Validating Vigor (Profile of Mood States)

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt? Here’s an excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
1. Lose Weight
2. Get in Shape
3. Reduce Stress
4. Get Healthier
5. Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment. If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

The Four Pillars of Health
When you tap the secret of vigor, you’re not just making short-term cosmetic changes to your sense of well-being—you’re uncovering the root causes of exhaustion and excess stress hidden in the biochemistry of your cells. The best way to balance your biochemistry is to strengthen the “Four Pillars of Health”: manage oxidation, control inflammation, stabilize glucose, and balance stress hormones. Here’s a list of these pillars for your quick reference:

The Four Pillars of Health
1. Manage Oxidation
2. Control Inflammation
3. Stabilize Glucose
4. Balance Stress Hormones

Each of the Four Pillars of Health describes rather complicated biochemical processes that are explained in more detail in Part II of this book. For now, the important thing to understand is that you need balance within and among these four processes to develop and maintain vigor.

Vigor in Ancient Medicine
Besides recognizing the role of your biochemistry in the pursuit of health, it can also be helpful to have another way to think about vigor, because the term “vigor,” as used in psychology research today, actually has very old roots. The modern scientific concept of vigor is somewhat comparable to the ancient descriptions of vitality and wellness from traditional medicine systems around the world. Nearly every ancient culture has typically held a common belief that true health stems from a strong “life force” in the body.

Other names for this life force, or vigor, include:

* Qi (traditional Chinese medicine; pronounced “chee”)
* Ki (Kampo/Japanese medicine)
* Prana (Ayurvedic/Indian medicine)
* Ka (Egyptian medicine)
* Mana (Polynesian medicine)
* Pneuma (ancient Greek medicine)

Practitioners of traditional medicine might have restored “life force” in their patients by improving their nutrition or administering herbal medicines. These natural therapies often “worked,” and patients felt better as a result. What these ancient healers did not fully appreciate was “how” their therapies were working to actually alter biochemical processes in the body and modulate the internal interactions that I’m calling the Four Pillars of Health.

In modern times, millions of people attempt to temporarily reduce fatigue with energy drinks or other stimulants. However, that approach does not restore vigor and is actually more likely to sap vigor in the long term. These temporary “fixes” are inadequate solutions, because they do not address the underlying cause of low vigor: biochemical imbalances between and among the Four Pillars. Although this book highlights current research on vigor and health, it also incorporates the guiding principle of traditional medicines—that true wellness results from a comprehensive, balanced view of the human body, not one that focuses on fragmented, short-term “fixes.”

Validating Vigor: Profile of Mood States (POMS)
As you continue reading, one key concept you will discover is that chronic stress has a significant impact on your level of vigor. Chronic stress—and the underlying biochemical imbalances that it leads to—undoubtedly plays a major role in many of today’s modern diseases, particularly depression, chronic fatigue, anxiety, fibromyalgia, and obesity. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization:

* 80 percent of North Americans have enough daily stress to cause health problems.
* Stress contributes to half of all illnesses in North America.
* 70–80 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related illnesses.
* More than half of all deaths in people under the age of sixty-five result from stressful lifestyles.

The good news is that by naturally restoring biochemical balance, you can dramatically reduce feelings of stress, cut fatigue and depression, boost physical and mental energy, and significantly improve vigor.

How can I make these claims about improving vigor? Because, in labs and clinics, researchers can actually measure vigor using a scientifically validated research tool called the Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire.

The POMS is a psychological rating system that measures specific transitory moods in a variety of populations, including medical patients, psychiatric outpatients, and athletes, among other fields. It has been used in more than three thousand research studies, making it the true “gold standard” for assessing changes in mood state and vigor following different interventions (such as exercise programs, nutritional regimens, stress-reduction techniques, and intake of dietary supplements).

The POMS assesses six primary psychological factors—tension, depression, anger, fatigue, vigor, and confusion—by asking sixty-five adjective-based questions scored on a “0–4” intensity scale (with intensity being gauged as 0 = not at all and 4 = extremely). The sixty-five adjective responses are categorized into the six psychological factors, tabulated, scored, and analyzed. The output of the POMS questionnaire is an assessment of the positive and negative moods of each subject at baseline and at various intervals throughout the study intervention (typically four, eight, and twelve weeks later).

Over the past several years, my research group has conducted a series of human clinical studies in “stressed” volunteers. In these studies—some being as short as one week and others lasting as long as twelve weeks—we have been able to significantly improve vigor by 25 to 30 percent following a restoration of biochemical balance. This means that, although chronic stress disrupts biochemical balance, we now know that restoring biochemical balance can help improve feelings of vigor quickly (sometimes within the first week of the study period). We’ve also found that these changes persist for months thereafter, indicating a unique and lasting improvement in overall well-being that is far superior to the fleeting and temporary effects of energy drinks and related products. These clinical trials have been presented at some of the top peer-reviewed scientific conferences in the world, including the American College of Nutrition, American College of Sports Medicine, the International Society for Sports Nutrition, and the American Society for Nutrition.

It may be hard to understand how something as simple as stress can cause so many problems—from depression to heart disease to weight gain. But the fact is, your body’s response to everyday pressures—including deadlines, traffic, money concerns, family conflicts, irritating coworkers, and other worries—is actually a chronic-stress response. And that response to chronic stress causes an immediate and profound change in a variety of hormones and related biochemicals in your body. Further, those compounds are distributed throughout the entire body, where they influence the function of every organ and cell.

Initially, the effects of chronic stress are subtle. On the hormonal level, cortisol goes up, and testosterone goes down. Although you are hardly likely to detect such hormonal changes on a daily basis, what you might notice is that you experience a few extra pounds of weight, a slight reduction in energy levels, a modest drop in sex drive, or a bit of trouble with memory. Even then, you probably brush off these health signals as “normal” aspects of aging. However, as you’ll read in The Secret of Vigor, these traits are actually the earliest signs of depression, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, obesity, diabetes, impotence, dementia, heart disease, cancer, and many related conditions—and chronic stress can trigger all of them. Indeed, researchers are discovering that stress may well be the key factor in the very process commonly recognized as “aging.”

Still, it can be hard to accept the idea that the stress you go through every day can have such a detrimental effect on your long-term health as well as your daily level of vigor. But once you understand the relationship between modern stressors and your biochemical balance, I am certain that you will be motivated to do something about getting your biochemistry back into balance.

You can measure your own level of chronic stress and vigor using a simple Vigor Self-Test that I’ll post in the next excerpt – stay tuned!

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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