Many serious mental illnesses and milder psychological disorders are a result of eating sugar and junk food. The truth may set you free! 

Email can be sent to: let@transparencynow.com
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  - - - - - - - -  - -
 

The Truth About Mental Illness

How Knowing About the Hidden Connection Between
Food and the Unconscious Could Set You Free 

by Ken Sanes

Here is a brief overview of these ideas

and another version of the first two sections of this essay:
Sugar, Junk Food and Mental Illness


1. What Is the Real Source of Mental Illness

As we all know, millions of people receive psychotherapy to deal with psychological problems and free themselves from emotional suffering. Typically, they will sit in an office with a therapist who is a member of a profession such as psychology or social work, and try to talk their way to an improved state of mental health. The therapist, in turn, will use widely respected techniques such as helping them see the truth about their irrational beliefs or delving into the depths of the unconscious to reveal their hidden motivations.
 
Unfortunately, people who seek out this kind of therapy often find that the therapy itself involves emotional suffering, evoking difficult feelings such as vulnerability, anxiety and sadness, and forcing them to interact with therapists whose role automatically gives them the upper hand. Many people go through it anyway because they hope the truth will set them free, and they see the therapist as an expert who knows how to get at the truth of the mind.
 
And it does appear that this kind of therapy can help some people deal with their problems. It especially seems to help when the therapist is good at bonding with patients, giving them the sense she is on their side. But an honest assessment of psychotherapy will reveal that its power to heal is limited, and it can’t set most people genuinely free, no matter how good the therapist is, because the truth it offers is so incomplete.
 
Many people can confirm this for themselves by looking at the society we live in, which is filled with people who have psychological maladies, from anxiety and depression to extreme anger, emotional vulnerability, addiction and other self-destructive behaviors. These problems are so widespread, it is safe to say that virtually everyone is afflicted by psychological disorders and, as studies have demonstrated, a significant number have a serious mental illness. If psychotherapy could fix these problems the way a doctor can fix a broken arm, large numbers of people would have already been cured, and we would be living in an age of mental health. But, as we all know, nothing like that has taken place.
 
The good news is that science is beginning to give us information that can get us a lot closer to genuinely setting people free, both from everyday psychological disorders and from severe mental illness. What it is revealing is that the primary cause of many psychological problems isn’t anything psychological at all, like irrational thoughts or childhood fears we never outgrew. It is the biochemistry of the brain and body, including the state of neurotransmitters and hormones, that determines whether we will be calm and focused, and have a rich enjoyment of life, or be basket cases on a roller coaster of emotional suffering. It is the neurotransmitter serotonin, for example, that can help give us a feeling of contentment and well being, while low serotonin in the brain is associated with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other problems.
 
Our understanding of how these chemicals help create the framework for who we are is still rudimentary, but it goes a long way toward explaining why conventional psychotherapy can’t do more for its clients, even when it is practiced well. The explanation can be expressed with a simple analogy: you can’t fix a broken arm by giving a medical patient insights or by asking him to work through his feelings about his arm. Well, it turns out, you can’t fix a lot of broken brains using this approach either, except in limited ways that will be described presently.
 
But it should be possible to fix broken brains if we can come up with more effective interventions. So how do we change the brain and the rest of the body in a way that will produce mental health? A lot of psychiatrists will tell you that prescription drugs are the best answer we have today for many people. They prescribe hundreds of millions of them as part of what has become a lucrative industry dispensing pharmaceuticals, such as the antidepressant Prozac that keeps serotonin in the brain for a longer period of time, or beta blockers, a class of drugs that has a number of uses, including counteracting stage fright by blocking the physical effects of stress hormones.
 
And drugs can help some people, including people who are seriously depressed. Someday, drugs (and other medical interventions) may even fulfill their promise and make people psychologically whole. But the drugs that are now available have their own limitations: they can only alleviate the symptoms of mental illness; they can’t help people with most of their problems; and they often have side effects. So both drugs and psychotherapy, whether they are used separately or together, can only go so far when it comes to setting people free.
 
Fortunately, there is another answer, and it‘s been right in front of us all the time because a lot of mental illness is caused by the damage people do to their own bodies every day. It is a result of the foods people eat, which can alter their biochemistry and fail to give them essential nutrients. It is also caused by the drugs people take, the daily exercise and sleep they get, their overall degree of physical fitness, the amount of belly fat they have (especially what is known as visceral fat, underneath the visible belly fat, and adjacent to internal organs), the diseases they suffer, the addictions they are hooked on, and the toxins and contaminants they are exposed to.
 
This has been true, with all kinds of variations, throughout history. But in our own time, what is driving the psychological suffering probably of hundreds of millions of people is an addiction to sugar and processed foods, combined with sedentary lifestyles (often looking at electronic screens), and the weight gain that often results, along with addiction to alcohol, and both prescription and illegal drugs. In fact sugar, obesity and sedentary lifestyles have already been implicated in what are sometimes referred to as the “diseases of civilization,” that kill millions of people, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. If what is being said here is correct, it means that a lot of the mental illness that exists today is a disease of civilization, as well, brought about by the way people live. It may also mean that when many people suffer maladies such as diabetes or hypoglycemia-like symptoms, they will be more vulnerable to psychological problems, as well.
 
In an age of growing affluence, when sugar and refined carbohydrates are consumed in large quantities, this way of life is clearly a global problem. We can see how much of a problem from statistics revealing that, as of 2008, almost 1.5 billion adults worldwide were overweight and about another half a billion more were obese, largely from this style of living and eating. The good news is, this also gives us a way to alleviate mental illness now since, if many people will live in a healthier way, both their bodies and minds will work better, and give them a richer experience of life.
 
But it should be said right off that this isn’t the cure for everything psychological, or for everyone. The way the brain functions -- and malfunctions -- is significantly determined by genetics, as well as by influences in each person’s past. As a result, there are undoubtedly many people who can’t be healed by adopting a healthier way of life. The good news once again is that there are also a lot of people with normal brains that have a kind of plasticity, who will get better or worse depending on the way they live. What they are suffering from is a repeated exposure to injurious substances they are vulnerable to, such as sugar, or to a lack of something their body needs, such as nutrients. At the other extreme, there are enviable souls who are less vulnerable to these difficulties and suffer less serious negative effects.
 
Unfortunately, we also don’t know most of the mechanisms in the brain that are responsible for these problems. But one thing that seems to be going on is the following: physical inputs such as sugar are affecting the brain’s biochemistry, and altering the balance of neurotransmitters essential to its functioning and internal communication. These changes somehow release parts of the brain responsible for mental illness, resulting in damaging disorders such as depression or extreme emotional vulnerability.
 
