Geometry of Emotions


Natural Feel Good Molecules: The Molecules of Emotion

To interpret the geometric biology of experience I journeyed into the molecular structures of each neurological chemical, and susequently created a series of mandalas, expressing their individual qualities.

Endorphin - The Pain Killing Molecule

Endorphins are our natural painkillers. They were first isolated around 1975, and they are form of protein that work in a similar manner to that of the traditional painkiller morphine. Incidentally, the actual word 'endorphin' is an abbreviation of the words endogenous (produced by the body) and morphine.

Endorphins can be described as our 'happy hormones'. They will affect our mood and emotions, and might ultimately be responsible for our bodily feelings of pleasure, and perhaps euphoria. Apparently, when you are feeling good about yourself, your endorphins are in good flow.

Yet, exactly how endorphins work is yet to be completely understood. Several types of endorphins have been discovered, each with slightly different chemical structures and these have been linked to a whole host of bodily functions.

As regulators of pain and mood, endorphins affect our hormones and also the heart function, and are related with other functions of the body - to exercise and particular foods.

Endorphins are not only linked to pain. They are released in your brain when eating certain foods. This is thought to be one of the reasons why chocolate seems to improve your mood. Some also claim that the burning pain from chillies, caused by a chemical called capsaicin, may cause endorphins to be released.

Endorphins are among the brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which function to transmit electrical signals within the nervous system. At least 20 types of endorphins have been demonstrated in humans. Endorphins can be found in the pituitary gland, in other parts of the brain, or distributed throughout the nervous system.

Stress and pain are the two most common factors leading to the release of endorphins.

Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to drugs such as morphine and codeine. In contrast to the opiate drugs, however, activation of the opiate receptors by the body's endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.

In addition to decreased feelings of pain, secretion of endorphins leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation of appetite, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress.

Studies of acupuncture and massage therapy have shown that both of these techniques can stimulate endorphin secretion. Sex is also a potent trigger for endorphin release, as is the practice of meditation.

However it is not only external events that can trigger endorphins. It is possible to learn to trigger the production of your endorphins at will, by creating pleasurable conditions within your mind.

Oxytocin - The Love Molecule

Oxytocin, is a neuropeptide that acts both in the brain and the rest of the body, and has been long understood to play a key role in social bonding and attachment. First evidence emerged in 1994 from experiments by researchers at the University of Maryland with a monogamous breed of prairie voles: oxytocin, when dripped into one animal’s brain in the presence of the opposite sex, creates in that animal a long-lasting preference to remain together with the other, cuddled up side by side.

In humans, oxytocin surges during sexual intercourse for both men and women, and, for women, during childbirth and lactation, pivotal interpersonal moments that stand to forge new social bonds or cement existing ones. The natural blasts of oxytocin during such moments are so large and powerful that for many years they all but blinded scientists to the more subtle ebb and flow of oxytocin during more typical day-to-day activities, such as playing with your kids, getting to know your new neighbour, or striking a deal with a new business partner. Technical obstacles also needed to be cleared, as it was difficult, until recently, to reliably and non-invasively measure and manipulate oxytocin during natural behaviour.

More generally, oxytocin is a key factor in the mammalian calm-and-connect response, a distinct cascade of brain and body responses best contrasted to the far more familiar fight-or-flight response. Oxytocin appears both to calm fears that might steer you away from interacting with strangers and also to sharpen your skills for connection. Rather than avoid new people out of fear and suspicion, oxytocin helps you pick up on cues that signal another person’s goodwill and guides you to approach them with your own. Because all people need social connections, not just to reproduce, but to survive and thrive in this world, oxytocin has been dubbed ‘the great facilitator of life’.

It turns out that positive behavioural synchrony — the degree to which an infant and a parent laugh, smile, and coo together — goes hand in hand with oxytocin synchrony. Researchers have measured oxytocin levels in the saliva of dads, mums, and infants both before and after a videotaped, face-to-face parent-infant interaction. For infant-parent pairs who show mutual positive engagement, oxytocin levels also come into synch. Without such engagement, however, no oxytocin synchrony emerges.

