Our brain is the control centre for conscious, unconscious and automatic life processes. Also, all of us have not one but three brains in consonance with our evolutionary 'construct'- the 'logical' brain, the 'heart' brain and the 'gut' brain. Our brain abounds in neuropeptides.
Our disposition is as much psychological as it is physiological, because any which way you look at it, our brain and body epitomise their fundamental purpose in everything we do, or don't do. You may well ask whether this is genetic, or whether we adapt, or learn, to be what we are
Neuropeptides, as the medical pioneer Candace Pert put it, are our 'molecules of emotion'. They don't just 'reside' in the brain. Every cell in our body is 'enveloped' with receptors that relentlessly 'tap' them, while relaying their 'messenger molecules' to communicate, or exchange information, with the brain - like text messages on your mobile phone. In Pert's words, "If the cell is the engine that drives all life, the receptors are the buttons on the control panel of that engine - a specific peptide is the finger that pushes that button and gets things started."
This includes emotions, such as falling in love, or even getting ill. "Neuropeptides and their receptors," adds Pert, "are the substrates of our emotions; they are in constant communication with the immune system, the mechanism through which health and disease are created."
While neuropeptides in the gut regulate the flow of food by altering the tempo of intestinal contractions, their levels increase to protect the immune system- the body's 'vanguard' of defence against illness-in the wake of stress. In simple terms, neuropeptides have a positive effect on the body. They alert us to health problems, even before we fall sick. It is, therefore, no surprise that they have been hailed as our body's 'sixth sense.' It is given that emotional bonding in the early months of life activates certain processes in the brain.
This encompasses sensitive responses to others' thoughts, interactions and feelings of pleasure and beauty - not to speak of corporeal and sensuous experience.
You'd, perforce, relate our brain's myriad attributes to what Swedish writer Göran Sonnevi expounds in his book, Mozart's Third Brain - a meditation on everything, including politics, current affairs, maths, love, ethics, music, philosophy and nature.
New research in the area of mind-body, brain and neurological sciences and their interconnected convergence are keyed to divulge a whole deal more than we, perhaps, know, at present. It is, however, obvious that certain states, such as old age, loneliness, stress, grief, hopelessness and angst can undermine our immune system, leaving us vulnerable to illness and also early death.
Most illnesses affect the mind and also body. While inflammation, hormone imbalance or nutritional deficiencies can cause depression, a lack of fluids, such as water, among others, can impair our ability to learn, remember and strategise. Wellness is not just 'in the mind' as the mind is not just confined to the brain, but to our body as well.
Picture this. Our disposition is as much psychological as it is physiological, because any which way you look at it, our brain and body epitomise their fundamental purpose in everything we do, or don't do. You may well ask whether this is genetic, or whether we adapt, or learn, to be what we are.
In a study, a group of people were asked to rate their levels of wellness.
People with high scores on their bodily health and emotional wellness graph reported that they had a happy childhood and felt self-confident. They said that their families, friends and others "thought well of them" and that "their life was well under control."
The inference is obvious.
It is not just that people brought up happily 'synthesise' their bright attitudes and learn to be happy.
The fact also is the two pointers are decisive - this explains why the fast-expanding area of wellness is delineating how health and happiness, placed at the core of our being, symbolise physical and emotional wellness.
What about the biological basis of health and wellness? This relates to how positive feelings augment 'action' in our brain. Think of this: when your employer offers you a handsome incentive for a job well done, your brain 'jumpstarts' to work in full-throttle.
Besides, there is something that all of us could easily relate to - the hypnotic manner in which babies 'fix their eyes' on their mothers and produce a mesmerising smile. In behavioural terms, this corresponds to one's psychological accelerator. What does this connote? That we are all fashioned by how our brains work and how our body responds - with our own unique individual signature, no less.
All of us react or respond differently to life's innumerable demands. We also express our feelings differently - depending upon our genetic, body and brain chemistry. Genes, of course, 'chart' our personality, but what separates the 'chaff' from the 'grain' is our individualistic mode of coping with illness, or disease.
This is as distinctive as our fingerprint. Because, how each individual thinks, feels, emotes or learns represents distinct physical and emotional responses - in health and disease.
To highlight an example - research shows it is not just our emotions that quiver, but also how our white blood cells (WBCs), or 'soldiers of health', key residents of the body's immune system, undergo 'fractional paralysis' when we experience emotional trauma - following the loss of a loved one. This is referred to as the 'broken-heart syndrome' in common parlance.
What does this signify? Any emotional upheaval, or physical illness, affects our body just as much as our mind, or psyche. Healing, likewise, restores balance and brings about accord.
It has covert and overt biological notations - a functional symphony that orchestrates our body's chemistry with the physics of consciousness.
Nidamboor is a wellness physician, independent researcher and author
A version of this article appears in the print on January 28, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.