The Mind-Body Connection: Emotion and Neuropeptides

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 28/08/2022

Neuropeptides are chemicals secreted by the brain and known to mediate mood and behaviour. Candice Pert discovered the first component of the molecules of emotion found on the surface of cells in body and brain called the opiate receptor.

A typical nerve cell may have millions of receptors on its surface. Basically, receptors function as sensing molecules at a cellular level just as our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin. All receptors are proteins, and they cluster in the cellular membrane waiting for the right chemical, the ligand, to fit into their keyholes to transfer a message to the receptor.Then the message can trigger a chain of biochemical reactions such as manufacturing new proteins, making decision for cell division, opening or closing ion channels…Ligands are generally much smaller molecules than the receptors. There are many types of ligands, the neurotransmitters, the steroids include sex hormones, cortisol, and the peptides. The peptides include hormones, neurotransmitters, growth factors, gut peptides, cytokines, interleukins, chemokines and growth -inhibiting factors. Peptides are informational substances as their common function is that of a messenger molecule distributing information throughout the organism. Any peptide ever found anywhere was potentially a neuropeptide with receptors in all parts of the brain. By understanding the distribution of these chemicals throughout the nervous system that Candice Pert theorize peptides being the molecules of emotions. It was found that the brain peptides and their receptors were found throughout other systems in the body, and this indicate that communication was taking place not just within the brain, but between the brain and the rest of the body.

If we accept the idea that peptides and other informational substances are the biochemicals of emotion, the body is the unconscious mind. Repressed traumas caused by overwhelming emotion can be stored in a body part, thereafter, affecting our ability to feel that part or even move it.  Emotions and bodily sensations are thus intricately intertwined, in a bidirectional network in which can alter the other usually at an unconscious level, but it can be brought to the conscious level in certain situation.  There is a multidirectional network of communication between the brain, the endocrine glands, bone marrow and lymph nodes. This communication is linked by information carriers known as neuropeptides. The mind is immaterial, but it has a physical substrate which is both the body and the brain. The mind which holds the network together, often acting below our consciousness, linking, and coordinating the major systems and their organs in an intelligently orchestred symphony of life. The whole system is a psychosomatic information network linking the non-material nature such as mind, emotion to the material world of molecules, cells, and organs.


Neuropeptides were shown to signal cancer cells via their receptors and causing them to grow and travel or metastasize to different part of the body. In the case of small cell lung cancer, the peptide seemed to be bombesin that could pull over the cancer cells by chemotaxis and then program their growth and division. There is a multidirectional network of communication between the brain, the

The AIDS virus enters and infects cells through the T4 receptor, the chemokine receptor, found on lymphocytes in the immune system causing a severe depletion of the T4 lymphocytes. 


Emotions and Wellness

Conscious breathing, employed by the yogi and woman in labour produce changes in the releasing peptides in the brainstem and since many of these peptides are endorphins, they can diminish the sensation of pain. The entire lining of the intestines is lined with nerve cells and other cells that contain neuropeptides and receptors. We may feel our emotions in the digestive system, often referred to as “gut feelings”. Excitement and anger were shown to increase gut motility while contentment decreases it. 

The brain is extremely integrated with the rest of the body at a molecular level through an intelligent information network, the neural, the hormonal, the gastrointestinal, and the immune system. The biochemicals of emotion, link the major system of the body into one unit the ‘bodymind’. Emotions are cellular signals that are involved in the process of translating information into physical reality, literally transforming mind into matter. Any receptor on an immune cell would also be found on cells in the brain, and that at this molecular level, there really was no distinction between the mind and the body. 

The neuropeptides and their receptors are the substrates of the emotions, and they are in constant communication with the immune system, the mechanism through which health and disease are created. One possible immune system connection is to do with viruses. Viruses use the same receptors as neuropeptides to enter into a cell and it may explain why one person will get sicker than the other. The viral virus uses the receptor for norepinephrine to enter the cell. When you are happy, the virus can’t enter the cell because the norepinephrine blocks all the potential virus receptors.

The chronic suppression of emotions results in a massive disturbance of the psychosomatic network. In the case of cancer, everyone has several tiny cancerous tumours growing in our body at every moment. The immune system is responsible to destroy them, so they never grow large enough to become cancer. Candace Pert believes all emotions are healthy and unite mind and body. Anger, fear, and sadness are negative emotions and are as healthy as peace, courage, and joy. To repress these emotions causes stress and causes blockages and insufficient flow of peptides signals to maintain function at the cellular level, is what sets up the weakened conditions that can lead to disease. Health is not just a matter of happy thoughts but sometimes a burst of long suppressed anger can jump start the immune system. The key is to express it and then let it go, so that it doesn’t fester, or build, or escalate out of control. 