What is particularly intriguing is that this problem with neurotransmitters appears to activate primitive parts of the unconscious brain connected to fears and motivations from childhood. If so, it would mean that Freud was half right after all -- the unconscious is real and it can drive us crazy -- but only if we make ourselves vulnerable by having ice cream for dessert after a fast food lunch. Unfortunately, once these dysfunctional processes in the brain are active, vulnerable individuals can suffer from an intensification of the kind of problems described by Freud and his successors, including inner conflict, self-destructive acting out, denial, and self-reproaches. Most notably, they will manifest a debilitating form of what psychoanalysts refer to as transference, so they keep reenacting an imagined version of childhood situations involving parents, in disguised form. At the same time, they may also be subjected to an intensification of the kind of irrational beliefs that cognitive behavioral therapy helps people deal with.
 
It is almost as if a dysfunctional sub-personality, driven by irrational fears and desires, is lurking in the brain. When it is released by an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, people suffer a reduced self that is emotionally vulnerable, spaced out, vengeful, self-destructive or aggressive, or whatever mosaic of dysfunction is buried in each person’s brain.

The effect that unhealthy food and other influences have on hormones may exacerbate these problems further. In fact, the combination of out-of-balance neurotransmitters, such as low serotonin, combined with the release of stress hormones (which can be a result of eating sugar and carbohydrates in some people) may be a particularly damaging combination for mental health.
 
This explains why patients in psychotherapy can reveal apparently relevant information about their irrational beliefs and unconscious motivations. What these patients are dredging up really is part of their mental functioning, and dealing with it in therapy can help them to some degree. Among other things, it can strengthen rational aspects of brain functioning and help patients control their symptoms. As psychoanalytic theory has revealed, it can even help patients see through the need to reenact an imagined version of childhood situations with parents in their adult life.

But conventional psychotherapy can’t get at the driving force behind many people’s symptoms because the therapy they really need comes from changing their diet and adopting a healthier way of life. Then their vulnerability to psychological symptoms will be lifted, and they will have a new lease on life, while they lose interest in dwelling on disturbing thoughts and memories. All of that disturbing psychological material will still be encoded in their brain somewhere, but it will no longer be activated, and the individual will no longer be vulnerable to it in her daily functioning.
 
This also explains why an individual’s mental health can get better and worse over time. It is because of changes taking place in the biochemistry of the body, including the brain, from various sources, such as stress, diet, and menstrual cycles.
 
But two important caveats need to be added to this. First, many psychological symptoms that look like a reenactment of something from childhood may not be. Instead, they may just be an expression of dysfunction in the brain and body, without intervening psychological causes connected to an individual’s past experiences. In other instances, issues from an individual’s past may play a role, filling in some of the details of psychological symptoms that are purely physical in origin, without a psychological component.
 
There are a lot of adults, for example, who are plagued by self-reproaches. These people are stuck in an emotional slump, repeatedly berating themselves and finding fault with the things they do.
 
It is commonly said that people like this have internalized the critical voice of their parents, and are repeating criticism inside their minds that they were subjected to as children. But what these people are really suffering from is a dysfunction in the brain that involves neurotransmitters. Maybe the dysfunction is causing them to repeat some version of things they were told as children or maybe their biography has very little to do with it. In either case, the treatment is the same -- find the physical cause. If the individual is lucky, it will be something he can change, such as diet, weight and amount of exercise.
 
The second caveat takes these ideas in the opposite direction. It is also possible that disturbing childhood experiences can be the cause of  some biochemical changes in the brain that are responsible for mental illness. After all, we know that traumatic events, such as being a victim of a violent crime, can affect the brain and result in the mental illness of posttraumatic stress disorder, with symptoms such as hyperarousal, flashbacks and insomnia.
 
If so, it is possible the right kind of psychotherapy can offer insights or corrective emotional experiences that can change the brain back in a healthier direction. But there isn’t any way that talk therapy by itself can repair the daily onslaught from unhealthy food and way of life that now afflicts so many people, and sets many psychological disorders in motion.  
 

2. How Manufactured Food Was Turned Into an Addictive Substance

If changes in nutrition and lifestyle are indeed the solution for many people, it raises some important questions. Why, for example, isn’t this widely known when the truth has been right in front of us all along? And why would people allow themselves to be damaged this way? More to the point, why is it so hard for people to get healthy, even when they are motivated to do so?
 
There are actually a number of answers to these questions, and they combine to form a complex picture that we can only catch a glimpse of, given the current limitations of science. One answer is that, until recently, humanity only had a rudimentary understanding of the mind and body, combined with a great deal of misinformation. Among other things, people haven’t known about nutrition or had much of an ability to avoid diseases and toxins. And there weren’t many choices when it came to food. So for most of history, people haven’t had the ability to protect themselves or even know what was making them sick. Even today, what science knows is limited, and the truth about the cause of mental illness isn't yet widely recognized.
 
Another reason we are stuck in this situation is that millions of people suffer from a physical vulnerability: they easily become addicted to sugar, alcohol, and drugs, which can damage the body, including the brain. They literally can’t help themselves, although many people also use addictions to try to heal uncomfortable feelings, in which case the cure is actually part of the disease.
 
But there is also a specific history that helps explain how our current situation came about. As various people have argued, modern human beings and their predecessors evolved during the Paleolithic era, with bodies that are largely adapted to the foods and way of life generated by hunting and gathering. That means the human body was shaped by circumstances in which it received only small quantities of sugar and other carbohydrates -- and getting more could be a good thing because it provided energy. As history moved forward, a number of changes took place at various times and places, including the introduction of agriculture, which added carbohydrates to the diet, and the growing role of sugar as a sweetener and refined flour, expanding humanity’s exposure to carbohydrate diets it wasn’t designed to thrive on. It is also possible that some people had a greater tolerance for higher carbohydrate diets even before the introduction of agriculture, somewhere around 9500 BC. And it may be that, since the agricultural revolution, more people have survived and reproduced who are better adapted to diets high in sugar and other carbohydrates, resulting in a world population that has varying degrees of tolerance for this style of eating.
 
But the crucial change we are concerned with took place in the modern era with the development of economic systems in America, and elsewhere, in which large companies market manufactured foods. These companies are in the business of creating food products that are delicious, addictive, and hard to resist, including junk foods filled with sugar and refined carbohydrates that can induce a craving in many people for more. And these are many of the foods that are making people physically and psychologically sick.
 
What is particularly noteworthy is that companies are driven to sell these products by the “logic” of the marketplace, since this is a way they can appeal to customers and increase profits. And if one company doesn’t do it, a competitor will, and it is the competitor who will then dominate the market. So the marketplace in many countries drives companies to hook consumers on whatever products can be made hard to resist, and physically or psychologically addictive, including not only sugar and other kinds of unhealthy foods, but also alcohol, cigarettes, pharmaceutical drugs, electronic screens, and the various forms of sensationalism offered on those screens.
 
One is tempted to resort to a Marxist analysis here and note that this is a new kind of exploitation, not of workers, but of consumers. That would mean people who addictively snack on Twinkies and ice cream are the new proletariat, in love with their chains.
 
