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Dr. Barry Sears
Dr. Barry Sears
President of Zone Labs
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Diet, Stress, and Emotions: The Mind-Body-Diet Connection

Dr. Barry Sears
Zone Living Today, biochemists are on the verge of understanding how emotions, mediated by hormones, impact the physiological function of our body. If hormones, indeed, play a central role in our psychological well being, then my dietary recommendations should, in theory, lead us to a healthier emotional state as well as to a healthier physiological one.

Here’s a quick review of the emotional map of your brain—just in case you’ve never taken a college-level neurology course. Your brain stores and generates emotions in its limbic system, which is the most primitive portion of the brain. The limbic system also contains two other structures called the hypothalamus and the hippocampus. The hippocampus stores dry, unemotional facts for recall, such as where you live and your spouse’s work number. The hypothalamus acts as the commander-in-chief of your hormonal communication system, deciding which gland should release what amounts of hormones at what particular time.

The central processing facility for your emotional memories is called the amygdala. If you’re, say, having a heated argument with a driver who just rear-ended your car, the incoming words are filtered through your hippocampus, amygdale, and frontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) to decide whether or not an appropriate hormonal response needs to be generated by the hypothalamus. Ultimately, your limbic system forms the basis behind the mind-body connection. As you argue with the driver, your heart rate speeds up and you begin to sweat. All of these physiological reactions result from the hormone flow that was initiated by your hypothalamus as a result of emotional distress perceived by your limbic system. This is an extremely simplified explanation of what’s really happening in your brain. So, you can imagine how much more complex your emotional system really is.

Although the range of emotions that your brain processes and stores is complex, the chemicals that mediate these emotions are not. The two primary mediators of emotions are cytokines (hormones that are involved in inflammation) and eicosanoids. High-dose Ultra Refined fish oil gives you the ability to control both cytokines and eicosanoids and thus can help you deal with the wide variety of emotional issues that take place in your life. *

How the Immune System Affects Emotions

It is clear that when you are ill, more pro-inflammatory cytokines will be released by your immune cells to fight infections. The cytokines produced by your immune cells are too big to cross the blood-brain barrier, but they can interact with receptors on the surface of this barrier to make pro-inflammatory “bad” eicosanoids that can easily cross into the brain. Once inside the brain, these pro-inflammatory eicosanoids can now stimulate the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines inside the brain. The brain responds to this new round of inflammation inside its boundaries by sending out for more cortisol to be secreted by the adrenal glands. Now the emotion-inflammatory cycle is complete from initial stress response perceived by the brain to immune response and back to an increased stress response within the brain.

To control your emotions and your immune system, you have to have some means to break this inflammatory cycle.

A blood test called the AA/EPA ratio measures the amount of Omega 3 compared to Omega 6 in one’s blood as the benchmark for judging silent inflammation in the body. AA, or arachidonic acid, is an Omega 6 fat that causes a pro-inflammatory hormonal response, while EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, is an Omega 3 fat that causes an anti-inflammatory hormonal response. By balancing this AA/EPA level in the blood, one will be able to control silent inflammation. The ideal marker for wellness is an AA/EPA ratio of 1.5.

We know that depression is highly associated with increased levels of “bad” eicosanoids in the brain and an increased AA/EPA ratio (a measurement of silent inflammation) in the blood of depressed people. Both of these observations strongly suggest the underlying role of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids in depression. Furthermore, the increase in the AA/EPA ratio of depressed patients may help explain why depression seems to accelerate the development of both cancer and heart disease, two diseases that have strong inflammatory components.

The ancient Roman physician Galen recognized this fact when he commented that depressed women were more prone to breast cancer than their more cheerful counterparts. This also explains why depressed individuals have depressed immune systems with abnormally low levels of natural killer cells, lymphocytes, and T-helper cells. This same immune system depression has been observed in individuals who report being chronically stressed or those who have been given a single injection of corticosteroids.

On the opposite extreme of the emotional spectrum is laughter, which is associated with decreased cortisol production and increased production of two types of immune cells, natural killer cells and activated T-cells. This is why Norman Cousin wrote his famous book on laughter as the best medicine against cancer. His theories make perfect sense if you understand the role of eicosanoids and cytokines in cancer.

Hormonal messengers, such as cytokines and eicosanoids, mediate the communication between the brain and immune system. The complexity of these interactions is increased because both eicosanoids and cytokines can influence each other. Think of cytokines and eicosanoids as the grammar of the very complex language of emotions. And without the right grammar, every type of language is difficult to understand.

Improving Your Emotional State

If your emotions affect your physiological health, can your diet affect your emotions? I believe that it can and that you can enhance your emotional well being with the foods you choose to eat—provided you make the correct choices. My dietary recommendations have the potential to improve your emotional state in three ways.

First, supplementation with high-dose fish oil reduces your levels of both pro-inflammatory cytokines and eicosanoids.

Second, stabilizing insulin levels will reduce the output of cortisol (which is often released in response to decreased blood sugar levels).

Third, high- dose fish oil also increases the production of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone in your brain, which allows you to adapt to stress more effectively.

How Your Emotions Can Control Your Diet

Now that you understand how your diet can manipulate your emotions, you also need to consider how your emotions can manipulate your diet. If you are depressed (which means you probably have a high AA/EPA ratio and low serotonin levels) or are physically or mentally stressed (which increases cortisol levels), you are likely have cravings for carbohydrate-rich comfort foods like mashed potatoes, candy bars, and pizza.

These foods do provide temporary emotional comfort by increasing blood sugar levels and serotonin levels in your brain. Two or three hours after eating these foods, however, your insulin levels will soar, causing your blood sugar levels to plunge. This forces your body to increase cortisol production to maintain adequate blood sugar levels to the brain. Thus, you’ll wind up increasing your production of cortisol, which will, in turn, generate more depression and require another cycle of self-medication with carbohydrates.

You might try to solve these mood swings with more comfort food, but all you’re doing is setting off a continuing cascade of hormonal events that will continue to thwart your efforts to lift your spirits. In fact, you’re also giving yourself a sure-fire prescription for accelerated aging and continued emotional lows. On the other hand, improved control of insulin and the corresponding improvement of your eicosanoid balance using high-dose fish oil will lead to far better emotional health. I’m not saying that my dietary recommendations can totally control your emotions, but they will you give significantly more control than you probably currently have.

In the final analysis, your emotions and your immune system are intertwined in a complex orchestration. As you begin to understand how emotions stem from hormonal communication, you will have a starting point to develop dietary strategies to improve emotional control. The “mind-body” connection really becomes the “mind-body-diet” connection, and my dietary recommendations should become your primary tool to improve emotional control. Conversely, the wrong diet (especially one deficient in high-fish oil and rich in carbohydrates) is your passport to emotional chaos. The choice is yours.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. As with any natural product, individual results will vary.

For more information about Dr. Barry Sears, his incredible fish oil supplements, or the popular Zone Diet, please visit

If you purchase any Zone Labs, Inc. products, part of the proceeds support CBN ministries.

Dr. Barry Sears is a leader in the field of dietary control of hormonal response. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his efforts over the past 25 years to the study of lipids and their inflammatory role in the development of chronic disease. He holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

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