Serotonin - The Confidence Molecule

Serotonin (5HT) is a neurotransmitter which is responsible for many behaviours. It has been known to modulate mood, emotion, sleep and appetite. This chemical has been associated with a variety of behavioural disorders. It has been proposed that decreased Serotonin levels play a role in the etiology of depression. Recent research also shows a possible connection between alcoholism and increased Serotonin levels.

Increased Serotonin and Dopamine levels have been implicated as a mechanism in psychosis.

About 90% of serotonin is found in the intestinal tract, and roughly 5-10% in the brain, and a healthy intestinal tract may correlate with healthy levels of serotonin, a monoamine neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood. Around 1 trillion bacteria live in the gut and around 100 million neurons also reside in the intestines, challenging the myth that our neural health is influenced only by the brain.

Improving mental health through a healthy gut, by eating natural foods, especially those with probiotic qualities, and drinking plenty of purified water, may be helpful for promoting normal mental health. Exercise, daily sunlight exposure, and increasing probiotic intake may all be helpful ways to boost serotonin levels and manage mood naturally.

Dopamine - The Reward Molecule

If you wake up every morning and feel like ‘the thrill is gone’, you may have a dopamine deficiency. Dopamine is the main brain chemical responsible for making us feel motivated. Low levels of dopamine can manifest in some very disruptive ways. It can leave you feeling fatigued, apathetic, moody and unable to concentrate. Just as importantly, it plays a role in many mental disorders including depression, addiction of all kinds, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and schizophrenia. Understanding how dopamine affects your life is a key to taking control of this neurotransmitter — instead of letting it take control of you.

Dopamine is considered one of the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters, along with serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. It has several distinct major functions. It’s been called the ‘motivation molecule’ for providing the drive and focus you need to be productive. It’s also been called the ‘reward chemical’ since it’s in charge of your brain’s pleasure-reward system. Dopamine plays a role in numerous brain functions involving mood, sleep, learning, the ability to focus and concentrate, motor control, and working memory.

What Does Dopamine Do?

Dopamine helped our ancestors survive by giving them an energy boost when presented with a great opportunity, such as locating a new source of food. You wouldn’t think we’d need to be motivated to find food, yet alarmingly, lab mice with dopamine deficiency are so unmotivated they starve to death — even when food is readily available. Our modern lifestyle doesn’t provide the same opportunities for dopamine boosts that our ancestors experienced, like hunting down dinner. But we still seek dopamine because of the way it makes us feel — alive and excited.

There are both healthy and unhealthy ways to get a dopamine lift. You can boost your dopamine watching or playing sports, learning something new, finishing a project, or landing a new account at work. Any form of accomplishment that gives you that ‘Yes, I did it!’ feeling will increase dopamine. The unhealthy way to stimulate dopamine production is with addictive substances of all kinds.

Depression is usually thought of as due to a lack of serotonin, another ‘feel good’ brain chemical. But there’s a growing body of evidence that dopamine deficiency is the underlying cause of depression for many people instead. This explains why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — depression medications that work by increasing serotonin — work for only 40 percent of those who use them.

Melatonin - The Seasonal Molecule

The pineal gland or epiphysis synthesizes and secretes melatonin, a structurally simple hormone that communicates information about environmental lighting to various parts of the body. Ultimately, melatonin has the ability to entrain biological rhythms and has important effects on reproductive function of many animals. The light-transducing ability of the pineal gland has led some to call the pineal the ‘third eye’.

Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that’s vital to both the immune and endocrine systems. Yet plenty of misconceptions about using melatonin supplements still exist—that it isn’t safe, that it’s addictive, when, in truth, the benefits of using supplemental melatonin far outweigh the minimal risks. Studies show that melatonin is, in fact, one of the safest and least habit-forming hormones. As our bodies age, melatonin production decreases, making it harder to maintain healthy sleep patterns and ward off certain age-related illnesses. When taken in moderate doses and for appropriate lengths of time, melatonin can greatly enhance quality of life.

We’ve all felt the rejuvenating effects of a good night’s sleep. And its deep sleep (also known as stage four or REM sleep) that does our bodies the most good. Deep sleep is achieved through the ebb and flow of melatonin. The hormone helps to control the body’s natural circadian rhythms—in other words, the physical, mental, and behavioural patterns that occur within a 24-hour period. It also helps to reset the sleep cycle when it’s interrupted for whatever reason, like jet lag or emotional stress.