In his book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. David Kessler, reveals something about the science behind this exploitation. He says that manufacturers have become expert at stimulating our brains with food products full of sugar, fat, and salt to create a state of “conditioned hypereating” in which we keep seeking more because it is rewarding.
 
“Chronic exposure to highly palatable foods changes our brains, conditioning us to seek continued stimulation. Over time, a powerful drive for a combination of sugar, fat, and salt competes with our conscious capacity to say no,” he writes (on page 145 of the 2009 hardback edition).
 
The fact that regular consumption of these manufactured foods changes our brains is particularly interesting. It means that food companies are altering our brain chemistry to addict us to their products. But there actions also have unintended consequences, resulting in a dysfunctional brain, so that millions of people end of suffering from psychological disorders.
 
Kessler also describes how foods can be packed with sugar, salt and fat to trigger people’s “bliss point,” which is the point at which a food will give people the most pleasure. As more of these ingredients are added to a food, Kessler says (page 14), it becomes more pleasurable. But after the bliss point is reached, the addition of more of these ingredients becomes too intense and the pleasure starts to drop off.
 
As part of the empirical evidence backing up his arguments, Kessler describes a telling experiment conducted by a professor at the New Jersey Medical School (page 15). He says that rats were bred to overeat when a high calorie diet was available, so they became obese. A second group of rats were resistant to obesity: after a period of eating extra calories, they would cut back their food consumption more quickly than the obesity-prone rats. But when the rats were fed “a rich, creamy liquid high in sugar and fat,” even the obesity-resistant rats gorged themselves and got fat. Kessler says increasing the fat content of the diet alone won’t get obesity-resistant rats to overeat; it is the combination of sugar and fat that does it.
 
Unfortunately, many of us are trapped in a global experiment being conducted by the giant food companies. And we find overeating all the harder to resist because we are surrounded by sugar, fat and salt, in high calorie foods and oversized restaurant portions. In America, and undoubtedly in other places, when we shop at the grocery or drug store, when we eat at a restaurant, when we watch TV, or even when we walk down many commercial streets, we have to deal with efforts to sell us something full of sweeteners or other unhealthy foods. Even standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, we are stuck inside a “snack and sugar trap,” surrounded by packages trying to lure us into giving in to our desires. The grocery stores know we’re a captive audience, and they take advantage of their opportunities. Unfortunately, many of us are now being raised in this kind of orally dependent food culture, where this is the norm. The life we are familiar with is one in which we addictively consume sweet and processed foods throughout the day, even as we also “consume” what is on television and other electronic screens, which often try to sell us the same foods.
 
In fact, the manufactured foods described here are a lot like what is offered by television, which is designed to hook us all at once with manufactured entertainments -- and keep us watching. Television also seeks out our bliss point, in sitcoms that keep the jokes coming, in visual spectacles and forms of sensationalism, and in commercials that are designed to make us feel good or stoke our cravings, while much of the content is reduced to very brief segments that come at us, one after another, and have a lot going on, to hold our interest.
 
Of course, some of what TV offers is entertaining, just as many of these manufactured foods taste good. But the end result of these marketing-driven trends is that many nations are filling up with people who are overweight, largely sedentary, and addicted to unhealthy foods, and who suffer from diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and other diseases of civilization. According to a recent letter sent to President Obama by a group of prominent experts, primarily in the field of health, two billions dollars a year in food advertising is aimed at America’s children -- and about one in three children are now overweight or obese. In the summary to an August 27, 2011, article titled, “The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments,” the medical journal, The Lancet, describes the epidemic of obesity worldwide. It says these changes can be seen throughout the world, and that they are “a predictable outcome of market economies predicated on consumption-based growth….In low-income countries, obesity mostly affects middle-aged adults (especially women) from wealthy, urban environments; whereas in high-income countries it affects both sexes and all ages but is disproportionately greater in disadvantaged groups.”
 
The plot thickens when we realize that the global pandemic induced by this style of life also includes psychological disorders, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, out-of-control anger, loss of motivation, and emotional vulnerability. And, as noted, the damage starts early, as kids are hooked on foods that can damage their growing bodies, including their brains.
 
In effect, what we are witnessing is a situation in which big companies are using forms of rationality -- involving science, statistics, manufacturing and marketing -- to lure consumers into addictions that consumers can’t control with their own rationality. The result is a system that is trapping humanity in a kind of prison, with mesmerizing advertising images of pleasure and ideal worlds projected onto surrounding screens. More practically stated, it is a world in which a growing number of people have lost control over their health and their eating and, as a result, they are also losing control over their lives.
 
It is almost as if modern societies have a limitation built into them, caused by a pathology of the marketplace: as they become more affluent, they develop a food system that makes them more dysfunctional, unless government regulation or other factors come into play to stop it. In fact, it even seems likely that this is one factor bringing about the loss of civility in American life, since America had a head start in this downward spiral. Ultimately, this pathology of the marketplace is a system based on manipulation, in which the limits are what people can get away with, creating a disturbing sense that society is turning into a war of all against all.
 
Addictive capitalism also damages the economy, as millions of people lose their edge, as workers become sick, and as society spends more resources dealing with the medical and social costs of unhealthy lifestyles. Ironically, in the end, the profit motive that created the addictive system will end up robbing countries of a substantial share of the profits they need to maintain their affluence.
 
This also means countries that do a better job controlling these problems will likely have an advantage over those that don’t do as well. Thus, it is countries willing to put the brakes on addictive marketing that will profit the most, both economically and in better lives for their people.  
 

3. Self-Interference as a Cause of Psychological Disorders

But there is another reason some people are vulnerable to the kinds of psychological harm described here. It seems that a significant number of people unconsciously damage their own mental health by engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as eating too much sugar and junk food or abusing alcohol and prescription drugs. Although it seems to defy common sense, they engage in what can be termed “self-interference,” to keep themselves from becoming healthy and whole, while food companies lure them into using sugar and other addictive products as a way of sabotaging themselves.
 
People are able to engage in these acts of self-interference because they routinely gather information about their own physical state, using their experience and behavior as a guide. Then they manipulate their biochemistry in a destructive way, and fall back into a lesser self. In fact, if some people seem to be getting too healthy or life is too good, an alarm goes off in their brain -- and they screw things up, so they can fall back into a half-broken state. But most of this takes place outside of conscious awareness, so people don’t realize they are doing it.
 
Widening the scope of this idea, we can speculate that in everyone -- or virtually everyone -- there is a battle between the desire to be accomplished and healthy in mind and body, and the urge to be limited and damaged. And people monitor themselves and their surroundings so they can achieve their own unique mix of health and illness. In some people, the will to health has the upper hand, and efforts at self-interference play a minor role. In others, self-limitation or even self-destruction reign supreme. Or there may be a stand-off or an odd state of affairs in which the urge to be healthy and sick alternate, each enjoying a victory for a limited period of time.
 
