Monday, November 28, 2022

Comments by benjamindavidsteele

Showing 44 of 44 comments.

  • On a note of personal curiosity, I must admit that I really find fascinating the historical texts, such as what I quoted from above where the mental health epidemic was observed as early as the 18th century. I love using Google Books to explore old texts that are in the public domain. It’s particularly intriguing when one comes across statements from centuries ago that remain true to this day. We think of so many of our problems as ‘modern’, by which we typically mean the world of the past century. But most of the concerns we have now aren’t fundamentally different than the concerns going back quite early in Western history, with much of the framing and concerns of our ‘modern’ thought having originated in the Axial Age of more than two millennia ago.

    Consider that egalitarianism was one of the main teachings of the Axial Age prophets, if it took a long time to take hold in terms of political movements and ideologies. That can be seen with how ‘modern’ class identity and class war, including proto-communism, began at least as early as the 17th century English Civil War and maybe earlier with the radically egalitarian message of the 14th century English Peasants’ Revolt. Or consider that the culture war and moral panic about women in the workplace, sexual promiscuity, abortions, white population decline, etc didn’t suddenly appear in the 1960s but was strongly heard in the decades prior to the American Civil War (e.g., 1 in 5 pregnancies were aborted during that period). That is the core of my message. If we don’t fully and comprehensively know our own history, we will continue to repeat it as was done so many times before. Since we don’t understand and appreciate the underlying issues, they are never resolved and instead keep getting worse.

  • By the way, there is only one point where my own view diverges strongly from that of rebel. I think it’s problematic to lump all ‘drugs’ together, partly because the modern concept of ‘drugs’ is so vague. Every substance (plant, mineral, nutrient, supplement, pharmaceutical, industrial chemical, etc) that has a physiological effect could be labeled as a ‘drug’. That really doesn’t tell us anything about the specific effects of specific substances or what differentiates between them.

    Even limiting ourselves to the conventional notion of ‘drugs’ doesn’t help all that much. There is a vast difference between psychedelics on the one hand and the uppers and downers on the other. That is one of the main issues I bring up, particularly in a historical context. When one reads about the past in comparison to the present, what stands out is the rise of addictive drugs (not only the hard drugs but also nicotine, caffeine, and sugar) in how they’ve largely replaced what are variously called psychedelics, hallucinogens, and entheogens.

    What stands out about the latter is that they are non-addictive, which is true even of the artificially produced psychedelics. One could take LSD, a derivative of ergot, one day but it would have no effect if one took it the next day. Also, there is no addictive craving and compulsion to immediately take it again. In fact, some psychedelics like Ayahuasca are well known as being anti-addictive, in that they can reverse addiction to other substances as if it somehow resets the body-mind. This is easy to understand for anyone who has used psychedelics, but near impossible to explain to those without such experience.

  • I don’t see a contradiction between the mind being part of the body and the possibility of the mind being more than the body. The mind is also part of the larger society and culture, along with part of our immersion in the world. One can even include a spiritual component of mind and I’m fine with that. Most people have an extremely narrow understanding of mind, as they do embodiment.

    I’m critical of the ego theory of the mind. Instead, I prefer a broader understanding from the social sciences, specifically that of the bundle theory of mind (e.g., animism and bicameralism) and 4E cognition (embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended). You might notice that 4E cognition includes the mind as embodied, i.e., as part of the body; but not limited to a narrow sense of embodiment.

    That is because our embodiment is within and inseparable from a larger world. All of experiential reality is embodied, in that it has form. Take hunter-gatherers who often have a sense of ‘personal space’ and identity that includes not only the tribe but extends into the sensed perceptual field of the world immediately around them.

    I honestly don’t see how any meaningful Cartesian divide can be made between a disembodied mind and a mindless embodied world. That seems like false consciousness to me. But I suspect your ‘technical distinction’ is referring to something else entirely. Maybe you could clarify your position, as we likely aren’t really or entirely disagreeing. Were my own clarifications in this comment are helpful? My previous comments were simply pointing to the links between body and mind, not offering it up as any metaphysical claims upon all of reality and human experience.

  • Thanks for the compliment. And I’ll consider submitting it, although I feel little motivation to do so. I have a feeling it would draw a lot of criticism because such a large view is bound to step on many people’s toes. My analysis challenges the take of most people on all sides of such debates, from the conventional healthcare practitioners to the standard healthcare reformers (e.g., one is likely to wind a lot of people up merely by calling sugar an addictive drug). As you might suspect, I’ve written about this before. Much of the text I posted here was lifted from my own Marmalade blog on WordPress.

    I have a number of posts along these lines: “The Crisis of Identity”, “The Disease of Nostalgia”, “Autism and the Upper Crust”, “The Agricultural Mind”, “Diets and Systems”, “The Drugged Up Birth of Modernity”, “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”, etc. It relates to other posts about how history repeats: “Technological Fears and Media Panics”, “Rate of Moral Panic”, etc. I also have a number of posts on the work of Johann Hari (addiction), Kevin Drum (lead toxicity), and others focused on what influences us. It’s a fascinating area of study, at least to my curious mind. But I find myself feeling less and less drawn to putting my views out there because of all the weirdness (mental illness?) on the internet.

  • There is one simple reason I emphasize diet, nutrition, and eating patterns (e.g., intermittent fasting). Besides the scientific evidence showing its importance, there is a more basic level to the human experience of food. Eating and fasting are things we do on a daily basis, and so we have much individual control of this area of life. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that is right at the base of issues to be dealt with.

    It’s true that we also control what drugs we put into our body, at least most of us do. Children, the elderly, and the institutionalized, of course, often have less control in making decisions for themselves. Then again, most of us never made decisions about how and what we eat, as it is simply what we learned as children and absorbed from the culture around us.

    Part of my intention is to bring awareness to what is potentially within our control. But that isn’t necessarily to argue that it’s the only important factors. If I was forced to only change one single factor, it probably actually wouldn’t be diet. Instead, it would be to vastly improve environmental conditions, not only toxins but ensuring everyone in the world has access to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, clean soil to grow food in; along with access to nature, green spaces, etc that are part of thriving ecosystems and a healthy biosphere.

    That is being a bit ambitious, though. We need to start with baby steps. Dietary changes are something that are easy to do on a personal level and offer one massive bang for the bucks. Also, improving metabolic health reverberates through every area of health, including helping one to more effectively eliminate toxins from one’s body. It’s a practical step to take and one that most people underestimate. That is based on not only the science but my own experience. Using very low-carb diets, I was able to make much of my ‘depression’ go away, although decades of depressive habits still linger.