Many of the peptides including insulin and the endorphins and their receptors are found to exist in primitive unicellular animal, the earliest and simplest forms of life as well as the most complex ones. This is a stunning demonstration of the unity of all life. Humans share a common heritage, the molecules of emotions with the simple microscopic creatures through evolution. 

Stress reduction:

The most effective method for reducing stress is meditation, to release emotions that are stuck and prevent the healthy mind-body flow of biochemicals. All forms of meditation are useful such as mindfulness or Vipassana meditation, transcendental meditation…

The habit of self-honesty is equally effective at stress reduction. It means being true to yourself, keeping your word to others as well as to yourself and living in a state of personal integrity. When you are going through the motions but not really committed, saying one thing and doing another, then your emotions are confused, and the physiology is altered. The result is a weakened, disturbed psychosomatic network, leading to stress and eventually to illness.

Having fun and laughter is the cheapest, easiest, and most effective way to reduce stress and rejuvenate mind, body, and spirit. Norman Cousins used laughter to help him recover from a serious illness (Anatomy of an Illness).

Exercise increases blood flow to nourish and cleanse your brain and all your organs. There is also the benefit of mood improvement prompted by the release of endorphins and other peptides. 

Yoga is particularly health enhancing form of exercise combining relaxation and body awareness. 

Spend time enjoying nature can be relaxing like being outside regardless of whether you are in the parks, at the beach or in a cityby looking at the sky, the sunlight and the clouds,as even cities have skies over them. 

Eating wisely: 

Our gut is densely lined with neuropeptides and receptors, all busily exchanging information laden with emotional content “gut feeling”. The peptides mediate satiety and hunger, but that information is ignored, and you can eat when you are not hungry or using food to bury unpleasant emotions such as nervous eating, depression eating. You can eat in mindfulness and feel thankful for your food, savouring its tastes and textures. Avoid sugar and carbohydrates as they are converted into glucose which acts on glucose receptor to control the release of insulin and numerous neuropeptides in the pancreas and high carbohydrate intake can cause insulin resistance and diabetes.

Substance abuse:

People consume legal and illegal drugs when emotions are unhealed, not processed, and integrated or released. All the substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, and other drugs have natural analogues circulating in our blood binding to its own receptors in the body. Alcohol and drug like Valium bind to the GABA receptor complex and compete with the natural chemicals that were meant to bind to these receptors often flooding them and thereby causing them to decrease in sensitivity and/or number. The receptors then signal a decrease in peptides secretions so all drugs can alter the natural flow of your own feel-good peptides. The good news is that physiological effects resulting from substance abuse are reversible. But it can be a very slow and painful process before the receptors return to their original sensitivity and number and the corresponding peptides get back into body wide production and flow. 


People often equate spirituality with religion so it can be divisive and brings up strong disagreement. In contrast, spirituality can be about a deeper search for meaning in our lives and brings us together in a common purpose. 

Originally, scientists thought that the flow of neuropeptides and receptors was being directed from centres of the brain, the frontal cortex, the hypothalamus, the amygdala. But now it was found that the flow of chemicals arose from many sites in different systems simultaneously- the immune, the nervous, the endocrine, and the gastrointestinal- and that theses sites formed nodal points on a vast superhighway of internal information exchange taking place on a molecular level. So, we had to consider a system with intelligence diffused throughout, rather than a one-way operation that the brain ruled overall. Where does the intelligence, the information that runs our bodymind come from? We know that information has an infinite capability to expand and increase, and that it is beyond time and place, matter, and energy. Therefore, it cannot belong to the material world, and some believe in nonduality that is “consciousness is all there is”. Candace Pert likes to think of mental phenomena as messengers bringing information and intelligence from the nonphysical world to the body, where they manifest via their physical substrate, the neuropeptides, and their receptors. She believes the emotions are the connector, flowing between individuals as empathy, compassion, sorrow, and joy. The receptors on our cells even vibrate in response to extracorporeal peptide creating the emotional resonance, and it isa scientific fact that we can feel what others feel. Our molecules of emotions are all vibrating together. 


Health is much more than the absence of illness. Live in an unselfish way that promotes a feeling of belonging, loving kindness, and forgiveness. This will promote a state of spiritual bliss that truly helps to prevent illness. 





Molecules of Emotions by Candace Pert, PhD

Anatomy of an Illness  as perceived by the patient by Norman Cousins