We need only follow celebrity news to confirm extreme cases in which people do harm to themselves, and even commit slow-motion suicide, often through addictions. And the remarkable thing is, many of them don’t consciously realize they are killing themselves, even though their lives are filled with self-induced crises -- and other people are warning them about the danger. The existence of self-interference can also be seen in the way many people free themselves from addiction and then take that fateful bite of a jelly donut or that sip of beer or drag of a cigarette, even though they know from bitter experience that it will lead back into the suffering of addiction all over again. Of course, people engage in other forms of self-sabotage, as well, such as damaging their relationships with other people, starting fights with a spouse or insulting the boss because they unconsciously need to worry about being fired.
 
The obvious question is, why would anyone sabotage themselves, when human nature is based on our desire to advance our own self-interest? I think the most likely explanation is that people who self-interfere have an unconscious fear there will be a threatening consequence if they become too healthy and happy. Maybe they are concerned that, if they are okay, they will feel or think or do something that will invite retaliation. Or maybe they believe it will somehow damage them inside.
 
Psychiatrist Harris Stratyner of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, is quoted in Newsweek at thedailybeast.com as saying something that is relevant here. According to the quote, he said that some people, “get addicted to feeling anxious because that’s the state that they’ve always known. If they feel a sense of calm, they get bored; they feel empty inside. They want to feel anxious.”
 
I would expand on that by saying that a significant group of people eat and live in ways that are designed to generate anxiety, and the fears that go with it, because they find it reassuring. People similarly induce a sense of hopelessness, emotional numbness, vulnerability, or low self-esteem because they are unconsciously afraid to feel robust and healthy. They may even feel the need to demonstrate their acts of self-damage to imagined observers in their mind, in order to feel safe, acting out this psychological drama without consciously realizing they are doing so.
 
As for the origins of this fear, it may be something that is passed on from parent to child in interaction, perhaps as a result of a built-in vulnerability. Or perhaps the fear of being healthy and whole arises purely from a defect in the brain.
 
In the latter part of his career, Freud offered a different kind of explanation for destructive and self-destructive behavior. He said that it is motivated by a drive for death, which seeks to break things down and return to an earlier inorganic state of things. As Freud saw it, this death drive is at war in all living things with Eros, the drive for self-preservation, and life and love, that builds things up into greater unities. Freud’s vision of a cosmic battle between the drive for life and death is brilliantly poetic, with a philosophical pedigree in the West that goes back to ancient Greece. But it isn’t very useful, here. Instead, what is offered in this essay is a less poetic theory of human nature in which people have a desire to be psychologically healthy that is interfered with by various factors, including physical imperfections in the brain and body, a lack of information about food and health, limitations in medicine, poverty, social exploitation (for example, by food companies), and addiction.
 
But one part of this theory is based on the idea there are two forces in conflict, pitting the desire to be healthy against urges to self-interfere and engage in self-harm. The theory similarly sees society as a network of interactions that both advance and interfere with people‘s desire to be whole, with each society coming up with its own unique balance between these opposing forces.
 
But whatever society people live in, the end result of these factors is that people can end up trapped in vicious cycles. Most notably, their dysfunctional biochemistry causes them to use bad judgment and do things that unsettles their biochemistry further. So, in our own age, super-sweet manufactured foods don’t only create a craving for more sweet foods. They also make many people more prone to making bad choices, such as eating unhealthy foods to escape painful emotional states or get some rewards from a damaged life, or because they feel the need to self-interfere. The end result is a self-perpetuating system that feeds off its own motion.
 
All of these issues take on a particularly disturbing quality when we see how they now affect children. In fact, children can be damaged by the following multiple sources of dysfunction:

* Parents pass on genes that make children vulnerable to addictive eating and to having psychological problems from physical “inputs” such as unhealthy food.
 * Parents (along with the larger society) then teach children addictive ways of eating and other unhealthy habits that induce these psychological problems.
* Many of these parents are already be suffering from psychological problems caused by this way of life. This causes them to interact with their children in ways that do additional psychological damage, especially since their children have been made even more vulnerable by such factors as unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
 
You can end up with a situation in which parent and child are stuck in damaging interactions. Years later, adults may continue to reenact a variation on these interactions because they are still vulnerable. But if they can remove whatever they are vulnerable to, such as unhealthy food, many will be freed from these disorders and have a new lease on life.
 

4. How Can We Stop This New Threat to Society

So how do we change the direction of history to protect humanity from this growing danger? The answer is there are a lot of things we can do, if we have the will. A number of changes will be mentioned here; reinventing psychotherapy and health care; accelerating scientific progress; carrying out an education campaign, and imposing restrictions on addictive marketing.
 
Many of these changes will take place at a national and local level. But we will also need a global effort because the marketplace for food and drugs is now global, and the problem is global, as well. The good news here is that the United Nations General Assembly approved a declaration in September on fighting non-communicable diseases, which includes a call for just such a global effort against unhealthy foods and other sources of harm such as tobacco. Whatever practical effect this declaration ends up having, it makes clear that we are at the beginning of a new era in which addictive marketing is seen as a threat to humanity, alongside other dangers as such as malnutrition, communicable diseases, nuclear war, and environmental destruction.
 
We now need other powerful institutions, from the local to the global level, to similarly ally themselves with people’s desire to be healthy. At the local and national level, we need the media, doctors and schools to educate the public and help parents design a healthier lifestyle for their children. We need it to become common practice for doctors to inform patients about addictive marketing and the dangers of addictive eating, as well as about the kinds of help that are available. And we need them to post information about this issue in prominent places such as waiting rooms, offering patients written materials and website addresses when it is practical to do so.
 
We will also need to make changes to health care, so psychotherapists and doctors are more informed about the role that nutrition and lifestyle play in the health of mind and body. In fact, it may be useful to develop “teams,” that include doctors, psychotherapists, and nutritionists, to help people repair mind and body.
 
That means there is a significant role that a reinvented form of psychotherapy can play to help some people overcome addictions and make changes that will help repair mind and body. Participating psychotherapists would use many of the same approaches they use now. They would offer insight, emotional support and information, helping some patients overcome fears of getting better and tendencies to engage in self-sabotage. Some patients may even need help developing the ability to tolerate feeling okay, or taking constructive action, without falling back into behaviors that feel more emotionally safe.
 
Of course, many patients will need assistance dealing with psychological symptoms that, for whatever reason, can’t be fixed through nutrition, lifestyle changes and medical interventions. These are just the kind of tasks that cognitive behavioral therapists, as well as therapists who use a modified psychoanalytic approach, can excel at, if they have a reasonable degree of empathy. But this time the therapy will have a better chance of genuinely setting people free.
 
