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Implications of Molecules in Emotion

by June Butlin(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 35 - December 1998

In nearly three decades of working in the area of wellness I have never found one health discipline that has all the answers for healing.

The reason is that there are so many individualised factors that intertwine and interact in any healing process. However, I believe there are two fundamental components that need to be considered in restoring health, and these are nutrition and emotions. Nutrition provides the starter molecules for the biochemical pathways in the body and quality nutrition is therefore a key factor in determining health.

Emotional status is of vital importance as it affects the way we think, feel and behave on an ongoing basis. The latter is an area that intrigues me, and which I would like to focus on this month.

In my practice I invariably find strong connections between sub optimum health of my clients and stress, trauma, depression or other emotional events that have occurred in a client's life. When these events are confronted there is often a release of emotions that cause a deep inner healing to take place. This healing then manifests in a physical healing.

I had first hand experience of this myself when I consulted a Shen therapist. On my first appointment I was asked if I had any recurring nightmares. I could recall one that had presented itself intermittently throughout my life in stressful times. The nightmare started with feelings of fear and pain, and a vision of a small oval shape that repeated itself over and over again, increasing in size and speed. It would eventually reach a manic conclusion, at which point I would wake up screaming. After the Shen session I realised that the nightmare depicted an accident that had occurred when I was a baby. I was placed in a sleeping bag, at only a few months of age, with my thumb bent backwards in a dislocated position. The shape in the nightmare represented my thumb, and the fear and pain were my feelings. After the release of these emotions the nightmare never returned.

In order to understand, relate and communicate better with my clients I wanted to find out the mechanisms behind these mind-body experiences. It is important to me, as most illnesses appear to have a psychosomatic component - psyche meaning mind, emotion and soul and soma meaning body. There were so many questions that I needed answering: Why do hands on and energy therapies work?

Why do memories and feelings affect the physical body? Why do we catch cold when we are feeling down and depleted? Why do some people remain in poor emotional and physical health in adulthood because of traumas in childhood? Why do some researchers believe that cancer is caused by repressed emotions? Or simply why do some people blush when they are shy?

My answers and understanding of these questions came from reading Molecules of Emotion by Dr. Candace Pert. Through scientific research she has provided the biochemical basis for awareness and consciousness linking the mind and body as one. Her work demonstrates that emotions are made in the cells of the body and brain through chemicals binding to specific receptors on the surface of the cells, transmitting information into the cells. The changes in the cells are then picked up by nerve impulses travelling across the cell membrane to produce the corresponding changes in behaviour, physical activity and mood. It is this mechanism that stores memories and repressed emotions. As an example we can take the opiate receptors involved in controlling pleasure and pain that are found in both the body and brain. Drugs which change behaviour such as Marijuana, Librium and Morphine bind to these opiate receptors and the transmitted information results in obliterating anxiety and emotional discomfort, and relieving pain. The body has natural opiates called endorphins, which act in a similar way to the drugs and are naturally increased in sexual activity and aerobic exercise such as running, producing pleasure and relieving pain.

The white cells of the immune system also secrete endorphins and stress hormones made by the pituitary gland. This links the immune system with the brain and the endocrine system. An example of this communication network can be seen in the intestinal tract, which contains nerve, endocrine and immune cells and a density of receptors. This provides an explanation as to why our emotions are often described as "gut feelings". Studies have also shown that anger and excitement increase gut motility while contentment decreases it.

Viruses use the same receptors as the molecules of emotion and therefore the state of our emotions will affect whether or not we succumb to viral infections.

Stress affects the body by releasing hormones, adrenaline and corticosterone from the brain and the immune system. Once in a stressed state the body itself can continue the stress cycle by the continuous activation of corticosterone. Depressed and traumatised people have high levels of corticosterone and often have a decreased level of immunity. This physiological state can be deactivated when the trauma and stress are released.

The key to relieving trauma and stress is to express feelings and to let them go, which Buddhists refer to as "non-attachment to experience". This is where the importance of the healing arts lie, as they can access the psychosomatic network, through counselling, hypnotherapy, hands on and energy therapies, biofeedback techniques, meditation and many others. When the emotions are moving, and the chemicals in the body are flowing, a state of wellness can be achieved, along with feelings of freedom, hopefulness and joy.

Another question now lies heavily on my mind: where does this innate intelligence, the information that runs our mind and body, come from? There is no definitive answer, but I believe it comes from a divine, spiritual, energetic force. If this is so, our own spirituality should not be overlooked. Candace Pert advises us to:

"Live in an unselfish way that promotes a feeling of belonging, loving kindness, and forgiveness. Living like this promotes a state of spiritual bliss that truly helps to prevent illness."


Molecules of Emotion. Candace B. Pert Ph.D. Simon and Schuster Ltd. 1998. ISBN 0 684 81981.3


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About June Butlin

June M Butlin PhD is a trained teacher, nutritionist, kinesiologist, aromatherapist, fitness trainer and sports therapist. She is a writer, health researcher and lecturer and is committed to helping people achieve their optimum level of health and runs a private practice in Wiltshire. June can be contacted on 01225 869 284;


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