    Anyway, it’s not as if I have any doubt that you are fully correct about how much we modern Westerners are impacted by drugs of all sorts. I take that very seriously. I’ve chosen to avoid most drugs, pharmaceutical and recreational. I even gave up caffeine last year and don’t plan on ever going back. Having been a sugar addict for most of my life, I also consider sugar to be a drug to be avoided. But even many beneficial supplements are basically ‘drugs’ and I do take supplements.

    The other component you bring up is that drugs get into the water supply. That relates to the issue of numerous chemicals, toxic and otherwise, that likewise get into the water, air, and soil. We are surrounded by chemicals. That goes to my environmental concern and that most definitely would include cleaning up the secondary exposure of drugs, in the way we so obsessively eliminated secondhand smoke in public spaces.

    That would be a great societal project, but unfortunately it is one that we individually have little control over, other than for those who can afford to buy high quality bottled water or buy an expensive and highly effective water filtration system. Then again, to the degree we do have control of it, I’d see it as part of my dietary focus. Water, after all, is part of the diet. We need water for drinking and cooking. Indeed, it’s part of my own dietary practices to mostly avoid water that isn’t either filtered or from a spring source.

  • You are right to put such things into a societal context. The point you make is correct but limited in scope, in being limited to recent history. My argument is simply that what is required is an even larger societal context. Also, it’s not either/or but both/and. Besides, the line between diet and drugs can be thin, as many substances in both categories come from plants, such how anything with carbs (grains, potatoes, sugar, honey, dairy, etc) can be fermented into alcohol, something humans discovered long before civilization (some animals like elephants seem to stash fruit on purpose to let it ferment before eating it).

    Then you have such things as ergot that commonly grew on wheat in the past; not to mention the wide variety of psychoactive herbs, some mild and others powerful, that were infused into alcohol, cooked into foods, or otherwise imbibed often with meals. And we can’t forget that mushrooms can be either food or drugs, some psychedelic but others medicinal. I mentioned that reindeer will eat psilocybin mushrooms and will leap about, possibly the origins of Santa’s flying reindeer. A wide variety of animals consume various plants, mushrooms, and other substances for various purposes, far from being limited to mere health. It seems to be an evolved trait of many species. The word ‘drug’ is a later verbal concept that humans invented.

    Heck, it’s not even only BOTH diet AND drugs, but also a slew of factors over the past few centuries: mass urbanization and industrialization, toxins and a diversity of chemicals (e.g., hormone mimics and disruptors), stress from rising inequality, and no doubt much else could be added. Even something as simple as literacy rates and a literary culture may have a more profound impact human neurocognition than we usually recognize, maybe even contributing to mental health issues. Or else there is the breakdown of traditional rural communities and kin networks, something that has started centuries before the modern era. Humans have been using ‘drugs’ for millennia, including such things as marijuana, without any apparent harm; and yet drug problems have become serious. Johann Hari argues that addiction has less to do with the drugs themselves than with the changes in society that have isolated people.

  • There is no doubt that increased chemical load of all sorts is contributing to problems. It’s not only psychiatric and other medications. There are also an increase of chemicals used for agriculture, food additives, packaging, fire retardants, cleaning, technology, etc. Heavy metal toxicity rates are a bit more mixed. Mercury keeps accumulating in the environment, but we have gotten better in regulating lead pollution. Yet many poor communities still have high rates of lead toxicity from old pain, old pipes, and old industrial sites. Even asbestos is associated with lower IQ and, in some poor communities, there are still public schools with asbestos. One could also note the greater use of antibiotics, hand sanitizers, water plants, and hygienic production of food that has saved lives, even as it has also decimated the good microbes that are associated with health, including mental health and neurocognitive health.

    About medical and recreational drugs, those have existed for centuries. During the uptick of trade during the late Middle Ages to early Modernity, there was the introduction and popularization in the West of a wide variety of drugs: opium, cocaine, tobacco, tea, coffee, etc. Corresponding to the increase of uppers and downers, there appears to have been a simultaneous decreased use of psychedelics or, if you prefer, entheogens. A number of scholars discuss the once widespread use of entheogens in religion and across diverse cultures going back millennia (e.g., hunter-gatherers often use psychedelics not only for ritual practice, but including giving them to their dogs to make their senses acute for hunting), with some speculating that psychedelics played a role in the evolution of the human mind and language. When looking at Christian and Christmas iconography from centuries ago, it’s not uncommon to come across images of psilocybin mushrooms (check out the history of Christmas symbolism that involves psilocybin mushrooms that grow under evergreen trees, eaten by reindeer, and used by Siberian shamans; the later likely being the source of much of the Santa Claus mythology).

    After hops began being used as a modern preservative in commercially made beers, the mildly psychedelic herbs were used less and less in beers, along with ergot in grains being better controlled; not to mention tea and coffee ever more replacing alcohol. Mentioned by the historian Owen Davies, there is a funny account published in 1850 about ‘nappy’ (strong) ales that likely were hallucinogenic: “How do you account,” said a north country minister of the last age (the late Rev. Mr. M’Bean, of Alves,) to a sagacious old elder of his session, “for the almost total disappearance of the ghosts and fairies that used to be common in your young days?” “Tak’ my word for’t, minister,” replied the old man, “it’s a’ owing to the tea; whan the tea cam’ in, ghaists an’ fairies gaed out. Weel do I mind whan at a’ our neebourly meetings — bridals, christenings, lyke-wakes, an’ the like — we entertained ane anither wi’ rich nappy ale; an’ when the verra dowiest o’ us used to get warm i’ the face, an’ a little confused i’ the head, an’ weel fit to see amaist onything when on the muirs on yer way hame. But the tea has put out the nappy; an’ I have remarked that by losing the nappy we lost baith ghaists and fairies.”

    What is particularly amusing is the thought that supernatural experiences of ghosts and fairies declined with the modern mind being overtaken with mental illness. If one is familiar with the work of Julian Jaynes, the significance of this neurocognitive shift is immense. “The tea pots full of warm water,” as Samuel Tissot put in his 1768 An Essay on Diseases Incident to Literary and Sedentary Persons, “I see upon their tables, put me in mind of Pandora’s box, from whence all sorts of evils issue forth, with this difference however, that they do not even leave the hopes of relief behind them; but, on the contrary, by inducing hypochondriac complaints, diffuse melancholy and despair.” Also, particularly in the 1800s, doctors started using a growing variety of drugs, from natural sources and man-made. But also a wide variety of drugs became available in any local store, and so what followed was the appearance of high rates of drug addiction to opium and cocaine. Some of the late 19th century and early 20th century doctors that treated and wrote about ‘neurasthenia’ also saw drug addiction as related. As you probably know, cocaine was in the original recipe of Coca-Cola. It was also a common over-the-counter medication for nerves, exhaustion, headaches, and about anything that ailed you.

