One of the books I read for my NIWH certification program was entitled The Molecules of Emotion. This fascinating read was written by the female scientist named Candace Pert. She was the primary researcher in the discovery of endorphins and the way they function in the body. In her book, she talks about what that discovery was like and how it lead her down a path of exploring the mind-body connection on a molecular level.
What traditional cultures have understood for ages is explained in scientific terms, based on decades of the most sophisticated research techniques available. And it’s quite fascinating. Once you get past the descriptions of the methods themselves, which I have to admit I found a bit dry, the results are nothing short of remarkable. Pert explains how she and her team were able to isolate neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and many others. These substances are traditionally thought of as brain chemicals that influence mood and nervous system function. What Pert proved was that these substances are actually present in other parts of the body as well, and should probably just be called transmitters rather being specifically referred to as “neurotransmitters”.
The strongest connection that she was able to discover was between the immune system and the brain. Not only did she prove that immune cells actually have receptors for every neurotransmitter produced in the brain, they also are able to produce these transmitters on their own. When I read that part of the book, I actually had to sit it aside for a moment and think about the implications of it. If my immune system receives communications from the substances that regulate my mood, what does that say about my ability to influence my immune system? And if my immune system can actually produce those same chemicals that then travel to the brain and influence my mood, how does the overall health of a person’s body contribute to their risk of depression, anxiety, and every other emotional state of the human mind? It’s mind boggling just to consider it.
As a healthcare provider, I’ve noticed that diseases tend to come in herds for some people. As I read through histories that include arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, I can usually predict what’s going to come next: anxiety, depression, fatigue. Sure, you can chalk some of that depression and anxiety up to worrying about your overall state of health. But what if being ill actually makes you more prone to depression on a biochemical level? What if being depressed actually makes you more prone to get sick, develop chronic diseases, and perpetuate the cycle of depression and immune system dysfunction? Shouldn’t that change the way we practice medicine?
So as another Valentine’s Day rolls around, whether you’re single or happily paired, do something nice for yourself. Do something that makes you feel good, something that fosters your sense of contentment and happiness. It’ll help keep your immune system functioning and just maybe it’ll prevent you from getting the next nasty bug that finds its way around the office. And don’t forget to look out for your body too. Taking care of your physical health is a very important step in maintaining your overall emotional health.
This post is part of Sunday School at Butter Believer.