Energy Theory

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Living organisms can be viewed as systems of energy that are comprised of subsystems of energy (e.g., cells, organs). These systems perform work by obtaining energy and distributing energy to one another. For example, the brain performs work that enables thought and behavior, and it uses glucose and oxygen from the blood as energy to perform this work.

Energy Theory posits that mental and physical health require an optimal amount of energy for each system. For example, optimal thought and behavior requires that the brain has an optimal amount of glucose and oxygen. Mental and physical illness can arise when energy is low, such as when cells compete for (rather than share) finite energy needed to perform work. Examples include the following:


Impaired Self-Control

Self-control is the capacity for change enacted by the self. People commonly use self-control to diet, spend less money, be nice to others, and use less nicotine, alcohol, or drugs. Glucose is one energy on which self-control relies. When glucose is low, self-control is impaired ((Fairclough & Houston, 2004); Gailliot et al., 2007 [1]; Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007 [2]).

Premenstrual Symptoms

During the luteal phase phase of the menstrual cycle, women are more likely to display signs of impaired self-control, including increased aggression ((Bond, Critchlow, & Wingrove, 2003); (Van Goozen et al., 1996)), crime ((Brunetti & Taff, 1984); (D’Orban, 1983); (D’Orban & Dalton, 1980); (Ellis & Austin, 1971, as cited in Easteal, 1991); (Lombroso & Ferrero, 1894, as cited in Abplanalp, 1985)), and conflict with others ((Coughlin, 1990); Gallant, Popiel, Hoffman, Chakraborty, & Hamilton, 1992a; Gallant et al., 1992b; (Harrison, Endicott, Nee, Glick, & Rabkin, 1989); (Keye et al., 1986); (Pearlstein, Halbreich, et al., 2000); (Ryser, & Feinauer, 1992)), as well as increased intake of food ((Allen, Hatsukami, Christianson, & Brown, 2000); (Barr, Janelle, & Prior, 1995); (Buffenstein, Poppitt, McDevitt, & Prentice, 1995); (Cross, Marley, Miles, & Willson, 2001); (Evans, Haney, Levin, Foltin, & Fischman, 1996); (Johnson, Corrigan, Lemmon, Bergeron, & Crusco, 1994); (Lee & Lee, 1992); (Li, Tsang, & Lui, 1999); (Verri, 1997)), nicotine ((Allen, Hatsukami, Christianson, & Nelson, 1996); (Carpenter, Upadhyaya, LaRowe, Saladin, & Brady, 2006); (Craig, Parrott, & Coomber, 1992); (De Bon, Klesges, & Klesges, 1995); (Marks, Hair, Klock, Ginsburg, & Pomerleau, 1994); (Mello, Mendelson, & Palmieri, 1987); (Snively, Ahijevych, Bernhard, &Wewers, 2000); (Steinberg & Cherek, 1989)), drugs ((Marks, Hair, Klock, Ginsburg, & Pomerleau, 1994)), alcohol ((Chait, 1986); (Deuster, Adera, & South-Paul, 1999); (Epstein et al., 2006); (Evans, Haney, Levin, Foltin, & Fischman, 1996); (Mello, Mendelson, & Lex, 1990); (Tobin, Schmidt, & Rubinow, 1994)), and caffeine ((Rossignol, 1985)). During the luteal phase, the ovaries [3] require increased energy to produce estrogen [4]and progesterone [5]((Dalton, 1999); (Landgren, Unden, & Diczfalusy, 1980); (Mayo, 1997); (Webb, 1986)). It is possible that self-control is impaired during the luteal phase because energy is diverted to the ovaries and away from other cells (e.g., neurons [6]).

  1. During the luteal phase, glycogen in the vaginal epithelium decreases (p. 1875, Gray's Anatomy). This supports the idea that metabolic demands increase during the luteal phase.


People with diabetes [7] are more likely to experience stress and anxiety than people without diabetes ((Eren, Erdi, & Özcankaya, 2003); (Fris & Nanjundappa, 1986); (Lustman, Griffith, Clouse, & Cryer, 1986); (Popkin, Callies, Lentz, & Colon, 1988); (Wells, Golding, & Burnam, 1989)). Stress and anxiety increase the use of glucose [8] by the brain ((Barglow, Hatcher, Edidin, & Sloan-Rossiter, 1984); (Kety, 1950)). It is possible that this increase diverts energy to the brain and away from other cells (e.g., primarily fat and muscle cells), keeping energy (glucose) in the bloodstream. In support of this theory is evidence linking diabetes to increases in Glut-1 [9](which facilitates glucose entering the brain; (Jansson, Wennergren, & Powell, 1999); (Kumagai, Kang, Boado, & Pardridge, 1995)) and decreases in Glut-4 [10](which facilitates glucose entering fat and muscle cells; (Stenbit et al., 1997)) and Glut-2 (which facilitates glucose entering pancreas and liver cells; (Guillam et al., 1997); (Valera et al., 1994)), suggesting that transporter activity [11] may be altered so as to facilitate the flow of metabolic energy to the brain.

Psychological Demands & Physical Illness and Disease

Excessive psychological demands are associated with increases in physical illness. Excessive psychological demands entail increased glucose [12] use by the brain ((Barglow, Hatcher, Edidin, & Sloan-Rossiter, 1984); (Kety, 1950)). It is possible that the increased use of glucose by the brain diverts energy from processes that reduce physical illness.

  1. Excessive psychological demands are associated with increases in physical illness. Excessive psychological demands entail increased glucose use by the brain ((Barglow, Hatcher, Edidin, & Sloan-Rossiter, 1984)). Psychological demands, therefore, might increase physical illness because the brain uses metabolic energy (glucose) that would otherwise be used by the immune system [13] to reduce physical illness.


Glucose [14] use can be increased among people with (vs. without) cancer [15], possibly because tumors consume additional glucose ((Weber et al., 2003); (Younes, Lechago, Somoano, Mosharaf, & Lechago, 1996)). Some evidence indicates that frontal lobe executive functioning and memory are impaired among people with cancer (even before cancer treatment), compared to those without cancer ((Cleeland et al., 2003); (Meyers, Albitar, & Estey, 2005); (Meyers, Byrne, & Komaki, 1995)). It is possible that cancer cells divert energy from processes benefiting executive functioning and memory.


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