    All of this was going on during a period of widescale change. The enclosure movement began in the 1300s and, with feudalism being replaced by capitalism, privatization of the commons was promoted strongly by the government in the 1700s. This suddenly created millions of landless peasants flooding into cities every year, but the movement toward urbanization actually began much earlier during feudalism when the aristocracy and a emerging bourgeois ownership class began spending less time in feudal villages and more time in the capitol and other larger cities. Barbara Ehrenreich, in Dancing in the Streets, notes that writings from the time described new worries about melancholia along with related issues of mental and moral health, specifically among this urbanized elite (spread of literacy likely played a major role, as described by Joseph Henrich, Marshall McLuhan, and others). Many of the modern diseases, from diabetes to nervous disorders, first appeared among the upper classes and ‘brain workers’; which were those exposed the most to industrial chemicals, a modern diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and much else.

    Among various things, the early changes during the Middle Ages did lead to an obsession with diet, specifically according to the Christianization of ancient Greek Galenic humoralism (Ken Albala & Trudy Eden, Food and Faith in Christian Culture). It was understood that food had a powerful effect on mentality, mood, and behavior. The earliest colonial trade was bringing commercial goods mostly for the wealthy, such as sugar which was not only expensive but also often controlled as a drug and only sold in drug stores, as it was considered to be highly addictive (the reason that the wealthy kept it under lock and key). Besides sugar, trade also brought a higher carb diet in general with more access to potatoes, rice, corn, etc. Improved agriculture was simultaneously increasing production. The first reliable surplus yields of wheat in the West didn’t happen until the early 1800s. Combined with industrial milling, for the first time in the Western world, wheat and particularly white flour was available to the average person, instead of being limited to the upper classes. That began the modern love affair with white bread.

    Of course, mass urbanization had been going on in Britain and much of Europe for more than a century at that point, if it wouldn’t happen as dramatically in the US until later. That came with early industrialization and hence industrial chemicals, such as lead used in printing presses, hat production, and elsewhere (e.g., mad as a hatter) — Benjamin Franklin, working in printing, warned against lead toxicity and wouldn’t use heated lead type. By the way, the first mass lead toxicity began in the late 1800s with the commercialization of lead paint, initially used on barns; and this corresponded with a rise of rural violent crime, as later happened with lead toxicity and a spike of urban crime from the late 1960s to late 1980s (it takes a 20 year lag time for violent crime to go back down after environmental regulations because it impacts early child development with the worst consequences happening when individuals reach adulthood).

    During early modernity, it also was becoming more common to use food additives, such as all kinds of substances being added to bread to make it even cheaper; and that led to lot of problems during the Victorian Age in a then unregulated food industry where many people were getting sick. Interestingly, that was also the first period of a Western public health crisis that went along with the tuberculosis epidemic (some of the main treatments for tuberculosis included animal foods and sunshine, both of which raise vitamin D3 levels that is important for immune functioning). During some war in the late 1800s, the British government found that a large number of draftees were too malnourished and sickly to serve. That same thing happened later in the US when American men were drafted in WWII and it was found many simply weren’t healthy enough to serve, which is why there was such a post-war push for nutritionally-fortified foods, school lunch programs, etc.

    This isn’t only speculation in hindsight. Many at the time wrote about the rising levels of disease, physical and mental, from the 1700s to 1800s. This was particularly seen in the words of doctors, but also found in texts of missionaries, explorers, etc who compared health between ‘civilized’ and ‘primitive’ people. This is where there came an awareness of the ‘diseases of civilization’. Prior to the American Revolution, there was already moral panics about mental health that included concerns of depression and suicide, such as the fears projected onto the new Romance genre novels (e.g., Werther effect from young people obsessively reading novels like The Sorrows of Young Werther, even with their heads stuck in books as they walked down the street; basically, the exact same fear-mongering one hears today about smart phones).

    There was also a lot of talk about nervous conditions and diseases (“A multitude of Regency terms like “flutterings,” “fidgets,” “agitations,” “vexations,” and, above all, “nerves” are the historical equivalents to what we would now recognize as physiological stress.” Bryan Kozlowski, The Jane Austen Diet, p. 231); along with the appearance of ‘nostalgia’ as a disease with physical symptoms (e.g., brain inflammation; see: Michael S. Roth, Memory, Trauma, and History; David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country; Thomas Dodman, What Nostalgia Was; Susan J. Matt, Homesickness; Linda Marilyn Austin, Nostalgia in Transition, 1780-1917; Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia; Gary S. Meltzer, Euripides and the Poetics of Nostalgia). More pedestrian diseases were also observably worsening, far from limited to a prevalence of obesity. The need to treat diabetes became important for doctors, including the first keto diet used for this purpose in the 1790s. Even more serious diseases, such as cancer, were coming to attention; but also ever more concern about mental illness.

    In 1726, Jonathan Swift wrote, “Besides real diseases we are subject to many that are only imaginary, for which the physicians have invented imaginary cures; these have then several names, and so have the drugs that are proper to them.” In 1809, Jonathan Haslam wrote, “The alarming increase in Insanity, as might naturally be expected, has incited many persons to an investigation of this disease.” And in 1843, the physician Stanislas Tanchou wrote, “Cancer, like insanity, seems to increase with the progress of civilization” (intriguingly, Tanchou did a statistical analysis that correlated the rate of grain consumption with the rate of cancer). In 1843, Edward Jarvis wrote, “It cannot be denied that civilization, in its progress, is rife with causes which over-excite individuals, and result in the loss of mental equilibrium.” In 1871, Dr. Silas Mitchell Weir wrote, “Have we lived too fast?” And in 1877, Henry Maudsley wrote, “It is clear that if it goes on with the same ruthless speed for the next half century . . . the sane people will be in a minority at no very distant day.” Then, near the end of that century in 1899, Archibald Church and Frederick Peterson wrote, “The proportion of the insane to normal individuals may be stated to be about 1 to 300 of the population, though this proportion varies somewhat within narrow limits among different races and countries. It is probable that the intemperate use of alcohol and drugs, the spreading of syphilis, and the overstimulation in many directions of modern civilization have determined an increase difficult to estimate, but nevertheless palpable, of insanity in the present century as compared with past centuries.”