The goal of this kind of therapy will be similar to Freud’s goals for psychoanalysis: to make what was unconscious conscious, and replace irrational functioning with reasonable decision-making and behavior. This would include replacing the vicious cycle of self-destructive actions with a virtuous spiral toward health, and enhancing unconscious self-monitoring with a new awareness, as people develop a greater ability to influence brain and body for maximum health. For lack of a better term, I refer to this as integrated life therapy (or just life therapy) because it integrates so many domains of life and requires modifications in the way people live. And also because it has the capacity to change people’s lives and bring about biochemical changes in the brain that are conducive to having a deeply authentic experience of life and a greater sense of personal integration.  
 
There are undoubtedly therapists who do something like this now, including therapists who deal with weight loss and addictions. The field of therapy may find some of their insights useful if it is to reinvent itself to deal with the true roots of mental illness in many people.
 
Two other notes, before leaving this subject. In the kind of reinvented therapy envisioned here, people will also need to be able to contact somebody by telephone, email or texting, when they are in danger of engaging in an injurious action, such as overeating sweets or just overeating. This is a role that can be filled by professional long-distance helpers, friends or family.
 
Second, when people embark on a project to get well, they may need a “coordinator” who helps guide them through it. A psychotherapist might fill that role, although others can fill it, as well.
 
But in addition to the changes mentioned so far, we also need science to begin a decades-long project to understand the interactions between diet and lifestyle, on the one hand, and mind and body, on the other. This will require a lot more studies on the effect that foods have on us -- including the effect of overall diets, individual foods, nutrients and ingredients -- paying particular attention to whether there are groups of people that are affected in different ways. For example, what is the effect of dairy products, artificial sweeteners, vitamins and minerals, and individual spices? It would be nice to be able to say to people -- “Eat healthy, and don’t be afraid of the foods you’re eating.” But the reality is, individual foods can act like drugs, and some may be acting on the body in ways we don’t understand.
 
Science will also need to develop a more precise vocabulary for describing how our behavior is influenced by food and lifestyle. This is no easy task since the elements of who we are -- our feelings, thoughts and motivations, and our outward behavior -- are produced by different parts of the brain, as well as by other parts of the body. As a result, each of us is a confusing mix of psychological elements that can seem to blend together, coexist, conflict, and respond to each other.
 
Let me give a hypothetical example, to demonstrate how this works. Imagine that a compulsive eater who feels anxious and emotionally vulnerable has “absentmindedly” wandered into an ice cream parlor. Now that he’s in there, seeing people enjoying their ice creams, he feels a powerful urge to order one himself, as physical changes take place in his body in anticipation. But, at the same time, he experiences self-reproaches, berating himself mercilessly in his own mind for his destructive desires. As all this is happening, he begins to feel more anxious and a little bit spaced out, but that remains below the threshold of his awareness. Meanwhile, a more rational side of his brain realizes that he didn’t just wander in absentmindedly, and urges him to leave without ordering. Having resisted his urges, a half hour later there is a happy ending. The feeling of anxiety, which he is now aware of, seems less compelling because it is contained by a feeling of emotional strength and stability.
 
This is, in fact, an example of how people function. At each moment, various things are going on as different parts of the brain and body each make a contribution.
 
It will be the job of science and psychology to figure out how all of this works. They will have to come up with a sophisticated vocabulary for describing people’s shifting mental states and behaviors, including the symptoms of mental illness. And they will need to correlate that with what is going on in the brain and body, as well as figure out how it is influenced by the kind of factors referred to here, such as genetics and food. The rest of us will need to learn some of this vocabulary if we want to more clearly identify our own psychological states and figure out how to fix what is broken.
 
But in addition to the improvements referred to above, we are also going to have to put some brakes on the marketing efforts that play a central role in addicting people to unhealthy food. There will need to be new restrictions on advertising food to children, that go well beyond the voluntary restrictions the food and beverage industry wants. We also need new laws that mandate better food labeling in grocery stores and chain restaurants -- including easy-to-see warning labels on packages and containers of harmful foods, that include a website address where consumers can get more information. That means all the chocolate candies, the pastries, the ice cream cartons, and the big bags of chips will sport labels that say something like, “Warning: this food may be addictive or result in obesity or damaged health if eaten frequently.” Of course, warning labels like this are of limited usefulness if shoppers are immersed in an environment that tries to manipulate them into eating foods that will make them sick. But if the warnings are clearly stated, visible, and part of a larger program to change society, they will make a difference. We also need increased public pressure on the food industry, including chain restaurants, to devise healthier meals with fewer calories.
 
But there is also an approach to regulating food that would take things in the wrong direction by interfering with people‘s right to make their own choices. Most notably, some would impose sin taxes or so-called fat taxes on unhealthy foods to discourage consumption, or they might even ban some foods outright. Denmark’s new tax on foods that pass a certain threshold when it comes to saturated fat is a good example of how laws like this can go wrong. The tax punishes people with limited incomes who are trying to buy staples such as meat and butter, and it is aimed at the wrong target since the primary foods that are endangering health are those high in sugar and carbohydrates. At the time this is being written, France is planning to impose a new tax, as well, on sugar-based soft drinks.

Restricting fast food restaurants in low income neighborhoods is another example of this same approach.
 
Unfortunately, laws like this may be the wave of the future in some places, infringing on people‘s freedom, and doing a combination of good and harm, when as much good could probably be done without the harm. There is also a danger that policies like this will result in a loss of support for government efforts to improve health, which will look like a way of interfering in people lives -- and, in some instances, of generating new tax revenues. In fact, intrusive government policies could play into the hands of those who want to protect food company profits by avoiding regulation.
 
But the proposals offered here intentionally avoid these difficulties. They don’t depend on tax increases, banning foods or restricting sales. Nor do they involve unwelcome government intrusions on childrearing, to help overweight and obese children. Instead, these proposals rely on health care professionals, the media, and schools to educate the public, and provide services where they are welcome. It uses warning labels to give consumers the information they need. And it depends on science to give us the knowledge and tools we need to fix the problem. Using this approach, we can help free people from the manipulation that has lured hundreds of millions into a way of life that can cause obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as depression, anxiety, addiction, and other disorders. It may also free at least some young people from ADHD, which may be caused in part by sugar and junk food.
 
But it should also be said that every nation will have to come up with its own mix of solutions. That may include dealing with difficult circumstances that aren’t foreseen here.

There is also another important exception to what was said above, since government should eliminate dangerous food ingredients that can easily be replaced. For example, we need tough new laws against the trans-fats used in fast foods and processed foods.

Given the importance of this issue, it would make sense for President Obama to put the power of the federal government behind proposals like these. In fact, if he wants a signature issue that won’t cost much, and that will dramatically improve people’s lives, here it is. Since the threat to physical health (if not to mental health) has already been well documented, a program like this would have the support of a majority of the American people, even though there are special interest groups that would oppose some of these steps forward.
 
The Obama administration is already taking some action. For example, First Lady Michelle Obama’s fight against childhood obesity, titled “Let’s Move!” is a good first step. And the president has created a task force on childhood obesity. But it’s going to take an extensive nationwide effort to stop the damage that is being done to both children and adults.

