Newsletter - August, 2000

Emotion: The Key to the Mind's Influence on Health

Paul McGhee, PhD

    "The chemicals that are running our body and our brain are the same chemicals that are involved in emotion. And that says to me that . . . we'd better pay more attention to emotions with respect to health."
    (Candace Pert)

Candace Pert noted in Bill Moyers' Healing and the Mind television series (played in the U.S.A. and Canada) that emotions -- registered and stored in the body in the form of chemical messages -- are the best candidates for the key to the health connection between mind and body. It is through the emotions you experience in connection with your thoughts and daily attitudes -- actually, through the neurochemical changes that accompany these emotions -- that your mind acquires the power to influence whether you get sick or remain well.

The key, according to Pert, is found in complex molecules called neuropeptides. "A peptide is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. There are twenty-three different amino acids. Peptides are amino acids strung together very much like pearls strung along in a necklace."1 Peptides are found throughout the body, including the brain and immune system. The brain contains about 60 different neuropeptides, including endorphins. These neuropeptides are the means by which all cells in the body communicate with each other. This includes brain-to-brain messages, brain-to-body messages, body-to-body messages, and body-to-brain messages.

Individual cells, including brain cells, immune cells, and other body cells, have receptor sites that receive neuropeptides. The kinds of neuropeptides available to cells are constantly changing, reflecting variations in your emotions throughout the day. The exact combinations of neuropeptides released during different emotional states has not yet been determined.

The kind and number of emotion-linked neuropeptides available at receptor sites of cells influence your probability of staying well or getting sick. "Viruses use these same receptors to enter into a cell, and depending on how much of the . . . natural peptide for that receptor is around, the virus will have an easier or harder time getting into the cell. So our emotional state will affect whether we'll get sick from the same loading dose of a virus."2

This kind of conclusion from a researcher at the cutting edge of research on the mind/body connection should give you all the motivation you need to make the effort to improve your sense of humor. More humor and laughter in your life helps assure that these chemical messages are working for you, not against you.

It was noted in the February 2000 issue of this newsletter that preliminary research suggests that humor/laughter stimulates the production of helper T-cells, the cells attacked by the AIDS virus. If humor were to help the body battle AIDS (there is presently no evidence that it does -- or does not), it probably wouldn't be as a mere result of the production of more helper T-cells, since there would be every reason to expect these new cells to also be invaded by the virus. Rather, it would probably be due to the neuropeptides produced by the positive emotional state that goes along with humor and laughter.

Along these lines, Pert has noted that "The AIDS virus uses a receptor that is normally used by a neuropeptide. So whether an AIDS virus will be able to enter a cell or not depends on how much of this natural peptide is around, which . . . would be a function of what state of emotional expression the organism is in."3

"This I believe to be the chemical function of humor: to change the character of our thought." (Lin Yutang)

Research on the immune system supports this view. For example, negative emotion has been found to be associated with reduced salivary IgA response to a novel antigen,4 lower serum antibody responses to Hepatitis B vaccine,5 reduced proliferation of lymphocytes,6 and reduced natural killer cell activity.7 Positive emotional states have similarly been linked to heightened immune response, both for IgA 8 and natural killer cell activity.9

Anything you can do to sustain a more positive, upbeat frame of mind in dealing with the daily hassles and problems in your life contributes to your physical health at the same time that it helps you cope with stress and be more effective on the job. Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.

[Excerpt from Dr. McGhee's book, Health, Healing and the Amuse System: Humor as Survival Training. Published by Kendall/Hunt, 1999. To order a copy by e-mail, see Click on orders. ISBN number is 7872-5797-4.]

Pun Fun

Since non-native speakers of English are the main readers of this column, this section will provide an exercise in learning to play with language each month. Use the clue give to try to come up with your own funny answer for the missing part of the punch line before checking the answer given below. These are children's riddles, but are still not easy to answer.

1) What has four wheels and flies?
Clue: Think of another meaning of "flies."
This thing also doesn't smell very good.

2) When is a boy like a pony?
Clue: Think of another way of saying "pony."
Clue: When he's a little ______.

3) What flowers are the most kissable?
Clue: What part of the body do we kiss with?

4) When are boys most like bears?
Clue: They have no shoes on.
Clue: When they're in their _____ feet.

5) What kind of berry does every river contain?
Clue: It's very small, and is red or black. You're most likely to find
these in jams or jellies.
Clue: The first letter is "c."

1. Pert, C. The chemical communications. In B. Moyers, Healing and the Mind. New York: 1993.
2. Pert, C., 1993, p. 190.
3. Pert, C., 1993, p. 190.
4. Stone, A.A., et al. Evidence that secretory IgA antibody is associated with daily mood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1987, 52, 988-993.
5 Jabaaij, L., et al. Influences of perceived psychological stress and distress on antibody response to lose dose rDNA hepatitis B vaccine. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 1993, 37, 361-369.
6. Linn, B.S., et al. Anxiety and immune responsiveness. Psychological Reports, 1981, 49, 969-970.
7. Bovbjerg, D.H. & Valdimarsdottir, H. Familial cancer, emotional distress, and low natural cytotoxic activity in healthy women. Annals of Oncology, 1993, 4, 745-752.
8. Stone, A.A., et al. Daily events are associated with a secretory immune response to an oral antigen in humans. Health Psychology, 1994, 13, 440-446.
9. Valdimarsdottir, H.B. & Bovbjerg, D.H. Positive and negative mood: Association with natural killer cell activity. Psychology and Health, 1997, 12, 319-327.

Answers to Pun Fun
1) A garbage truck.
2) When he's a little hoarse (horse).
3) Tulips
4) When they're in bare (bear) feet.
5) Currents.