    The observation of and often moral panic about health epidemics, specifically mental health epidemics, goes back centuries (Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, & Society of Individuals; Bruce Mazlish, Civilization and Its Contents; Keith Thomas, In Pursuit of Civility; Stephen Mennell, The American Civilizing Process; Cas Wouters, Informalization; Jonathan Fletcher, Violence and Civilization; François Dépelteau & ‎T. Landini, Norbert Elias and Social Theory; Rob Watts, States of Violence and the Civilising Process; Pieter Spierenburg, Violence and Punishment; Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature; Eric Dunning & Chris Rojek, Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process; D. E. Thiery, Polluting the Sacred; Helmut Kuzmics, Roland Axtmann, Authority, State and National Character; Mary Fulbrook, Un-Civilizing Processes?; John Zerzan, Against Civilization; Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization; Dennis Smith, Norbert Elias and Modern Social Theory; Stejpan Mestrovic, The Barbarian Temperament; Thomas Salumets, Norbert Elias and Human Interdependencies). By the late 1800s, among the upper classes, there was an obsession with the nervous disorder called ‘neurasthenia’, which interestingly often was treated similarly as tuberculosis by strengthening the body with animal foods (i.e., fat-soluble vitamins).

    As civilization became complex, so did the human mind in having to adapt to it and sometimes that hit a breaking point in individuals; or else what was previously considered normal behavior was now judged unacceptable, the latter explanation favored by Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz (also see Bruce Levine’s article, Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness). Whatever the explanation, something that once was severely abnormal had become normalized and, as it happened with insidious gradualism, few noticed and would accept what had changed “Living amid an ongoing epidemic that nobody notices is surreal. It is like viewing a mighty river that has risen slowly over two centuries, imperceptibly claiming the surrounding land, millimeter by millimeter. . . . Humans adapt remarkably well to a disaster as long as the disaster occurs over a long period of time” (E. Fuller Torrey & Judy Miller, Invisible Plague; also see Torrey’s Schizophrenia and Civilization); “At the end of the seventeenth century, insanity was of little significance and was little discussed. At the end of the eighteenth century, it was perceived as probably increasing and was of some concern. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was perceived as an epidemic and was a major concern. And at the end of the twentieth century, insanity was simply accepted as part of the fabric of life. It is a remarkable history.”

    All of the changes were mostly happening over generations and centuries, which left little if any living memory from when the changes began. Many thinkers like Torrey and Miller would be useful for fleshing this out, but here is a small sampling of authors and their books: Harold D. Foster’s What Really Causes Schizophrenia, Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization, Alain Ehrenberg’s Weariness of the Self, etc; and I shouldn’t ignore the growing field of Jaynesian scholarship such as found in the books put out by the Julian Jaynes Society. Besides social stress and societal complexity, there was much else that was changing. For example, increasing concentrated urbanization and close proximity with other species meant ever more spread of infectious diseases and parasites (consider toxoplasma gondii from domesticated cats; see E. Fuller Torrey’s Beasts of Earth). Also, as already mentioned, the 18th century saw the beginnings of industrialization with the related rise of toxins (Dan Olmsted & Mark Blaxill, The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic). That worsened over the following century and, in many ways, continues to worsen.

  • I was reminded of the nutritionist Mary Ruddick. She is one of the many people inspired by Dr. Price’s work. She followed his example by traveling around the world to study healthy traditional populations. She has seen the same pattern of closely tied physical health and mental health. Some of the populations she studied were African tribes, such as the Hadza and Pygmies. Most of them are slowly being introduced to modern society, such as education. She visited rural schools to talk to the teachers. She asked them about autism. The teachers knew what autism was and what were the typical behaviors associated with it. But when asked if they knew any cases of autism, they stated they had never seen it among their students. It does appear that rates of autism are increasing, not merely being diagnosed more.

    The same is seen with an entirely different condition like psychosis with worsening rates among young urbanites. So, it seems directly related to something about modern urbanized lifestyle, diet, or environment. If these rapidly growing mental health and neurocognitive conditions are social deviancy, then social deviancy is quickly becoming normalized. Put on top of that other debilitating and destructive neurocognitve conditions like Alzheimer’s that is also ever more being seen among the young, even though in the past it was known as an old person’s disease. So, what is going on? There is a public health epidemic going on, and it has long reached the level of crisis. Yet there is little public debate or political action in determining the obviously widespread and presumably systemic causes. This is definitely not a mere individual issue.

    Consider the dietary angle. In spite of all our increased knowledge, there has been little improvement in official dietary recommendations and most healthcare workers remain ignorant. Instead, all of the skyrocketing rates of physical and mental illness is simply more opportunity for profit. The healthcare professionals, hospitals, insurance companies, and drug companies are all getting their share of the big money rolling in. The increased healthcare spending means increased profitability, even as some predict it might bankrupt our society in the coming decades. Meanwhile, many activists and reformers respond with talk of neurodiversity. So, autism, psychosis, Alzheimer’s, and on and on — all of that is neurodiversity? Well, if that’s the case, then there has been a vastly growing amount of neurodiversity in the population.

    None of this normalization of the abnormal, in any direction, is helpful. Yet it appears that some simple measures could have massive impact. Change dietary guidelines, teach healthcare workers about the actual research on diet and nutrition, and do more and better testing on nutritional deficiencies. Definitely test for toxins as well, clean up the toxins, and increase environmental regulations. But also eliminate high inequality and the endless problems that go with it. Other things could be added. We know many of the solutions to the problems. Now we just need to work on building the public knowledge, public debate, and public demand that will make possible the political will to make reforms happen.

  • The concept of social deviancy, in this case, would imply that mental illness is abnormal with only a minority who are mentally ill and hence there is a normal majority who would maintain and enforce social norms. But one might question what has become normalized in this society. One might even go so far as to suspect that the vast majority of the American population — and maybe the global population as well — is mentally ill or otherwise has health issues involving neurocognition, nervous system, hormonal system, gut-brain axis, etc. How could it be otherwise? The mind is part of the body and it’s not as if Americans are all that physically healthy. One could argue our whole society is sickly, in every sense of that term.

    Toxicity rates and nutritional deficiencies are surprisingly still high, particularly in disadvantaged communities, but also in the general population. Even worse, some data shows that 88% of Americans are metabolically unfit with at least one and often multiple health conditions or diseases of metabolic syndrome: insulin resistance, type II diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, non-fatty liver disease, etc. That isn’t including other possible metabolic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s (AKA type III diabetes); nor does it include autoimmune disorders (multiple sclerosis, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, etc), often diet-related; not to mention the panopoly of other diseases, — many of them involving stress, inflammation, and/or mitochondrial dysfunction — that have been rising in modern industrial countries. On a related note, this is also seen with the numerous studies on rising inequality as strongly linked to a vast array of diseases.

