Biochemistry Drives Emotions—and Behaviors

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.

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Here’s another 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:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*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.

Biochemistry Drives Emotions—and Behaviors
In seeking to build vigor, it is important to remember that this state of health is characterized not only by physical energy but also by mental acuity and emotional well-being, as you learned in the Introduction. Because the last chapter explains the physical effects of stress, it is now time to look at the emotional and mental aspects of vigor.

When speaking before thousands of people around the country, one of the most important concepts that I try to convey to my audiences is that “biochemistry drives emotions” and vice-versa. The reason that you “feel” a certain way is because of your underlying biochemistry. The degree to which you’re exposed to cortisol, dopamine, serotonin, insulin, or hundreds of other “signals” in the body will influence your feelings of energy, happiness, mental clarity, creativity, appetite, and motivation—in short, your vigor.

Think about how you feel when you’re under stress: You often eat more (and eat more junk) and exercise less. You tend to be constantly tired during the day and yet can’t relax enough to get a good night’s sleep. Stressed-out people also have more heart attacks, more depression, more colds, and less sex. And stress-induced disruptions in their internal biochemistry are at the root of it all. I cannot think of a more dismal picture.

Brains, Biochemistry, and Behavior
As I have continued my research in this area over the past several years, I have discovered that the influence of biochemistry goes far deeper than ever imagined. In fact, biochemistry not only drives emotions but motivates actions as well! Breakthroughs in brain research are providing amazing new insights about these connections between biochemistry, the brain, and behavior. And, frankly, this is a complex issue that may be hard to understand. It can be mind-boggling—literally—to realize that your thinking can change not only your moods but also the actual shape and function of your brain. Those changes affect your biochemistry and, of course, your vigor.

As you read this chapter, these complex concepts will become clearer. For now, let me give you a brief explanation and illustration to show you how these mind-body-biochemistry connections work. First, you have to conceptualize the biochemical processes of your body as a circular loop, not a straight, linear progression. What happens internally is that your biochemistry affects your brain circuitry, which affects your behavior, with each influencing and feeding back on each other. This loop has no “start” and no “end,” and each process constantly modifies the others.

What does this mean in terms of building your vigor? The answer can be as perplexing as a Zen koan. Is low vigor a “biochemical” issue, a “behavioral” issue, or a “brain” issue? Yes, yes, and yes! As you’ve seen above, each of these issues affects the others.

The good news is that if you change one aspect of this picture, you’ll inevitably change the others as well. For example, if you change your behavior—say you begin to take short walks every day or go to sleep fifteen minutes earlier each night—you will, in turn, change your biochemistry and your brain. Those brain alterations will put you into a mental and emotional state where you will want to continue the behaviors that are creating the positive mood and mental clarity—and the changes in your biochemistry will, in turn, reinforce this “virtuous circle.”

Unfortunately, the “circle” can spin in the opposite direction as well. Suppose that instead of walking every day, you act like a “couch potato,” sitting on the sofa watching TV for long stretches and eating greasy, sugary foods? That behavior will lead toward fatigue, mental sluggishness, and negative emotions. As your behavior begins having detrimental effects on your brain function and biochemistry, a downward spiral toward burnout is set into motion.

If you feel caught in that downward spiral, keep in mind that you are not the only one. Keep reading – and tune in to the next installment from The Secret of Vigor…

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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