Archive for the ‘Psychoneuroimmunology’ Category

Candace Pert 1946-2013-2

July 26th marks the birthday of a brilliant scientist and inspired spiritualist, the late Dr. Candace Pert. She is considered to be the Mother of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), having discovered key findings for a scientific basis of mindbody medicine. Her work has been profoundly influential to the study of consciousness and to complementary and alternative medicine. Dr. Pert discovered chemicals called neuropeptides which are the mediators of emotion, and found scientific evidence that we store emotions in our bodies. The notion that the path to wellness must incorporate modalities that unlock and release these neurochemical imprints has been foundational to my personal and professional life.  In her seminal book The Molecules of Emotion, Dr. Pert describes her research as well as her experience as a woman in science. She is one of my personal (s)heroes and  I was thrilled to learn that her work is being featured in a new documentary film, also titled Molecules of Emotion.  The film is being produced through the efforts of Pert’s husband, Dr. Michael Ruff and The Institute for New Medicine (TIMN), a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the work of Dr. Pert. Check out TIMN to learn more about the project and view the film trailer.





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“You are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you.”  Vandana Shiva

Every year on Mother’s Day, I am always inspired to acknowledge and honor the Earth as the source of all life. Coming as it does on the heels of Earth Day, and with the land coming to life in early May with the beauty of spring, it would be hard to forget Mother Earth. On a personal level and in my work this season I’ve noticed a theme coming up both of grounding and building trust, which has roots in feeling connected in a physical way to the planet we call home. Many of us spend a lot of our time in our minds, rushing around doing Very Important tasks, and often feeling disconnected and anxious. This seems to be the status quo of modern living for those in society with certain privilege and freedom of mobility, and my practice is full of patients experiencing the physical, emotional and spiritual effects of stress.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the adverse effects of stress, because you are already familiar with them – fatigue, aches and pains, digestive complaints, muscle tension, rapid heart rate and high blood pressure, and more. But what people often don’t realize is that while the body is capable of handling acute stress for short periods of time, when stress becomes chronic and there is no recovery phase, resiliency breaks down. For most of us, the ‘restore’ phase is missing and this leads to a maladapted stress response, which is linked with promoting illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, not to mention depression and anxiety.

I believe the antidote for the condition of modern era is to slow way down, to be in our bodies, and to reconnect with the source of the earth in a literal way. Get your feet on the earth. Do it today, and if possible, do it every day.  Lie down on the earth and visualize your stress leaving your body and soaking up into the earth. It’s ok, she can take it and compost it, that is what she does.

Since we as primates with Very Large Brains seem to need scientific evidence that we are connected to nature and that spending time close to the earth is good for us, there are abundant studies demonstrating that time in nature makes us healthier, happier and kinder human beings. Being in nature decreases stress, as measured by heart rate variability which maintains balance between the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) modes of the nervous system. Even a brief amount of time outdoors is helpful: urban dwellers who took a 20 minute stroll in nature reported reduced stress and greater sense of well-being. Interesting research out of UC Berkley demonstrates that connection to nature increases trust, compassion, empathy and pro-social behavior – which I think we can all agree we need more of these days.  Maybe this is because connecting to nature helps boost our production of oxytocin, the hormone of trust and connection

If it’s challenging for you to get out in nature on a daily basis, try this technique for grounding developed by John Friedlander: sit comfortably in a chair with your back fairly straight, palms down on your thighs, and feet flat on the floor. Imagine a ball of green earth energy in your pelvis and let it circle around and grow larger. Now, let that ball of light drop from your pelvis to the ground, through the earth, all the way to the earth’s core. This is your grounding cord. Allow the grounding cord to drain off any excess or nervous energy. You can also allow it to drain anything you are carrying that doesn’t belong to you, feels like too much to hold, or is not congruent with what is in your best interest at this time. Now allow fresh green earth energy to come up from the earth and restore you, recharging your battery.  If you like, you can also modify this for a male or female grounding cord for extra support.

As we ground and restore our relationship with Mother Earth, it is very important to remember to say Thank You. Traditional cultures around the world observe rites of gratitude and giving thanks to the earth, a practice that seems nearly forgotten here in the West. This does not need to be a grand gesture, just a word of thanks, a prayer, a song, or a small biodegradable offering will do. But if one is so inclined, a beautiful tradition originating in the Andes of offering despacho:

Despacho describes the Andean practice of making offerings to the mountains (apus), Mother Earth (Pachamama), and other spirits of nature in reciprocity, reverence, and thanksgiving. A despacho is an act of love and a reminder of the connections we share with all beings, elements, spirits, and sacred places. At the deepest level, it is an opportunity to enter into the essential unity of all things, the living energy of the universe.

The specifics of an offering do not need to appropriate from the ways of traditional cultures, but simply reflect the intention of gratitude of the giver. Connection to the natural world is our birthright as human beings, and the more we can live in harmony with natural rhythms the better will be the health and happiness of all beings.


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“Most psychologists treat the mind as disembodied, a phenomenon with little or no connection to the physical body.  Conversely physicians treat the body with no regard to the mind or emotions.  But the body and mind are not separate, and we can’t treat one without the other.”

– Dr. Candace Pert (1946-2013)



June 26th marks the birthday of pharmacologist and research scientist Dr. Candace Pert, whose work greatly enriched our understanding of mind-body medicine.  Her groundbreaking book, “Molecules of Emotion: The Scientific Basis Behind Mind-Body Medicine,” describes her experience as a neuroscience researcher at the National Institute of Health (NIH).  It was at the NIH that she discovered the presence of neuropeptides such as endorphins dispersed throughout the entire body, informational substances which communicate to organ systems, and influence human perception of emotions and thoughts.  The presence of these neuropeptides and their receptors throughout the body is understood to be scientific evidence that there is no separation between body and mind.  Neuropeptides are quite literally the ‘molecules of emotion.’  Pert is widely regarded as the mother of psychoneuroimmunology, a field of study that explores the physiological connections between thought, emotion, and the nervous and immune systems.

Dr. Pert had a very rich career marked with many honors and accomplishments, including the discovery of the opiate receptor as a graduate student in the 1980s.  As a woman scientist, she broke gender barriers by becoming the Chief of the Section on Brain Biochemistry, Clinical Neuroscience Branch, at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1983.  At the time of her death in 2013, Dr. Pert was the Chief Scientific Officer of Rapid Pharmaceuticals, a company she co-founded that continues her research on peptides for neurological and immune disorders, including the development of an AIDS vaccine.

Candace Pert is featured in the 2004 film “What the Bleep Do We Know,” a metaphysical documentary exploring the connections between neuroscience and quantum physics.  She published several books as well as numerous scientific papers, and recorded a meditation for alleviating stress and balancing the chakras or ‘segments’ of the body-mind.  Her work was at many times controversial, pushing boundaries within the often dogmatic domain of science to allow for the possibility of spirituality and mysticism.


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