptides and of receiving information from the brain via neuropeptides (which hooked up with receptors on the immune cell surfaces).

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  • When stress prevents the molecules of emotion from flowing freely where needed, the largely autonomic processes that are regulated by peptide flow, such as breathing, blood flow, immunity, digestion, and elimination, collapse down to a few simple feedback loops and upset the normal healing response. Meditation, by allowing long-buried thoughts and feelings to surface, is a way of getting the peptides flowing again, returning the body, and the emotions, to health.

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  • The “dirt” in the lung from cigarette smoking (and presumably from other forms of pollution as well) had caused the immune system to go into hyper-response, in the form of sending in more and more macrophages to try to repair the damage, a situation that could not go on forever without some kind of mutation or “mistake” occurring in the DNA of these cells.

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  • Neuropeptides, those chemicals secreted by the brain and known to mediate mood and behavior, were clearly signaling the cancer cells via their receptors and causing them to grow and travel, or metastasize, to different parts of the body.

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  • In other words, the immune cells are making the same chemicals that we conceive of as controlling mood in the brain. So, immune cells not only control the tissue integrity of the body, but they also manufacture information chemicals that can regulate mood or emotion. This is yet another instance of the two-way communication between brain and body.

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  • The three classically separated areas of neuroscience, endocrinology, and immunology, with their various organs—the brain; the glands; and the spleen, bone marrow, and lymph nodes—are actually joined to each other in a multidirectional network of communication, linked by information carriers known as neuropeptides.

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  • The mind, then, is that which holds the network together, often acting below our consciousness, linking and coordinating the major systems and their organs and cells in an intelligently orchestrated symphony of life. Thus, we might refer to the whole system as a psychosomatic information network, linking psyche, which comprises all that is of an ostensibly nonmaterial nature, such as mind, emotion, and soul, to soma, which is the material world of molecules, cells, and organs. Mind and body, psyche and soma.

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  • A network is different from a hierarchical structure that has a ruling “station” at the top and a descending series of positions that play increasingly subsidiary roles. In a network, theoretically, you can enter at any nodal point and quickly get to any other point; all locations are equal as far as the potential to “rule” or direct the flow of information.

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  • There is a wealth of data showing that changes in the rate and depth of breathing produce changes in the quantity and kind of peptides that are released from the brain stem. And vice versa!

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  • The concept of a network, stressing the interconnectedness of all systems of the organism, has a variety of paradigm-breaking implications. In the popular lexicon, these kinds of connections between body and brain have long been referred to as “the power of the mind over the body.” But in light of my research, that phrase does not describe accurately what is happening. Mind doesn’t dominate body, it becomes body—body and mind are one. I see the process of communication we have demonstrated, the flow of information throughout the whole organism, as evidence that the body is the actual outward manifestation, in physical space, of the mind.

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  • We have recent research demonstrating further evidence of this now, but she was so ahead of time.

    The entire lining of the intestines, from the esophagus through the large intestine, and including each of the seven sphincters, is lined with cells—nerve cells and other kinds of cells—that contain neuropeptides and receptors. It seems entirely possible to me that the density of receptors in the intestines may be why we feel our emotions in that part of the anatomy, often referring to them as “gut feelings.

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  • …the movement of the gut as it digests food and excretes impurities can alter your emotional state.

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  • This is the radical lesson of biofeedback, which many doctors now teach their patients so that they can control pain, heart rate, blood circulation, tension and relaxation, etc.—all processes previously thought to be unconscious.

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  • But it turns out that in addition to the classical neurotransmitters, all of the known peptides, the information molecules, can be found abundantly in the autonomic nervous system, distributed in subtly different intricate patterns all the way down both sides of your spine. It is these peptides and their receptors that make the dialogue between conscious and unconscious processes possible.

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  • Every one of the zones, or systems, of the network—the neural, the hormonal, the gastrointestinal, and the immune—is set up to communicate with one another, via peptides and messenger-specific peptide receptors. Every second, a massive information exchange is occurring in your body. Imagine each of these messenger systems possessing a specific tone, humming a signature tune, rising and falling, waxing and waning, binding and unbinding, and if we could hear this body music with our ears, then the sum of these sounds would be the music that we call the emotions.

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  • Viruses use the same receptors as neuropeptides to enter into a cell, and depending on how much of the natural peptide for a particular receptor is around and available to bind, the virus that fits that receptor will have an easier or harder time getting into the cell. Because the molecules of emotion are involved in the process of a virus entering the cell, it seems logical to assume that the state of our emotions will affect whether or not we succumb to viral infection.

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  • Presumably what happens is that when you’re happy, the rheovirus can’t enter the cell because the norepinephrine blocks all the potential virus receptors.