    But, on a more basic level, all one has to do is look at some photographs of healthy hunter-gatherers or any other healthy traditional population, such as the photographs taken by Dr. Weston A. Price in the early 1900s, and then observe the bodies of Americans today — even those in well-off communities where nearly everyone has access to healthcare, supplements, gyms, parks, toxin-free environments, clean water, sick leave, vacations, and healthy food (or supposedly healthy food). What one will see is not only a lot of people who are obese, physically unfit, and lacking full musculature but also evidence of bone structure that is some combination of underdeveloped and maldeveloped. Look at all of the people who have thin bones, narrow faces, crowded teeth, underbites, overbites, or asymmetrical features, who are flatfooted, pigeon-toed, or otherwise look awkward in their own bodies. This is not normal.

    By the way, Dr. Weston A. Price didn’t only study physical health, although that was his main focus, as with his measurement of nutrient levels in population diets. He discovered vitamin K2, which he called ‘Activator X’. Besides the obvious signs of health, he also observed what he described as ‘moral health’. What he noticed was that physically health populations were also generally happy, friendly, kind, generous, helpful, forgiving, etc. The main difference he was able to determine is that these people were eating highly nutritious diets that included plenty of fat-soluble vitamins from animal foods (e.g., butter). Research since then has confirmed his theory and expanded upon it. Many aspects of diet and eating patterns (low-carb, portion control, fasting, etc) have proven to involve mechanisms (ketosis, autophagy, AMPK/mTOR regulation, anti-inflammation, etc) that profoundly improve numerous health conditions, physical and mental (metabolic diseases, mood disorders, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders, etc). The evidence is overwhelming at this point.

  • That is a fair criticism. Anyway, it’s not as if I’m defending antidepressants or other psychiatric medications. But I’m simply pointing out that physiological results are often complex and messy. Some people claim to have benefits from antidepressants and I’m not willing to dismiss their experience, even as I’m wary of overprescription of pharmaceuticals.

    As for the paper, I noticed that it is stated that, “It would be extremely odd if antidepressants directly and concomitantly promoted both neurogenesis and neuronal apoptosis.” I’m not sure what is the basis of that claim. Consider that long-term fasting induces autophagy with simultaneous elimination of cells and growth of new cells. In three days of fasting, every cell in the immune system is replaced.

    One could negatively conclude that fasting kills off all of one’s immune cells, which is true; and yet it misses the point that this improves immune functioning with new immune cells. Fasting has a similar effect on muscle cells, and it’s true that too much fasting will cause muscle wasting, but then immediately after fasting the body kicks cell production into high gear. Similarly, some drugs and supplements, including from plants, can mimic fasting with this kind of dual effect on cells.

    So, cell death doesn’t by itself tell us that more cells are dying than being generated. I’m not conversant with the research in this area and I won’t pretend to know the evidence on both sides of the debate, as I’m not defending either side. I have no dog in that fight, as I don’t take antidepressants nor recommend them. One might think it would be relatively easy to determine this neurogenesis issue, though.

    Researchers could take a group of depressives on antidepressants. And test for decreases in depressive symptoms, such that it could be determined who responds well. Then, using brain scans on those high responders, measure their brain size over years or even decades to see if it grows or shrinks. That would determine if SSRIs are causing a net gain or a net loss of brain cells. The problem is the drug companies wouldn’t likely pay for such research and so funding would be hard to come by.

  • I don’t find it unbelievable that particular SSRIs might have specific benefits like neurogenesis. There is a small but significant percentage of people who apparently do experience improvements, for whatever reason. That isn’t to say they are necessarily overall beneficial.

    Many chemicals can cause results that are a mix of good and bad. Smoking a cigarette before taking a test will improve your results, but not many people are going to take up tobacco as a smart drug. Even natural substances in foods or made in the body can have detrimental effects at too high of levels or out of balance with other things.

    About this study, I still wonder what they were measuring and how. As mentioned, depression isn’t a single disorder. So, one wouldn’t expect to find a single pattern in the brain. But that isn’t to say patterns couldn’t be found. My suspicion is these researchers were simply looking at total averages and not at distinct patterns within sub-groups of depressives.

  • I’m reading a book on neurogenesis. Various studies show that brain shrinkage, dell death, and/or decreased neurogenesis is correlated with toxins, inflammation, stress, inadequate sleep, key nutritional deficiencies, sedentary lifestyle, lack of intellectual activity, deprived environment, etc.

    One might note that most of these studies have nothing to do with depression. But, obviously, depression overlaps with many other health conditions and diseases. That is because depression is often more of a symptom than a cause. Interestingly, some anti-depressants increase neurogenesis.

  • One would need to know more info about what they were measuring. We do know from other research that depression is correlated with decreased number of brain cells and decreased synaptic connections between them. This might not show up in general structure but in overall brain size. I’m not sure, but the article doesn’t provide enough detail to ascertain exactly what the researchers were looking at in this study.

  • In expanding upon and strengthening a Marxian critique, others mentioned the importance of focusing on patriarchy, racism, etc. I agree with that and would take it further. Mental health is affected by so many factors, many of them systemic and pervasive within capitalist realism.

    Stress is very much real from poverty and inequality; not to mention overwork and unemployment, debt and homelessness. But there are also physical stressors: untreated health issues, heavy metal toxins, air pollution, etc. An example are the toxic dumps disproportionately located in poor and minority communities.

    There is another example that cuts across the entire population. Capitalism goes hand in hand with unhealthy industrialization of the food system, such as farm chemicals and food additives that cause so much harm. Also, there is nutritional deficiencies, oxidative stress, inflammation, and much else caused by a diet of industrially processed foods high in seed oils and carbs.

    It seems like Marxism, if it is really to get down to the nitty gritty, is going to need to tackle these mundane issues of health. Most of the American population is sickly and/or stunted. Consider that 88% of Americans have one or more conditions that fall under metabolic syndrome: obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, etc. Even cancer is arguably a metabolic disease.

    Along with farm subsidies and such, official dietary guidelines have played a major role in shaping the standard American diet that causes so much disease. Have these and other official guidelines really been shaped by scientific knowledge or by big money interests? In discussions about such things as Marxism and psychiatry, too often basic issues of diet and nutrition get overlooked, even though these are also economic and political issues.

  • It’s similar to Noam Chomsky’s argument that propaganda is needed more in a supposed democracy than under authoritarianism. The reason is that authoritarianism has many other more direct and effective means of social control.

    Propaganda is about getting people to internalize ideology so that they will police, censor, and manage their own identities, thoughts, and behaviors. That is more important in a democracy or a pseudo-democracy where the illusion of freedom has to be maintained.

  • As someone diagnosed with a ‘learning disability’ as a child, I probably would have benefited more from my teachers having been diagnosed with a ‘teaching disability’. That amuses me to think about, but it wasn’t so amusing in my childhood when I struggled within a system that wasn’t designed for my benefit. I was never good at complying, not that I was attempting to rebel either. It’s simply that none of it made sense to my young mind.