Of course, many of these changes would cut into the profits generated by addictive marketing. But that’s a good thing. The big food companies can get ahead of the game by finding ways to manufacture healthier foods now that are reasonably priced, convenient, and good to eat. These foods still won’t be as nutritious as many whole foods, but they will be a big improvement. Unfortunately, the changes they are making when it comes to producing healthier food, reducing sugar, and limiting advertising, aren’t enough. And no action they take will undo the harm these companies have already done to America and the world.  


5. How Can Individuals Try To Get Better Now

Unfortunately, the kind of advanced medical care people need to repair these problems doesn’t exist today because there is so much we still don’t know. That means people who want to figure out if their psychological (or other) symptoms are caused by diet and aspects of lifestyle will need to come up with the best resources they can, using the Internet, books, friends and health care professionals. In effect, people will need to create their own support network. Given the limitations of scientific knowledge, they will also need to become “scientists” and study their own lives (and the lives of their children), in an effort to identify what is influencing them for good and ill.
 
I should note before continuing with this part of the discussion that what is being said in this essay isn’t intended as health advice, since I’m not a health care provider, a psychotherapist or scientist. This also isn’t an argument for people to prematurely terminate psychotherapy, especially if their problems involve issues of safety. And people should always consult qualified health care providers, including their doctors, and know that what they are doing is safe, before making a reasoned decision to act in ways that could affect their health.
 
With this in mind, many people will find that adopting standard recommendations for eating a better diet filled with whole foods; cutting out the sweets and junk food; losing weight; and exercising will make them feel considerably better. Some people will need to reduce the number of carbs and sugar even from natural sources, such as bread and potatoes; others won’t.
 
A key technique for many people will be adding or eliminating foods and other physical “inputs,” and then seeing if it changes the way they feel, for better or worse. Things that might be profitably eliminated (or in some cases reduced) include alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, all kinds of coffee, fast food, prescription and nonprescription drugs (with a doctor‘s approval, when appropriate), and unnecessary supplements (which are most of the supplements people take), along with addictive foods that evoke cravings and are hard to resist. Other actions that might help are eliminating foods with artificial ingredients, and reducing mold and other toxins from indoor environments.
 
Where possible, it may be particularly useful to do moderate aerobic exercises such as walking or running, with a doctor’s approval, as well as doing strength training and stretching exercises.
 
Things that can profitably be added by many people include essential nutrients such as vitamin D, from the sun when possible, along with omega three fatty acids, ideally from uncontaminated natural sources such as wild salmon; vegetables and fiber; and probiotic bacteria, also ideally from foods since it is possible that gut problems have a connection to psychological difficulties. Getting enough sleep is also important.
 
But for many people the most important thing they can do is either reduce or eliminate sweets and junk foods, including sweeteners with sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, and anything with artificial or natural sweeteners, while also reducing the overall glycemic load of meals. When people embark on an effort like this, they will also need to decide how to deal with starches such as potatoes and bread. As Gary Taubes describes in the New York Times Magazine, Robert Lustig, an expert on neuroendocrinology, says these are metabolized by the body differently than sugar.
 
But people have different responses to carbohydrates, so one size won’t fit all. The Internet health advisor, Dr. Joseph Mercola, who believes extensive consumption of grains as well as sugar is part of the problem, says that, when it comes to sugar and carbohydrates, there are three nutritional types. According to Mercola, “Carb Types normally feel best when most of their food is healthy carbohydrates. Yet, there are major differences between classes of carbs such as vegetables and grains….” Meanwhile, protein types “operate best on a low-carbohydrate, high-protein and relatively high-fat diet (healthy fat that is).” Then there are the mixed types who “require food combinations somewhere between carb and protein type groups.”
 
In addition, Dr. Arthur Agatston, who designed the South Beach Diet as an effective way to lower sugar and carb intake, and eat healthy carbohydrates, has books that can be a helpful resource.
 
Other possible strategies include taking action to avoid catching preventable diseases, avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and medical treatments, and practicing dental hygiene. Those with a motivation to go further can adopt a simple healthy diet to see if physical and psychological symptoms are reduced. Foods and other “inputs” can then be added back in one at a time to determine how the individual feels.
 
Keeping a diary that precisely records actions and results can also be helpful, for people who are motivated to do so. One way to format it is as a table, with four categories:
 
* time and date;
* physical inputs such as foods eaten, exercise and sleep;
* information on symptoms and improvements, and on how the individual is feeling;
* interpretations of what is going on.
 
Having people who can be called, emailed or texted when there is a danger of going off the plan can help, as well.
 
If people want to understand their own functioning, they will also need to identify their psychological states and behaviors, and figure out how these are correlated with diet and the other factors described here. This will require some self-observation. For those who are motivated to do so, reading up on the following subjects on the Internet or in books may be helpful: neurotransmitters, hormones, psychotherapy, mental illness, and mental health. A sourcebook for identifying psychological symptoms and disorders is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV or the most updated version, DSM-IV-TR), of the American Psychiatric Association. Consulting a professional and undergoing psychological testing can also yield useful information, as can keeping a psychological diary, in parallel with the diary referred to earlier, on eating and other actions.
 
Since this list is only intended to give readers an idea of strategies that may be effective, more details won’t be provided here. There are, however, physicians who offer detailed action plans for body and mind that include all kinds of targeted interventions using nutrition and other treatments. One approach that seems to have promise is described in The UltraMind Solution, by Dr. Mark Hyman, who says there are seven keys to good health, which are presented here in words close to his own: optimize nutrition, balance hormones, cool off inflammation, fix digestion, enhance detoxification, boost energy metabolism, and calm the mind. The book’s subtitle makes the game plan clear: Fix Your Broken Brain By Healing Your Body First. Another prominent health writer, Dr. Eric Braverman, in The Edge Effect and Younger You, talks about correcting the functioning of four key neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine. Dr. Daniel Amen uses brain imaging to correlate people's psychological symptoms with activity in parts of their brain, and says he can diagnose which of seven types of anxiety and depression people have, with targeted treatments for each type. He says, for example, that what he calls pure anxiety manifests as increased activity in a region of the brain known as the basal ganglia.
 
Writings like these may prove useful, although many people will probably get good results from simple and natural solutions. It is also important for people to keep in mind that taking any action can result in unanticipated side effects. The more extensive the interventions (especially interventions based on something artificial), the more this may become an issue.
 
Unfortunately, embarking on a path of change of the kind described here can be difficult. It takes time and discipline, requiring that the individual conquer powerful urges to indulge in addictions and also have the will power to start up again in the face of the inevitable failures along the way.
 
There is also another problem: there are so many things going on in each person’s life, it can be hard to figure out the cause of many symptoms. Thus, an individual can eliminate Food X from her diet, wake up the next day, feel good, and think it must have been the elimination of Food X. But the real cause may be any of a host of other things that also happened. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that dysfunctional parts of the brain may be motivated to fool us about causes in order to maintain ill health because of a fear of the alternative.
 