It’s important to note that melatonin is a sleep regulator, not a sleep inducer. It shouldn’t be used as a quick fix in order to fall asleep. It simply doesn’t work that way. A steady regimen is what’s needed to control the natural sleep patterns that our bodies crave.

Melatonin enhances T-cell production, which helps prevent viruses. It also helps to keep the thymus gland in optimal working condition. When the thymus and T-cells work together, they fight to eliminate the negative side effects of stress. And when you’re stressed, you become more vulnerable to infection. Chronic stress breaks down the immune system and opens the body to a range of illnesses, such as the common cold and the flu.

Adrenaline - The Energy Molecule

An adrenaline junkie is a person addicted to the thrill of the adrenaline rush: the exciting, pleasurable effect produced when the adrenal glands dump a large dose of adrenaline into the bloodstream. The adrenaline rush usually occurs when the body senses danger, the ‘Fight or Flight’ moment. Your heart rate increases, pleasure-giving endorphins are released by the pituitary gland and your breathing rate ramps up. The result of all this extra oxygen, energy and hormones is the adrenaline high, a euphoric feeling that can last for hours.

Sports are a natural place to locate adrenaline junkies. Every day, thousands of adrenaline junkies strap on a parachute, climb into a kayak or drive very fast around a race track. Other typical adrenaline junkie activities are bungee jumping, caving, rock climbing and mountain biking - any activity that involves a larger than normal amount of danger or risk of injury. 

Non-sports activities or jobs can also be a natural fit for the adrenaline junkie. Plenty of careers come with a risk of serious injury. Firefighting, police work or the military would be logical choices for adrenaline junkies.

The adrenaline rush wears off after a time and is as addictive as any drug. The signs of an adrenaline addiction are not as obvious as you might think. A true adrenaline junkie may easily fill their life with drama and conflict instead of extreme sports. They may argue or pick fights just for the rush associated with the experience. Adrenaline junkies can also become more reckless in their everyday lives, putting themselves and others at risk for no reason, save the need for another jolt of adrenaline. To a real adrenaline junkie, the rush from manufactured stress is just as good as one from sports, so why bother going outside? The people you meet on the slopes, or in an airplane prior to jumping out of it, may refer to themselves as an adrenalin junkie, but since they are getting their rush in a relatively healthy manner, they are unlikely to be an actual adrenaline junkie.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘fight or flight’? Sabre toothed tigers? Flashing lights in the rear view mirror? It is the alarm state that our bodies go into whenever a threat is perceived. And it is regulated by a part of our nervous system that is outside our conscious control, the sympathetic nervous system. In other words, it’s an automatic response that works faster than the thinking part of the brain and makes the body ready for action.

The fight or flight rush sensation is a sign that the sympathetic nervous system has kicked in producing stress hormones. Its job is to activate glands and organs to help us spring into action or defend the body against attack. Most of us can recognize the jolt of adrenaline, the body’s biochemical preparation for fighting or fleeing. Threat is, however, just one reason for running adrenaline. Having sugar, caffeine, cigarettes, or too much alcohol or other drugs produces the same fight or flight chemistry. That means there is an important relationship between stress and addiction. When adrenaline runs for any reason, blood moves to the muscles and the action centres of the brain; heart rate and blood pressure increase. Blood flow for digestion decreases. These changes come with a surge of energy, stimulating brain chemicals, and sometimes nervousness or panicky feelings, especially when there is no burst of physical activity to mop up the excess stress hormones. Think of it this way: When you get a burst of fight or flight chemicals and you fight or flee, the chemicals have done a good job and your body uses them to respond to the urgent situation. But when you get the fight or flight chemicals because of a food or drug stress and you don’t run them off, it’s a ticket to agitation, panic, foul moods, and eventually ill health and/or weight gain.

The sympathetic system’s activity breaks down the body when stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol run. When this system dominates, energy is diverted from healing, building tissues, and eliminating waste. The energy for this system comes from demands placed on your glands (as opposed to the kind of energy that comes from eating food). And while it feels good or great at first, it is often followed by fatigue or even a crash. Over time, too much sympathetic nervous system activity breaks the body.

LSD 25 - The Transition Molecule