August 21, 2012

The Chemistry of Joy: The Body Pathways. ~ Henry Emmons, MD

Part Two of “The Chemistry of Joy Series

It’s somewhat common knowledge that a solid physical foundation is tantamount to achieving and maintaining resilience in both the body and mind. The first step in building resilience is to attend to the body, ensuring that it is well-nourished and prepared to support a joyful state of mind. Luckily, the body is one of the easiest places to begin making concrete and measurable changes that yield immediate results.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re fairly conscientious of what you put into your body.

You probably already know which foods are healthy and that you should be eating fresh plants, whole-grain, high-fiber foods, lean cuts of red meat and chicken, fatty fish, a moderate amount of dairy products, olive oil, flaxseeds and avocados, legumes, nuts and fresh dried herbs.

You also probably already know you should be avoiding foods high in refined sugar, processed and refined products, trans-fatty acids, omega-6 fatty-acid oils, saturated fats in animal fats, corn and high-fructose syrups, artificial sweeteners and colorings and artificial preservatives.

Maybe you don’t know about blood sugar/insulin imbalance.

These imbalances are caused when glucose enters the bloodstream too quickly—after a sugar binge, for example.

In response to a flood of sugar, the pancreas sends out an excessive amount of insulin, which quickly takes glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells. Now your blood sugar has rapidly dropped and there are a lot of insulin “delivery trucks” circulating with nothing to do. The glucose/insulin balance has been disrupted, causing the brain to send out distress signals that say “get more sugar—now!” This sets off alarms and raises the level of the stress hormones. Insulin resistance has a much greater impact on mood than most people realize.

Balancing blood sugar and correcting insulin resistance are among the most effective dietary strategies for influencing mood.

It is possible to regain the correct balance of insulin and glucose and thereby lift your mood and energy by what you eat. To achieve this balance, you should eat every three to four hours, avoid skipping meals, always pair grain with protein and fat (or never eat grain alone), and avoid simple carbs, alcohol and diet soda. You can also take a quarter to a half a teaspoon of cinnamon each day to increase insulin sensitivity.

Poor digestion is another culprit known to impact health and mood.

Even if you choose to eat healthy foods, if your digestion is not up to par you may not be reaping the full nutritional benefits.

To ensure that the nutrients you’re consuming are reaching the bloodstream, always be sure you’re drinking enough water as dehydration stops the digestive tract. Drink apple cider vinegar or warm lemon water with meals. Incorporate a probiotic supplement to help rebalance good bacteria (look for supplements that have multiple strains of bacteria such as acidophilus, bifido-bacteria, lactobacillus, and fructooligosaccharide, or FOS), and/or take a fiber supplement that contains psyllium.

Inflammation can occur throughout the body and also in the brain. In the brain, it can affect neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, aggravating depression. Stressful life events can actually physically damage the brain. The damage triggers a repair response that includes inflammation (think bodily wound repair). The changes lead to physical pain and a “depression” of normal function during the repair process. When these processes endure for extended periods, due to ongoing stress or inability to fully recover, depressive symptoms can become chronic. This is a great example of how within the body everything is truly connected.

If you’re mindful about glucose/insulin imbalance you’re already on the right track toward offsetting inflammation. You can also try to reduce your consumption of omega-6 fats by using olive oil for most cooking, grapeseed oil for high-heat cooking, and flax oils for salad dressings. Try cooking with curcumin, a natural yellow pigment found in the spice turmeric. It’s been used for thousands of years to manage inflammation and wound healing.

Be mindful of hidden saboteurs in your diet that may be contributing to depression.

These are not the same as food allergies, but more subtle sensitivities that can trigger a variety of imbalances in the body including joint pain, headaches, congestion and depression. You can identify food sensitivities by experimenting with elimination.

We recommend starting with some of the most common food intolerances, which are dairy, wheat, nightshade vegetables and corn. Be aware that you may initially encounter some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, but these will resolve within the first few days. There are many resources available for elimination experiments.


Stay tuned for the next post: The Chemistry of Joy: The Mind Pathways


Henry Emmons, MD, is an integrative psychiatrist and author of The Chemistry of Joy Workbook. He developed and runs the resilience training program, offered at one of the nation’s leading integrative health centers, the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis, MN. Resilience training has undergone extensive research and proven to help nearly everyone who follows the program. More than 60 percent of participants achieved full remission from depression, including some diagnosed with the severest form known as major depression. For more information about the resilience training program, visit here.


Editor: ShaMecha Simms

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