Scientists try to eliminate the confusion over causes by carrying out tightly controlled experiments and studies, and recording the results using precise statistics. For example, two groups of (all-suffering) rats may be treated identically, except for one change. Maybe it is the introduction of a food in their diet or exposure to light. Scientists can then try to determine the effect of this one change. But even many carefully constructed experiments end up producing incorrect information, with results that can’t be replicated by later experiments.
 
Good scientific studies of preexisting situations similarly use rigorous statistical methods to determine if one thing is correlated with another -- if consumption of a particular kind of diet, for example, results in a higher incidence of certain symptoms. But studies still end up producing all kinds of false information (which is why results from many experiments and studies should be taken with caution). Science does ultimately figure things out, but the process is messy, with all kinds of false starts and misinformation along the way. Given these limitations, you can imagine how much harder it is for individuals to identify causes in their own lives, which are filled with obscure and uncontrolled elements.
 
Then there is another complicating factor: an individual can react to the same foods in different ways, depending on the state of the body at that time. For example, for people who complain of hypoglycemia-like symptoms (and probably for other people, as well), it is possible that extra visceral fat or being sedentary can heighten their vulnerability to sugar, so when blood sugar drops there is a release of stress hormones. And symptoms may be worse earlier in the day. So vulnerabilities are one of the things the individual will need to identify and take into account.
 
Despite these, and other, limitations many people will find that they can improve their psychological health and feel better, using elements of this approach. This is particularly true since the general outlines for how people can be physically healthy often apply to psychological health, as well. It may take time, and require that people try a lot of different things, even repeating “experiments” with food and lifestyle, while keeping track of the results. But given the stakes, it is worth it. And even though people change physically over time, and progress in science can make information outmoded, a lot of what people learn about themselves could turn out to be useful for a lifetime.  


6. The Healthy Mind and Body -- and What Is Beyond It

Individuals who are successful at repairing mind and body will, hopefully, witness a number of results. First, they will experience the lifting of mental illness from the inside. In order to understand what this is like, it is important to recognize that mental illness has a way of taking over people’s personalities, driving their behavior, and distorting who they are in the inner sanctum of the self. Even when people recognize what is wrong they are helpless to free themselves because their suffering is something that is happening to them, just like other physical illnesses and injuries such as the flu or a broken arm can happen to people. The individual who suffers from low self-esteem, for example, suffers from a painful psychological state in which she is plagued by the kind of self-reproaches described earlier, repeatedly berating herself, and paralyzing her ability to accomplish tasks and enjoy life. Another part of her brain may tell her the self-reproaches are a symptom of a disorder, but she will still be unable to stop them, creating a sense that she is trapped in a psychological prison. Similarly, the paranoid will be plagued by fears that he is being spied on and plotted against, so that he feels compelled to try to protect himself in irrational and often self-destructive ways.
 
When the brain begins to function more correctly, and these symptoms disappear, either temporarily or over the long term, it is also something that happens to people, like getting better from the flu or a broken arm. But instead of the body’s temperature going down or a broken arm ceasing to hurt, individuals are no longer plagued by self-deprecating thoughts and no longer believe that a plot is afoot. To the great relief of many of these people, their mind will have been set free. It is like the oppressive weight of a brutal dictatorship that infiltrated every aspect of life has been overthrown, while people dance for joy in the streets because of the return of hope.
 
When this happens, the individual is then freer to deal with situations because she isn’t stuck repeating the same dysfunctional behaviors. She will experience far less psychological suffering and be a lot less self-destructive. She will also have a greater capacity to enjoy more positive emotions, if other life circumstances allow it. This state of mind is the fulfillment of what conventional psychotherapy typically aims for.
 
But the lifting of oppressive symptoms that has just been described is only part of what the successful seeker of health can expect. If the normal brain and neurotransmitters truly begin to function correctly, along with other aspects of physical functioning, people will also have a new sense of wholeness and stability. There will be a greater calm and equanimity in the face of life’s travails, along with a robust sense of humor, and a capacity to enjoy the moment. In addition, there may be a newfound ability to authentically feel healthy emotions, to love and care about other people, and enjoy life. The chronic divisions in the mind will largely be healed, so that what the individual desires, and what he thinks and feels he should desire, become the same thing.
 
This state of mind is the fulfillment of the dream of humanistic psychology, which refers to it with various terms such as wholeness and integration.
 
But for some people -- and perhaps for many -- there is also something else waiting for them, beyond the cessation of symptoms and the achievement of a sense of wholeness. These people will begin to have extraordinary experiences that have a spiritual quality. They may feel imbued with goodness and have a sense of awe at the beauty of nature. There may be feelings of deep compassion, moments of intense joy or euphoria, and even profound mystical states, which are the fulfillment of the vision of spiritual traditions. When these states occur, they are part of the brain’s natural functioning, and at least some of them are connected to well-known neurotransmitters and hormones such as serotonin and endorphins.
 
People spend years meditating in an effort to calm themselves and achieve states like this. But it turns out that many of these people have a diet and a way of living that induces psychological problems. They then turn to meditation to get better, just as people turn to psychotherapy or prescription drugs. But trying to meditate this way, when the functioning of the body and brain are disrupted, is like trying to paddle against a current.
 
If, instead, these people will eliminate the destructive behaviors and repair the body, some will achieve a state of calm and even extraordinary states of mind without meditation. Others may find it effective to combine this kind of program with meditation, which may have the potential to become deeper and more transformative.
 
Of course, the existence of extraordinary states of mind at the far end of health does suggest another reason a significant number of people avoid becoming psychologically healthy. This is only intended as speculation, but it is possible that people have an unconscious fear of these experiences. In fact, if these experiences convey essential truths about our existence, it would mean that self-interference is a flight not only from a state of wholeness but also from important truths about life. If we want to phrase this like pithy ad copy, we might say that sugar is a shield against enlightenment. Seen from this perspective, society would be a conspiracy we hide from ourselves, in which we help keep each other from creating the self and world we intuitively know should exist.
 
This would also mean that the individual and society are a battleground between the will to health, spirituality and truth, and the will to dysfunction, constriction, and untruth -- and that this battle is passed on from generation to generation. The lives of both individuals and society would be compromise formations, in which these opposing urges find partial expression.
 
Whatever truth there is in this idea, it is also true that not everything which interferes with the attainment of a more profound self is a result of unconscious fears. As described in part three, there are various other obstacles that prevent people from attaining healthier states of mind,  such as our proneness to addiction and the actions of food companies that exploit this vulnerability.
 
But I would urge more secular-minded readers not to let these references to spirituality (which aren’t about the theologies of specific religions) turn them away from the essential message of this essay, which is that many people can change diet and lifestyle to improve their psychological health for the better, and even eliminate what look like deeply engrained psychological complexes. These issues are too important to ignore, even if writing about this subject right now is mostly an effort to see in the dark.
 
