Charles Darwin, in his book “Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals”, explains how people everywhere have common emotional expressions some of which are shared with animals. A wolf baring its fangs uses the same musculature as humans do when angry or threatened. This same physiology of emotions has been preserved and used again and again over evolutionary eons and across species. The universality of this phenomenon led Darwin to the conclusion that emotions are the key to survival of the fittest.
The first part of this whole concept of mind/body relationship relates to a molecule found on the surface of cells in both the body and the brain. It is known as the “opiate receptor” first discovered in 1972 by a neuroscientist, Candice B. Pert, Ph.D. This molecule was identified and measured by Dr Pert and as such considered to actually exist, as science refuses to consider unquantifiable “nothings” such as emotions, the mind and the soul or spirit.
Early pharmacologists felt that in order for a drug to work it had to attach itself to the cells in some manner. Receptor sites were later proved to be the points of entry. A molecule is the smallest possible bit of a substance that can still be identified as that substance, such is a receptor. Receptor molecules respond to energy in many ways such as wriggling, shimmying and even humming. They are always found on the surface of cells and have deep roots reaching deep into the inside of the cell. Each receptor is waiting for its compatible chemical to swim up to, and bind with it. The chemical that docks onto the receptor, which is its doorway into the cell interior, allows the transfer of chemical information. Each chemical only binds with its specific receptor. The information, when passed into the cell, can change its state completely, triggering any number of activities such as making new proteins, deciding on cell division etc. This in turn translates to large changes in behaviour, physical activity and mood which affect the whole body. Its actions are controlled by which receptors are on the cell surface and whether a chemical is docked or not. These chemicals are known as ligands.
There are three categories of ligands. Firstly, neurotransmitters like histamine, dopamine, serotonin and GABA which are found mostly in the brain. Secondly, steroids including testosterone, progesterone and estrogen, which start as cholesterol which is transformed biochemically into specific hormones. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is created in this manner. Receptors and their corresponding ligands are information molecules and the language used by the cells and body to communicate across all body systems like the endocrine system, the neurological system, the gastrointestinal system and also the immune system. The opiate receptor’s ligand is endorphin, a natural opiate found in the body and is specific only to the opiate receptor.
Emotions include not only fear, anger, sadness, joy, contentment and courage, but basic sensations such as pleasure, pain, hunger and thirst. Facial expressions for anger, fear, sadness and enjoyment and disgust are the same the world over and have inborn genetic mechanisms for their expression. The seat of emotions in the brain is referred to as the limbic system and its structures, the amygdala hippocampus and limbic cortex contain vast numbers of neuropeptides and their receptors. Experiments proving this information were conducted at McGill University in Montreal. The body is the unconscious mind. Repressed trauma caused by overwhelming emotion can be stored by the cells in the body, and the peptides and other information substances are the biochemicals of emotion. The brain filters the sensory input we experience and associates it with previously experienced events or stimuli occurring at any receptor along its path through the body and can associate with past events. Using neuropeptides the body/mind then retrieves or suppresses associated emotions and behaviours. Dr Eric Kendell and associates at the Colombian University College of Physicians and Surgeons have proved that biological change at the receptor level is the molecular basis of memory. Recent discoveries have shown that memories are not just in the brain, but in a psychosomatic network all over the body, even on the skin. In fact, memory is stored at the receptor level. Receptors are not stagnant and are able to change, so when we are “stuck” emotionally and fixated on a version of reality that is painful or disturbing there is a biochemical potential for change.
Emotions constantly regulate our “reality” and the decision as to which bits of information actually reach your brain depends on which signals the receptors receive from the peptides. Emotions are the equivalent of a drug, so an everyday positive emotional experience is much more likely to be recalled when one is in a good mood and negative emotional experiences are recalled when in a bad mood. Hence memory is affected by the mood we are in, and emotions help us to decide what to remember and what to forget.
Recently it has been discovered that immune cells carry receptors for brain peptides, and all peptides discovered by immunologists within the immune system, can actually be made in the brain and act on their receptors there. This means that the immune system can send information to and receive information from the brain. This connection is now a new scientific category referred to as psychoneuroimmunology where all the body systems are known to be functionally integrated, and the biomolecular basis for emotion. Emotions travel as peptides and receptors in the physical realm, but are also feelings we experience in the non material realm as we exchange information between mind and body.
Most psychologists treat the mind as having no connection with the body and physicians treat the body with no regard for the mind or the emotions. The mind and body are not separate we must treat them together. Suppressed emotions and feelings weigh people down until they reach rock bottom and go to their doctor who diagnoses depression. This condemns people to dependency on a whole spectrum of drugs which alters the body chemistry with a substance the body does not recognize with widespread effects which are not fully understood. The suppressed emotions or network pathways are blocked and stop the flow of our “feel good” chemicals that run our biology and our behaviour and sets our whole feedback mechanisms awry.
There is a growing movement among “alternative” practitioners that the body energy, which cannot be measured in Western medical terms (and so dismissed), is associated with the release of emotion. The restoration of health occurs when stored or blocked emotions are released through touch or other physical methods clear the internal pathways. There are a vast amount of treatments to help manage your mental health, ranging from craniosacral, hypnosis, meditation, breathing techniques and bio-energetics. One size does not fit all and so it bears personal research in order to find the treatment that works on the individual level so that emotions can be released. One valuable tool that I used for this article and encourage others to try is Dr. Candace B. Pert’s book, “Molecules of Emotions”, which is both enlightening and extremely forward thinking.
Written by: Nathalie McNeill, Fountain Head Health Food Store