  • @oldhead – Your example of early airplane prototypes is useful. Most probably never got off the ground and the few that did quickly crashed. Is an airplane any device designed with the intention of flying or only those devices that actually flew? That seems an important distinction. Besides, we have to shift our understanding even further back.

    Humans probably imagined and argued about the possibility of human flight at least centuries, if not millennia, prior to actual flight being achieved. Even when the Wright brothers invented an actual functioning airplane that was observed in flight, many at the time still denied it was possible. Change happens slowly, until all of a sudden it happens quickly.

  • Nazi Germany had a capitalist class and a working class. There was private ownership of businesses and competitive markets. People worked jobs that paid them wages or salaries. Then, with their money, they bought products on the market and paid for rent and bills.

    Nazism wasn’t socialist in the slightest. Yes, it was corporatocratic authoritarianism (alliance of big gov and big biz), in that there was not democratically free markets. But, as far as that goes, there aren’t democratically free markets in the US either, as the US is a banana republic.

    As for Stalinism, that wasn’t communism either. All that Stalin did was to rebuild the Russian Empire, make himself the new czar, and then industrialized the peasant workforce. One of the first things the Stalinists did was to persecute, imprison, and kill the left-wing labor organizers, trade unionists, Marxists, Trotskyists, and anarcho-syndicalists.

    There has never been a socialist or communist state, much less a Marxist state. If we are to criticize the left, we should do so on the basis of a failure to have yet created an example of such a large-scale left-wing government; but many left-wingers argue that would require an alternative to statism altogether, certainly an alternative to imperialism, Stalinist or otherwise.

  • That is a good answer. I was about to offer a similar comment, but was glad to see you beat me to it. Part of capitalist realism is the caricaturing and obfuscation of all alternatives, in order to shut down radical imagination of other possibilities.

    Within the capitalist reality tunnel, it’s irrelevant what is actually meant by socialism, communism, and Marxism. It’s about rhetoric, not substance. But the problems of capitalism that we face are very much of substance.

  • Jordan Peterson claimed people would be oppressed by Bill C-16. There is nothing in that bill that suggested oppression and there has been no case of anyone oppressed because of it. Using that bill as evidence of social control and censorship is a non-starter.

    Peterson either didn’t understand it or was spreading misinformation, and apparently you don’t understand it either. The moral panic he rode to fame wasn’t based on any genuine concerns. Yet Peterson has never admitted that he was wrong or apologized.

  • I find it odd that, according to this piece, Cohen “also disputes the claim that growing inequality and loss of social support are causing more people to become ‘mentally ill.’” I wonder what he might mean by that. There are studies out there that show a strong correlation between increasing inequality and rates of mental illness.

    Inequality is never only about economics. It does include class divides but, more importantly, involves disparities of power and privilege, political representation and platforms of speech. Also, there are inequalities of resources, education, healthcare, nutritious foods, green spaces, clean air and water, stress reduction, and on and on.

  • I agree with Marianne Williamson on this issue because she is right and the science supports her position. As you know, I too have dealt with depression. And I’ve been on antidepressants multiple times. Some people do get benefit from them, whether temporarily or long term. But I never noticed any positive effect. And that fact is, according to studies, antidepressants are useless or worse to most people being prescribed them. They are known, in some cases, to actually increase suicidal ideation and attempts. This is an open secret.

    The corporate media couldn’t simply state Williamson is correct because big drug is big money and that represents a huge hunk of advertizing money for corporate media. They would never bite the hand that feeds them. We already know much of what helps with depression and other mental illnesses. For most people, many factors by themselves or in combination (plenty of exercise, time spent in nature and sunshine, healthy diet, optimal nutrition, supportive relationsips, quality sleep, low stress, low inequality, etc) will have a thousand times more benefit than drugging people up.

    I really like Williamson. She is my all-time favorite presidential candidate. I know she didn’t have a chance in hell because the establishment would never allow her to be elected. But if she had become president, she would’ve shaken things up. Not because she is all that radical and extremist but because she would’ve been a genuine voice of the people. And as a minister, she has great speaking skills. In one interview, the interviewer was being confrontationally antagonistic and Willliamson handled her like a pro. She never gets ruffled and always comes across as confident.

    Plus, Williamson is a well known minister and author. I’m biased, of course, in my support. She belongs to Unity Church, which I grew up in. That church, by the way, was doing same sex marriages before I was born. Unity doctrine is more liberal than the average atheist. And she has written many books, inclucing on A Course In Miracles (ACIM). I read my grandmother’s copy of the ACIM in high school and read some of Williamson’s books shortly after high school. Unity and ACIM theology is that God, humans, all of Creation is a manifestation of Divine Love. She has also run various organizations to help AIDS victims and much else.

    Could you imagine an extremely liberal and progressive minister as president who preaches love for all of humanity? If anyone could’ve drained the swamp of political corruption and big money interests, it would’ve been Williamson. Sanders would’ve been better than Biden. But Sanders wouldn’t have been a fraction as transformative as she could’ve been.

  • Class status and power hierarchies obviously play a major role. But privilege doesn’t always protect an individual. In the Roman Empire, slaves working in the lead mines had short lives.

    On the other hand, the elite used water from lead pipes, used lead dishes, and sweetened their wine with white lead. Some argue this is what caused the decline of the Roman Empire, as the elite were brain-damaged from lead toxicity — just a theory. For a modern example,

    look to the work of Keith Payne in his book The Broken Ladder. The data shows that high inequality causes problems in society for all involved, poor and rich alike. Sure, the poor get the worst of it. But Payne shows that even the rich in high inequality societies have on average worse rates of mortality, depression, drug abuse, etc as compared to the rich in low inequality societies.

  • The author of the article is an anthropologist, not a mental health worker. Those are two very different fields. An anthropologist doesn’t work with patients, unless they were for some reason observing a population of patients or looking at data about them.

    Also, keep in mind there is no inherent conflict between her position and your own. It isn’t only large societal factors (inequality, political oppression, environmental toxins, etc) that alter epigenetics but also the more individual factors. Psychiatric medications and other drugs can also cause epigenetic changes.

    Some of this research has been done on non-human animals, but much of it has also been done on humans. We know how epigenetics works in the human body. Scientists have been able to detect epigenetic markers that are passed on in humans from one generation to another.

    Only one of the references below is about rats. The rest are about humans.

