Friday, August 15, 2008
Book Review: Molecules of Emotion
I first read this book during my former life as a researcher in endocrinology. Back then it inspired me and gave me hope that unadulterated science and a sincere search for truth could really benefit the world and its inhabitants. After four years of early mornings, late nights, and weekends spent in a laboratory, I emerged from that valuable experience feeling like money, and the marriage of money to politics, will always win out in the end.
I just finished reading this book again, now in my final year of studies in a completely different paradigm, and I have to say that it remains a very inspirational book. It is accessible to those without prior knowledge of science, but still presents enough information to learn from it and understand the scientific community. If you can get past some of the writing in the first chapter (Jonah's a pretty harsh literary critic), this book on science turns into a really engaging story.
The author, Candace B. Pert, goes through several transformations in her career, from graduate student to Principal Investigator with tenure at the National Institutes Health to the private sector and back to a professorship at a university, all the while delving deeper into the world of holistic health care. She eventually becomes the token scientist at events like the annual National Wellness Conference, and explores her own health and healing through yogic breathing and stretches, meditation, touch therapies, and emotional release.
The most interesting part about the book is how science confirms everything we know in Chinese medicine about qi, emotions and health. The author doesn't talk much about Chinese medicine, but I think that if she learned more about the theory, she'd discover more connections between that understanding of the human body and her research.
For instance, I recently had a talk with my friend Prathap, a fellow science geek and current medical student, about how Chinese medicine views the human body and physiology versus the dominant allopathic biomedical design. One topic lead to another, and we got to talking about ADH or anti-diuretic hormone. ADH is released by the posterior pituitary and acts on the collecting ducts of the kidneys. The exact same molecule is also referred to as vasopressin. ADH is the moniker used in regards to the renal system, whereas vasopressin is used when discussing constriction of the arteries in the cardiovascular system, with the regulatory receptors in the brain. The two systems are rarely discussed together.
In Chinese medicine, the brain is considered a "sea of marrow," containing the thick yin essences of the body under the governance of the Kidney system. The Kidneys are also responsible for the movement and distribution of fluids in the body, serving as the "water" that controls the "fire" of the Heart. When blood pressure is low, or the fire of the Heart is relatively subdued, the Kidneys then control the reabsorption of fluids, thereby increasing blood pressure. The blood vessels also constrict in response to the same chemical signaling, and the fire of the Heart is relatively enhanced.
ADH is currently being studied for its role in social behavior. ADH is increased in the body during sexual activity, and is thought to induce male-on-male aggression in response to the threat of another encroaching upon "his" female. In Chinese medicine, the Kidneys govern both the yin and yang of sex: the sexual fluids, eggs/sperm, libido and activity. The Kidneys are also the house of Will, the drive to live, and is associated with the emotion of fear. The same chemical messenger that regulates water and blood pressure is also involved in sexuality and survival, and the emotion of fear is a direct stimulus for aggression and possessiveness. It is possible to see the connections between the emotions, sexuality, and survival in the context of the biochemical reactions going on in the body when viewed under the Chinese medical metaphor. All of these processes belong to different departments of science under the allopathic model, but in Chinese medicine they all belong to one system that is unified with all the other systems of the body to create one functioning vessel.
Since the overwhelming majority of scientific experiments require the formation of a provable hypothesis, study of the Chinese medical theory may give the new-era science researchers some insight as to how to direct their holistic medical research. New "discoveries" can then be made to further elucidate just how much Chinese medicine makes sense.
Going back to Molecules of Emotion, the take home message that I got from Candace Pert was that free flow of emotions is the most important aspect of wellness, and that expression of emotions is the key to healing: be it anger, fear or sadness; joy, courage or hope.