Body Of Emotion

Photography by: Eva Mueller
Illustration By Fumi Watanabe
Body Of Emotion

She calls peptides the molecules of emotion. "A feeling sparked in your mind will translate as a peptide being released somewhere," says Pert, now a neuropharmacologist at Georgetown University School of Medicine. "Peptides regulate every aspect of your body, from whether you're going to digest your food properly to whether you're going to destroy a tumor cell."

Peptide receptors, which are found in the organs, endocrine glands, skin, muscle, and other body tissues, store emotional information received from the peptides. Therefore, emotional memories can be stored not only in the brain, but also in many places in the body. That would explain, for example, why people have "gut feelings" or why memories and emotions sometimes pop up during massage or acupuncture--because emotional memories "live" in the body's tissues, Pert says.

The discovery of peptides and peptide receptors offered, for the first time, tangible evidence of the actual physical exchange between mind and body and the biochemical basis of emotion--and confirmed what Eastern healers have long known intuitively. Also, while peptides and their receptors are located throughout the body, they're concentrated in the places that correspond to the chakras, the seven areas around the spine where, according to Eastern medicine, energy is gathered and then distributed to organs and tissues. "It blew me away when I realized this," Pert says.

When your body is in balance, peptides and receptors are able to do their jobs correctly, but when the body is thrown out of balance by intense emotions, the system works less effectively. For example, nervousness might cause a peptide miscommunication that would result in too much water being held in the intestines, and thus, diarrhea--a direct physical result of an emotional state.

What does this mean for you? Fighting off and healing from disease requires a strong immune system and balanced emotions. It's never an either-or situation: The immune system works well when your system of peptides and receptors is in balance, and the peptide system is in balance when you are emotionally strong and healthy. Thus, when you're dealing with difficult emotions, both your peptide and immune systems may be compromised. That's why it's important to stay emotionally healthy--not an easy task in this stressful world.

Healing emotional stress can be complicated, but it's worthwhile because of the positive effect this can have on your immune system. Finding a way to let go of deep-seated anger, for example, can boost your immunity. "Anger and blaming others takes a lot of energy away from healing," Pert says. "One of the most powerful emotions that has to be expressed is forgiveness."

Mind-Body Connections
In the years since Ader and Pert made their discoveries, researchers have been busy learning more about how the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems work together. Several large-scale epidemiological studies have established that depressive feelings are associated with an increased incidence of death from all causes, says Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Miami. Other investigations have shown that people who are prone to hostility and anger have an increased risk of developing heart disease.