    Epigenetics in Psychiatry
    2014, Pages 481-496
    Chapter 23 – Epigenetic Effects of Currently Used Psychotropic Drugs
    Marco P.M. Boks

    Epigenetic alterations in depression and antidepressant treatment
    Andreas Menke, MD and Elisabeth B. Binder, MD, PhD

    Effects of Antipsychotic Drugs on the Epigenetic Modification of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Gene Expression in the Hippocampi of Chronic Restraint Stress Rats
    Mi Kyoung Seo,1 Young Hoon Kim,2 Roger S. McIntyre,3,4 Rodrigo B. Mansur,3,4 Yena Lee,3 Nicole E. Carmona,3 Ah Jeong Choi,1 Gyung-Mee Kim,5 Jung Goo Lee ,1,5,6 and Sung Woo Park

    Epigenetic Effects of Drugs of Abuse
    Thomas Heinbockel and Antonei B. Csoka

  • I’m talking about mental health. The fact of the matter is mental health is inseparable from physical health — not only health of the bran but also of the nervous system, immune system, metabolism, etc. And both mental and physical health are inseparable from environmental and public health. That has been the failure of much of mainstream healthcare, mental and otherwise. I’m obviously not arguing against the necessary criticisms when rightly targeted. There are those in this field who need to be held accountable — morally, legally, and politically. On that, we both agree.

    Yet if you look at the scientific literature, you’ll find thousands of studies, meta-analyses, case reports, etc linking mental health to many of these other factors: parasitism, toxicity, diet/nutrition, inequality, poverty, etc. So, there are many practitioners and researchers in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, and neurocognition who are concerned about such things, even if they don’t get the attention they deserve. The point being that it isn’t a failure of the entire field but merely the part of the field dominated by the pharmaceutical industry, which for obvious reasons gets most of the press from corporate media.

    Out of curiosity, I did a search on Mad In America and only found 13 results about diet/nutrition but none on parasitism or toxins, although there was quite a few results on poverty and inequality. Another website I’m familiar with is Psychology Today that regularly publish articles about these topics — they have hundreds of pieces on diet/nutrition, hundreds on poverty and inequality, a little over a hundred on toxicity, and about a hundred on parasitism. It is a well known and researched area, the link between mental, physical, and environmental health.

  • That would be the advantage of a systems approach. Diagnosing individuals with “mental disease” is only meaningful if one assumes the problem is an individual problem and an isolated problem.

    But this all changes once we realize that depression is related to other health issues like toxicity rates and that those other health issues are related to the world around us such as old lead pipes in buildings, lead residue in the soil from old factories, and the toxic dump a politicians decided to locate in poor communities.

    Multiply that by thousands of environmental factors as part of numerous systems: political systems, economic systems, ecosystems, etc. Maybe we should learn from ecosystem science in particular, an entire field that is about the study of complex interrelationships. Rather than diagnosing individuals, we need to be diagnosing our entire society.

  • Once we stop treating humans as isolated individuals, once we stop treating one thing separate from all else, psychiatric medications become far less attractive. Once we realize that by taking simple collective actions like reducing rates of toxicity, parasitism, malnutrition, etc, many supposedly psychiatric conditions will begin to drastically lessen.

    But because of epigenetic changes, it could take several generations to reverse the damage we’ve caused as a society in being so dismissive of the shared conditions of our suffering, not to mention our scapegoating of individuals for the sins of society. That is why we need to make these changes as quickly as possible and so a new systemic way of thinking is necessary.

  • The rat park research is quite the opposite. It was a challenge to the chemical model of psychiatry that believed addiction was a biological disease, maybe genetically determined. The rat park research disproved this. Even with the presence of a highly addictive drug, the rats had no interest in the drug as long they that had plenty of access to all the things that make a rat happy (other rats, toys, good food).

    Johann Hari talks about the evidence among humans. Drug rehab programs that re-create social connections show higher success rates. This is seen on an even larger scale with Portugal changing to compassionate public policy that no longer treated and scapegoated addict as if they were a failed individual and instead sought to help change the social conditions that promoted addiction in the first place. Their drug addiction rates then plummeted.

    It turns out the individual is not separate from the society and world around them. Imagine that.

  • What do you mean that the human is not a system? That is the problem with the conventional healthcare model. Every person and every aspect of a person is treaed as if in isolation.

    So, the individual goes to a doctor to treat their depression, another doctor to treat their psoriasis, and still another doctor to treat thei diabetes — as if the human body and mind aren’t part of the same system. Each doctor has their separate expertise and none is looking at how one thing is affecting another.

    That is precisely the dysfunction in our society that is harming so many people. A system simply means tha one thing relates to and affects another.

    When I was treated by psychiatrists and psychotherapists, no one bothered to test for nutritional deficiences, inflammatory markers, heavy metal toxins, etc. Nor did anyone discuss how my being in poverty in highly unequal and oppressive society might be contributing.

    The false assumption was that my depression was merely ‘psychological’ and ‘individual’. But my depression only went away when I stopped going to psychiatrists and psychotherapists, when instead I started to think about the larger context of what might be causing it.

    I identified the external factors I had control over and changed them to the best of my ability. That worked like magic, even though much remained outside of my control. Thinking of myself as connected to a larger world of systems made me feel not only less powerless but also less isolated and less frustrated.

    Many of the changes I made were relatively simple. But they were only possible to do once I took a systems approach, especially learning from doctors who use functional medicine.

  • To understand complex systems, we need better scientific literacy. Look at the society-wide effect from lead toxicty rates or parasite load. How is it that few people still don’t know about such basic scientific knowledge demonstrating the complexity of human society and health?

    Parasite stress theory indicates that parasites can even change personality and culture. Some parasites directly alter the brain, such as with toxoplasmosis. Parasite exposure is very much an external factor, depending on various environmental and societal conditions. Some places in the Deep South have parasite rates, not to mention poverty and mortality rates, similar or worse than many developing countries.

    Or consider the rat park research related to addiction where changes in social conditions changes behavior. Johann Hari writes about this and has another book showing the social factors behind depression. None of this is merely about the individual in isolation for we are social creatures part of social systems, not to mention political and economic systems and ecosystems.

    Another big factor I left out is epigenetics, which is influenced by environment, collective events, diet, etc. Epigenetics determines genetic expression and research shows that, in some cases, this can get passed on for at least several generations, such as with increased obesity rates of grandchildren following famine experienced before the grandparent had children. So, genetic expression that shapes who we are is inseparable from not only the environmental conditions we’ve experienced but also of what our parents, grandparents, etc have experienced.

    Research has even shown cultural carryover of social behaviors from historical events that happened many centuries before, such as increased xenophobia in villages that protected themselves during the Black Death by keeping out strangers. Also, consider how inequality remains high, even among whites, in places where slavery used to be concentrated. Talk about complexity! We need to teach systems thinking, as part of basic public education.

  • This is a great beginning. People can nitpick at it if they want and public debate is always needed, but there is no other way to move forward. It’s a simple fact that we are not only part of systems but inseparable from them. We are systems within systems. This is the future of healthcare for individuals and as public policy. Individual health is always public health.