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  • Since emotional expression is always tied to a specific flow of peptides in the body, the chronic suppression of emotions results in a massive disturbance of the psychosomatic network.

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  • …all emotions are healthy, because emotions are what unite the mind and the body. Anger, fear, and sadness, the so-called negative emotions, are as healthy as peace, courage, and joy. To repress these emotions and not let them flow freely is to set up a dis-integrity in the system, causing it to act at cross-purposes rather than as a unified whole. The stress this creates, which takes the form of blockages and insufficient flow of peptide signals to maintain function at the cellular level, is what sets up the weakened conditions that can lead to disease. All honest emotions are positive emotions.

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  • At the time, I had read The Relaxation Response, Herbert Benson’s first book written in the seventies, in which he attributed meditation’s power to an alteration of the nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic pathways. But with my knowledge of the bodywide psychosomatic network, I was beginning to think of disease-related stress in terms of an information overload, a condition in which the mind-body network is so taxed by unprocessed sensory input in the form of suppressed trauma or undigested emotions that it has become bogged down and cannot flow freely, sometimes even working against itself, at cross-purposes.

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  • When stress prevents the molecules of emotion from flowing freely where needed, the largely autonomic processes that are regulated by peptide flow, such as breathing, blood flow, immunity, digestion, and elimination, collapse down to a few simple feedback loops and upset the normal healing response. Meditation, by allowing long-buried thoughts and feelings to surface, is a way of getting the peptides flowing again, returning the body, and the emotions, to health.

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  • Meditation is just another way of entering the body’s internal conversations, consciously intervening in its biochemical interactions.

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  • …happiness is what we feel when our biochemicals of emotion, the neuropeptides and their receptors, are open and flowing freely throughout the psychosomatic network, integrating and coordinating our systems, organs, and cells in a smooth and rhythmic movement. Health and happiness are often mentioned in the same breath, and maybe this is why: Physiology and emotions are inseparable. I believe that happiness is our natural state, that bliss is hardwired. Only when our systems get blocked, shut down, and disarrayed do we experience the mood disorders that add up to unhappiness in the extreme.

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  • …stress increases with increased steroid production. Depressed people typically have high levels of these stress steroids. In fact, depressed people are in a chronic state of ACTH activation because of a disrupted feedback loop that fails to signal when there are sufficient levels of steroid in the blood. So the CRF-ACTH axis just keeps pumping out more and more steroids. Autopsies almost always show a tenfold higher level of CRF in the cerebrospinal fluid of those who killed themselves compared to those who died from other causes.

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  • But they were cured—the stress symptoms reversed—when researchers brought in what they called a ‘monkey hug therapist,’ an older monkey who constantly hugged and cuddled the stressed-out baby monkeys. So what was going on? The hugging broke the feedback loop, sending the message ‘No more steroids needed,’ damage over and done with! The chronically elevated CRF levels came down.

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  • …acupuncture stops pain by stimulating the release of endorphins into the cerebrospinal fluid. We were able to demonstrate that it was indeed the flow of endorphins that caused the pain relief, because when we used an endorphin antagonist (naloxone) to block the opiate receptors, the pain-relief effects of acupuncture were reversed.

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  • I knew that environmental pollutants could enter into the cell membrane and change the shape of the receptor, making it looser and sloppier, and often wondered how this might affect the transfer of information so necessary to run the delicately balanced systems. It had to have some effect on what is essentially a self-organizing system, one that is processing tremendous amounts of information at incredibly rapid speeds.

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  • To be effective, the immune system needs to be in a state of constant readiness to fight off the many viruses and other invading pathogens we encounter daily. When it’s overloaded and diverted by high toxicity, it gets “tired,” failing to stay on its feet, so to speak, which is possibly why we’re seeing so much suboptimal health such as vague complaints of fatigue, not to mention more serious immune-deficiency diseases.

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  • However, if our emotions are blocked due to denial, repression, or trauma, then blood flow can become chronically constricted, depriving the frontal cortex, as well as other organs, of vital nourishment. This can leave you foggy and less alert, limited in your awareness and thus your ability to intervene into the conversation of your bodymind, to make decisions that change physiology or behavior. As a result, you may become stuck—unable to respond freshly to the world around you, repeating old patterns of behavior and feeling that are responses to an outdated knowledge base.

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  • …the value of exercise has less to do with building muscles or burning calories than it has to do with getting your heart to pump faster and more efficiently and thereby increase blood flow to nourish and cleanse your brain and all your organs.

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  • But it can be a very slow and sometimes painful process before the receptors return to their original sensitivity and number and the corresponding peptides get back into bodywide production and flow.

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