written by  Candice Perth


Candace Pert is a brilliant molecular biologist who was a key figure in the discovery of the endorphin molecule, the body's natural form of morphine. She is now widely regarded as the mother of a new field of science known as psychoneuroimmunology (Smithsonian, June 1989).

. . . .

Her research into brain biochemistry contributed to a radically new understanding of mind and body. In the 17th century, the philosopher René Descartes split mind and body into two spheres, with the body belonging to science and the mind left to metaphysics. Now Pert and her peers are rejoining what Descartes put asunder, by looking deeply into the molecular level of life.

In Molecules of Emotion, Pert offers a clear and often riveting account of her research on the frontier of a new kind of science.

. . . . .

And, throwing aside the caution that is customary among scientists, she applies the new facts of psychoneuroimmunology to everyday life, discussing everything from drugs and disease to dreams and the molecular biology of hugs.

The field of psychoneuroimmunology, although based on exacting research, has had a hard birth. Its core idea is that the surfaces of cells are lined with many specific "receptors" to which only specific molecules can attach themselves. These molecules, in turn, are messengers through which the body and mind, as well as our neurons, glands and immune cells, are all constantly sharing information.

The work of Pert and her colleagues showed that a variety of proteins known as peptides (including endorphins) were among the body's key "information substances" - and each of them could affect our mind, our emotions, our immune system, our digestion and other bodily functions simultaneously. For scientists and doctors trained to focus on one system in isolation from the others - a neuroscientist doesn't study white blood cells, for example - this came as a shock. Their first reaction was to defend their turf, and also to deny the new evidence.


Pert explains: "For decades, most people thought of the brain and its extension the central nervous system as an electrical communication system . . . resembling a telephone system with trillions of miles of intricately crisscrossing wires." But new research techniques for studying peptides and receptors show that only 2 percent of neuronal communications are electrical, across a synapse. In fact, she writes, "the brain is a bag of hormones." And those hormones affect not only the brain, but every aspect of body and mind; many memories are stored throughout the body, as changes in the structure of receptors at the cellular level. "The body," Pert concludes, "is the unconscious mind!"

The central theme of Pert's book is that the peptides that flood our bodies are, in fact, the molecules of emotion. Emotions, largely ignored within the traditional confines of science and medicine, are actually the key to understanding psychoimmunology's emerging picture of how body and mind affect each other. For example, it's through the emotion-modulating peptides that an embarrassing thought can cause blood vessels to dilate and turn a face beet red. In the same way, the molecules of emotion can mobilize immune cells to destroy an incipient tumor. Techniques like meditation or visualization may also act as forces to set those molecules in action.

Pert's mission, as she describes it, is to bridge the gap that exists between the laboratory and the layman. "I try," she writes, "to make available and interpret the most up-to-date knowledge that I and my fellow scientists are discovering, information that is practical, that can change people's lives. In the process, I virtually cross into another dimension, where the leading edge of biomolecular medicine becomes accessible to anyone who wants to hear it."

She is trying to open a dialogue between the mind of science and the body of beliefs many people are turning to for alternative healing. Whether these efforts represent critical lapses or welcome leaps of faith must be left to the perspective of each reader.

Dr. Pert explains that perception and awareness play a vital part in health and longevity. She is able to explain how her research bridges the mind and body gap that is sadly prevalent in modern traditional medicine. Her views on mind-body cellular communication mesh well with the concepts of energy held by many alternative therapies, and she is now, not surprisingly, a popular lecturer on the wellness circuit. Her book describes an eight-part program for a healthy lifestyle, and she has appended an extensive list of alternative medicine resources.  For all of those who have sought out complementary medicine, this book will confirm what you have long suspected: that alternative approaches to health do work. Dr. Pert explains why.

Does the mind come first, or chemistry?   It is the crux of the difference between Eastern and Western thought. In Eastern, the consciousness precedes reality. In Western, we think consciousness is a secretion of the brain, like urine is a secretion of the kidneys. She writes that there is a very close correspondence between the highest, most concentrated areas of enrichment of a certain neuropeptides and where the chakras are classically supposed to be -- there's a striking concordance to chakra, the Eastern system of seven energy centers. The seven centers actually correspond in places of enriched neuropeptides VIP (vasoactive intestinal peptide), which is an incredibly important neuropeptides, critical in regulating the neural immune switches between the brain and the immune system, as well as being involved in the pathogenesis of AIDS. 

Do we treat physical conditions from an emotional point of view or vice versa?  Dr. Pert says," I honestly cannot differentiate the physical from the mental, vice versa. The answer is you simultaneously do both, because they're flip sides of the same thing... I think a key word is balance, but I do feel that the meditation if possible twice a day in some kind of ritualized and not free-form form could be the cornerstone of a fitness program, along with exercise, which many studies have shown is the critical anti-aging variable in all kinds of animals and human beings."

Her web site, TINM stands for The Institute for New Medicine -- a nonprofit foundation and research institute at Georgetown University and School of Medicine, founded to scientifically examine new medicine, some of which is ancient, and to understand things that haven't been looked at sufficiently.

The Institute is dedicated to promoting knowledge and understanding of the interaction between mind, body, and spirit as it relates to the health of the whole individual.


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