    Oppression, disenfranchisement, social stress, interpersonal trauma, violence, economic inequality, poverty, prejudice, malnutrition, toxins, parasites, infectious diseases, etc. There are thousands upon thousands of factors that contribute to our physical and mental health or lack thereof. And none of these factors are merely personal. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as isolated individuals, a false and oppressive ideological realism.

  • I came across my comment again. I realize that, unless someone goes to my blog, they probably won’t know what I’m referring to. Most Americans have never been taught this info and so I can’t assume that anyone here has familiarity with it. Let me give an example to clarify (for more examples and info, go to my blog).

    In many chronic diseases inflammation is a central factor. This is seen in metabolic syndrome and autoimmune disorders, but it is likewise seen as brain inflammation in neurocognitive problems and psychiatric illness, from schizophrenia to mood disorders. Inflammation can be caused by lifestyle factors such as stress, inactivity and inadequate sleep, although some of the most important factors are related to diet and nutrition.

    For example, excess sugar or a generally high-carb diet along with industrial seed oils (i.e., the standard American diet; SAD) contribute to inflammation. And this SAD diet likewise contributes to metabolic syndrome which alters hormonal functioning which deals with appetite signalling and so can alter eating patterns and behaviors.

    This could get diagnosed as an eating disorder when, in reality, it is a dietary disorder. That is to say it’s a bad diet that is messing with the healthy functioning of the entire body. This can manifest in diverse symptoms that get diagnosed as a wide variety of conditions, even though the underlying causal factors might be the same or related.

    This is where something like functional medicine comes in. It looks at the body as a system but also at the totality of the individual’s lifestyle, relationships, and environment. Many systems in the body are interrelated. There are several connections between the gut and the brain, one of which is direct. Or consider insulin which is a hormone that is used as signalling both in the metabolic system and the immune system.

    I came to understand this from personal experience. I went on a very low-carb diet to lose some extra body weight. Unexpectedly, decades of severe depression disappeared and never returned. This is a common experience with a number of other psychiatric and neurocognitive ailments and issues. A lot of research has shown the mechanistic causes behind this.

    I don’t specifically know about eating disorders. But I’d be surprised if it had no relation whatsoever to diet and nutrition.

  • Why not mention how different diets have been shown to cause and alleviate various serious mental health conditions? Maybe eating disorders are real, even if the cause has been misattributed. Maybe it’s not about how someone eats but what they eat.

    The science points to this understanding being more widely applicable: mood disorders, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s, etc. For centuries, experts have been linking mental health to physical health, often emphasizing diet.

    [I posted this comment once, but it had links in it and the comment disappeared. Apparently, links aren’t allowed to be posted. If you want to see the links, go to my WordPress blog Marmalade (benjamindavidsteele) and look for the following posts: “Physical Health, Mental Health”, “Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health”, The Ketogenic Miracle Cure”, “Diets and Systems”, “Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration”, and “The Agricultural Mind”.]

  • The serious problem isn’t that we’ve pathologized eating problems for the minority diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Rather, much worse is that we’ve normalized the eating problems for the majority not diagnosed with anything. The standard American diet, including ‘plant-based’ versions, is a collective sickness.

  • Few people realize that the modern industrial diet is extremely unnatural with its high intake of starchy carbs and low intake of nutritious animal foods. Such a diet wasn’t even possible until quite recently.

    It was only in the 1800s that there were consistent high yields of grains and even then it was mostly fed to animals, not humans. Wheat and sugar are fairly recent introductions to the common diet, as they previously were only affordable and accessible to the wealthiest. Prior to the 1900s, Americans ate more meat than bread and, prior to the 1930s, more lard than seed oils.

    I’m constantly surprised, despite all the vast research, that most people still don’t realize the powerful impact diet and nutrition has over neurocognitive development and mental healthy. An unhealthy relationship to food is largely to do with what kinds of foods one is eating. Our entire industrial food system is built on and creates eating problems.

  • Then again, much of the unhealthy standard Western diet of chemical-saturated monoculture and industrially-processed foods was also exported to the East and elsewhere in the world. Maybe people have unhealthy eating patterns and unhealthy psychological patterns partly because they are part of an unhealthy food system that creates havoc in the body, including in the gut-brain system, nervous system, hormone system, etc. There is a tremendous amount of research showing the connection between diet, nutrition, neurocognitive development, and mental health.

  • I haven’t been to a functional doc. But I’ve been reading about it this past year.

    I’ve had depression for decades. And I used to be on antidepressants and antipsychotics. That isn’t what led me to dietary changes, though. I was a sugar addict for my whole life. And weight I had gained wouldn’t go away in my 40s. I had been decreasing sugar for a while. I didn’t make a big difference. Then I tried low-carb paleo. That helped a fair amount.

    Though I felt better, it was only when I when went very low-carb (keto) that I realized my depression had entirely disappeared. No moody funks, brooding, apathy, irritability, etc. Just gone. For all the doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists I went to, not a single one ever recommended functional medicine or anything like it. I never had any tests on much of anything. Most simply told me to take drugs.

  • In my ideal world, there would be no coercion and no mental health issues. And, for that reason, I want to understand what causes such things. But, as everyone knows, correlation doesn’t inevitably prove causation.

    Still, causal links can be proven (and disproven). In fact, research has already discovered many of them. We do know that malnutrition, heavy metal, and parasites directly cause or contribute to numerous issues of neurocognitive development and mental health.

    Lead toxicity, in particular, is one heck of a doozy. Besides physical health problems, it causes depression, ADHD, learning disabilities, impulse control, aggressive behavior, etc. Urbanized and industrialized populations will obviously have higher toxicity rates than, for example, tribal people on small islands.

    Even more interesting are some of the parasites. Consider toxoplasmosis gondii. It infects the brain and alters its functioning—in many cases, leading to: depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. This is the origin of the crazy cat lady stereotype. It is contracted from cat feces, and infection increases with childhood contact with housecats which are more common in the industrialized West.

    The physical and environmental sources of mental health are very much real. But that doesn’t disprove the connection to social and cultural factors. It’s just that the latter are hard to prove, especiall in terms of all the known and unknown confounding factors.

    There is also something to be wary about in non-physical explanations. Culture, in particular, has been a favorite tool of the political right to bash over the heads of minorities and the poor. It is often argued that an inferior culture is to be blamed for the problems and struggles of impoverished and oppressed. It is conveniently ignored that thee populations live in unhealthy environments (e.g., toxins) and have limited access to quality affordable healthcare.

    I don’t doubt that cultures can become dysfunctional under conditions that are far from optimal. Yet that leaves ultimate causes unclear.