Most people think their brains, immune system, hormones, and thought patterns are separate. It turns out that they blend into a cohesive communications network that actually runs the body as a single interwoven unit.
I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this month’s topics! Please leave a comment, and let me know if there’s anything specific you want me to cover in an upcoming newsletter.
- In Wellness,
What's On My Mind
Science loves a big, complicated word. Check this one out: psychoendoneuroimmunology (aka PENI - so much easier!). Break it apart, and you can begin to see that it’s the study of the interactions between the body’s major communications systems:
Psycho - cognition, perception, mood
Endo - hormones
Neuro - nervous systems
Immuno - immune system
Logy - “the study of …”
The brain is typically thought of as the mastermind and the body as the brawn. However, PENI systems weave together the processes of the brain and the body. Think of a triangle:
They are in unceasing conversation, each one constantly influencing the others.
We are in a new world of science! PENI research intertwines solid biological systems with the realm of thoughts, consciousness, spirit, and philosophy. According to a 2004 National Institutes of Health article, “PENI incorporates ideas, belief systems, hopes, and desires as well as biochemistry, physiology, and anatomy.”
PENI research is really important to my work as a nutritionist. Nutrients and lifestyle practices provide necessary information to these four realms of bodily communication and function:
You can now see the loop of biochemistry/physiology affecting our mood and mood and behaviors shifting our biochemistry – and back around again. Food and lifestyle practices are critical to this mix. A downward spiral can lead to poor digestion, poor nutrient absorption, and disrupted elimination; blood sugar and other metabolic imbalances; thyroid dysfunction; mood disorders; and other health issues.
The good news is that an upward spiral supports healing and health. My intake assessment with clients is very thorough so that I can connect the dots between P, E, N, and I. This allows me to create individualized nutritional and lifestyle recommendations to help restore biochemical balance and overall ‘bodymind’ resilience.
What I'm Reading
Geek out with me! This is so cool…
I have been learning about the evolution and findings of PENI research in Candace Pert, PhD’s brilliant book, Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (read a concise review of it in the September 1998 Smithsonian magazine).
Dr. Pert’s fascinating work uncovered naturally occurring, mood-altering peptides (chains of bonded amino acids) and demonstrated how they bind to receptors on the surface of cells. Here’s the extra cool part: These mood-regulating receptors are found clumped together at key points all across the body, far flung from the ones in the brain scientists originally thought were the only ones. This quote from Dr. Pert captured it for me (emphasis is hers): “...what we experience as an emotion or a feeling is also a mechanism for activating a particular neuronal circuit - simultaneously throughout the brain and body - which generates a behavior involving the whole creature.”
Among other findings, Dr. Pert discovered that learning and memory creation/storage is actively facilitated by sensation - sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch - and by the emotion triggered by these sensations (remember, emotions are created by peptides binding to specific receptors on cell walls). Astonishingly, memories are stored in those clumped receptors across the body, not just in the brain. These neuronal communications are triggers for how our bodies function as well as for how we feel. “...[P]eptides serve to weave the body’s organs and systems into a single web that reacts to both internal and external environmental changes with complex, subtly orchestrated responses.”
Dr. Pert gives an example of a peptide - called angiotensin - that helps regulate fluid balance in the body. Depending on where it attaches in the body - say, the kidneys or the lungs, it might inspire us to drink more water or eliminate more water via our breath as mist. She tells us, too, that insulin is produced in the brain, not just the pancreas, which really makes you think about the role of sugars in our well-being. What do you suppose that might mean for what we call “cravings”? Are they really cravings, or requests from the body for particular nutrients or actions? What can we do to interpret and act on them so we can feel good? This is the work my clients and I do.
It’s no wonder that Dr. Pert is considered the mother of PENI research! It leads to a huge cascade of implications for identifying and treating infectious and lifestyle diseases!
Tip of the Month
Have you ever had to think something over, and said, “Let me chew on that”?
Here's a cool little factoid about chewing:
Your teeth have roots into your gums, and attached to the roots are nerves. The nerves connect to your brain so that the brain and the teeth can communicate data (e.g. whether it’s the different textures of crunchy or smooth peanut butter, or perhaps you come across a pit in your supposedly pitted cherry, or taste a piece of chicken that’s not fully cooked ).
Thanks to that data sharing and the brain processes required to work on them, chewing stimulates cognition (clearer thinking), stronger brain processing skills, better memory, etc.
So chew your food thoroughly to improve your ability to think and remember!
I am Mary Virginia Coffman (I go by “Mary Virginia”), a clinical nutritionist who focuses on mental health, digestive health, metabolic health, and nervous system regulation. My unique combination of clinical interventions, education, and coaching will help you feel well in body, mind, and spirit.