Albizia is one of my favorite herbs because of its real and unique ability to nourish the spirit in a way no other herb (or chemical substance, for that matter) can. Better known as the beautiful mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin), both the bark and the flowers are used to help one cope with feelings of profound loss and grief. Mostly we think of these emotions associated with the death of a loved one, but albizia has a much wider application such as emotional trauma and stress associated with financial loss, bankruptcy, unemployment, divorce, children moving out to college or on their own, break up of a relationship. All of these are common occurrences that swirl around us and effect all of us in profound ways. Taken properly, albizia extract works very fast to help dispel the anguish brought about by loss and grief, usually within a day.
Just yesterday, a woman in my employ showed up in an obvious state of extreme emotional sensitivity. She was distracted, teary, feeling vulnerable and it was obvious that something was getting her down. Finally I asked her about it and she said that she and the man she had been living with for some time had broken up the night before. I suggested she start chugging down teaspoonful doses of albizia extract, hourly or as necessary in the beginning.
This morning she awoke after a sound night’s sleep and commented how the sadness that she was experiencing yesterday was still in the background but was not interfering with her life in the same way. I have heard this sort of report from so many patients that I was hardly surprised. If someone takes enough albizia it is really difficult to get buried in negative feelings of grief and sadness. These feelings are there appropriately, but with the help of albizia, they do not impinge so heavily on all the other important aspects of our lives.
So we might legitimately ask how ingesting an extract of the bark or flower of the albizia tree works. Could a hormone be responsible for sadness, grief and tears? Lo and behold, there is! I’ve said many times before, there’s a hormone or neutro-transmitter for every human feeling and emotion. The hormone for sadness and tears happens to be the same associated with the production of breast milk: prolactin.
Prolactin is a major stress hormone released from the body via tears. It is found in much higher concentration in women’s bodies than in men’s, because it is employed in the synthesis of breast milk. One other secretion that prolactin is responsible for creating are human tears. At least one study found that women have a tendency to cry on average four times more frequently than men, due in part because women have at least 60% more prolactin than men. Older men have noticed how when their hormones shift it is easier to come to tears. Apparently there is a direct correlation between emotional crying and prolactin.
Tears tend to help us release our feelings and inner tension. As many women will attest when under high stress, “there’s nothing like a good cry!” Female weepiness is assumed in all parts of the world and plays a role in all our social interactions. Men are particularly distressed by the tears and outpouring of women. I remember once being stranded in an airport in Japan. The shuttle from the hotel where I was staying had been a tad late getting myself and a fellow traveler, a woman, on time to catch the only connecting flight leaving to the US that day. The plane was still on the ground but the airline staff told us that it was too late to board. Finally it took off without us, and after pleading for another flight, we were told that because we missed that one we’d have to wait and buy another return ticket. Neither of us had money for that. With a wink, my female companion went into a very convincing crying fit that caused all the male attendants to rush from behind the counter and usher us into a private room and set up special return travel arrangements for us in a few hours. Ah, the power of tears!
I think men, who serve as aggressive defenders in battle, are not only taught but are physiologically less inclined to show vulnerability under stress. Thus they lack this vital means that women have to achieve stress relief through tears and thus restore homeostasis. Some may argue that women take in more stress, dealing with childbirth, children, and so on so that they have a need to pour out more. Structurally, men’s tear glands are, as a whole, smaller than women’s, which supports the notion that they are used less.
There is a difference in the chemical makeup of tears used for lubrication as opposed to those used by the emotions. Emotional tears contain more of the protein-based hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and leucine enkephalin (a natural painkiller) than basal or reflex tears. Basic emotional drives such as anger, fear, and so forth are governed by the limbic system which includes the hypothalamus which also has some influence over the autonomic system. The yin aspect of the body which refers to the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic system also controls the lacrimal glands via the neurotransmitter acetylcholine through both the nicotinic and muscarinic receptors. When these receptors are activated, the lacrimal glands are stimulated to produce tears.
Considering the ages-old Chinese appellation of albizia as the ‘tree of happiness’ referring to its traditional use of easing feelings of grief as a result of the loss of anything near and dear, and the fact that prolactin is responsible for the expression of this, it could very well be that this hormone is in some way regulated by the complex chemistry of albizia. Because human hormones interact with each other in complex ways much like the instruments in an orchestra, it would be very difficult to prove that prolactin alone is the only hormone affected by albizia; certainly a case could be made for a possible relationship between albizia and serotonin, a neurotransmitter sometimes dubbed ‘the happiness hormone.’ But my own clinical experience with patients taking albizia shows that some have specifically remarked how they were less inclined to ‘˜tear up’ as easily over some sad occasion. As prolactin has a specific relationship to tears, it just may be that somewhere between the serotonin-prolactin cascade, there is a valid biochemical relationship with the herb albizia.