I would also urge people to fully appreciate the fact that the decision to become healthier in mind and body can make a difference. The point of this essay isn’t to challenge the idea that our decision-making helps shape who we are, or that our experiences over time can change us. Instead, the essential point is that the way our minds work is dependent on the body, especially the brain, and many people are lucky -- they can change the physical inputs to the body and improve the way their minds function for the better. And insight can play an essential role in getting us to make the physical changes that can make a difference.
 
Of course, the fact that even essential characteristics of our selves are shaped by chemicals and biology can lead us to feel like we are being robbed of our freedom and will, and even of our selves. After all, the essence of who we are seems to reside in what has variously been described as consciousness, the “interiority” of mind, and our inner life, which is filled with meanings or representations. The fact that we have unconscious thoughts and motivations which also have a meaning is itself a challenge to our intuitive sense that we are unified conscious selves. But the prospect that all of this is physical, and that a change in our biochemistry can change the way we behave and experience life, is a disturbing challenge to our sense of our selves.
 
One response, which we see in the sciences, is to try to expand the realm of our freedom by understanding and controlling body. That is the approach advocated in this essay. Someday, not any time soon, science may even take things to an ultimate point and make it possible to reinvent the self so it has a completely free will, and controls the conditions of its own existence.
 
But we can also look at our physical embodiment differently and see our selfhood as a gift of the body. We can see the world as a gift, as well, since the brain and body somehow convert the quarks and atoms of our surroundings into those wonderful experiences of the blue sky with a few wisps of cloud reflected on the still surface of a lake or into our appreciation of the story in a movie. In fact, the world of nature, and the human world we share with each other, as well as our rich inner life, are all a gift of our physicality.
 
But we receive a lot less of the gift when our lives are reduced by a disordered brain. So millions of people need to ask themselves if they really want to reject a gift like this in exchange for the pleasures of high sugar diets and other forms of addictive eating. Is enjoying the bliss point of manufactured foods really worth missing out on the bliss of life? And when it comes to the larger social questions, how can the current system of addictive marketing be justified, given all the suffering it is causing and the threat it now poses to humanity?


- - - - - - - - 

Notes:
 
Regarding all references to people's psychology: in this essay it is assumed that everything psychological is also physical, based on the functioning of the brain. But psychological phenomenon have a quality that other physical phenomenon don't: they involve conscious or unconscious intentions or perceptions of meaning, and may involve conscious or unconscious intentions.
Section 1: There is a growing body of scientific research that will one day put all of this on a scientific footing. For example, here is some information on the physical basis of our psychology:
- One study that was published online by the American Journal of Psychiatry in January 2010, offers possible verification of the dangers of the current diet. It found that women eating a western diet “of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer” were more likely to suffer from anxiety and severe or somewhat less severe depression than women who ate what it refers to as a more traditional diet of “vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains.” But the study had limitations, including the possibility it was the depression and anxiety that caused these individuals to eat a less healthy diet, and not the diet that caused the psychological problems.
- Here is information from the Washington Post by Rob Stein on a correlation found in one study between drinking soda and violence.
10/23/2011
"Soda boosts violence among teens, study finds

"Teenagers who drink soda are more likely to carry a weapon and act violently, according to new research.

"Sara J. Solnick of the University of Vermont and David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston analyzed data collected from 1,878 14- to 18-year-olds in grades nine through 12 in 22 public schools in 2008.

"Those who drank five or more cans of non-diet soft drinks every week were significantly more likely to have also consumed alcohol and smoked cigarettes at least once in the previous month, the researchers found.

"Moreover, even after taking other factors into consideration such as age, gender and alcohol consumption, the researchers found that heavy use of carbonated non-diet soft drinks was significantly associated with carrying a gun or knife and violence towards peers, family and partners.

"About 23 percent of those who drank one or no cans of soda a week carried a gun or knife, and 15 percent had perpetrated violence toward a partner. In comparison, among those who consumed 14 or more cans a week, 43 percent carried a gun or knife and 27 percent had been violent toward a partner, the researchers found. Similarly, violence towards peers rose from 35 percent to 58 percent while violence towards siblings rose from 25.4 percent o 43 percent."
There's no way to be certain now what is cause and effect here. But it could be because of the release of stress hormones, after drinking sugar.
 
- There are various studies that suggest nutrients can help psychological conditions. For example, one study found that, in a group of test subjects at high risk of developing psychosis, fewer went on to develop psychotic disorders after taking fish oil capsules with omega-3 fatty acids. But the study also had limitations, including the small number of people tested. (Here is a list of studies on this subject) And mayoclinic.com points out that research has shown that exercise can help “reduce anxiety and improve mood.”
- Regarding hormones and our psychology, an article in Slate says: "Studies show if you remove a woman’s ovaries for medical reasons, you increase her risk of anxiety and depression. The gradual decreases in hormone levels that come with aging can cause mood swings, but going from youthful levels to neuter levels overnight seems to be even worse. The Mayo Clinic studied more than 600 Minnesotan ladies who had both ovaries surgically removed before menopause, and found they had an increased risk of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety in later life. Men whose testicles are amputated, or who receive another form of androgen deprivation therapy for the treatment of cancer, may also be at increased risk for mood disorders.

"None of that should be surprising. Sex hormones are known to interact with the brain in complex ways, and estrogen and androgen receptors in the hippocampus and amygdala seem to regulate mood." Readers can link to the article and follow the article's links for more information. Section 3: There may be explanations for deliberately self-damaging behavior, other than the fear of being healthy and whole. It may be that some people hurt themselves so they can take masochistic pleasure in suffering, because harm has become associated with pleasure. Or that they are burdened by a sense of guilt, and believe they either deserve to be punished or don’t deserve better. Or maybe there isn’t always a hidden fear, and the brain simply becomes dysfunctional in ways that cause the person to harm himself. Although this isn't a form of deliberately self-damaging behavior, it is also likely that some adults often choose harmful immediate pleasures over long-term health, because they are focused on the short term.
The website of The Hypoglycemic Health Association of Australia is filled with ideas on hypoglycemia and mental illness. Here are some excerpts, which are provided here to offer the reader one perspective.
Regarding psychotherapy, the site says something relevant: "A fundamental principle in this web site is that any medical condition having an influence on “mental health” must be treated FIRST before considering psychotherapy. This is known as the principle of 'BIOCHEMISTRY BEFORE PSYCHOLOGY'."
Hypoglycemia by Dr. George Samra
"The term hypoglycemia is an unfortunate one, and many doctors would say that this condition rarely exists. The word means low blood sugar, but should really mean a condition where a person’s brain does not get fed properly when they eat sugar. Most doctors know the word hypoglycemia in the context of diabetes, as for example when a patient accidentally overdoses on insulin. The term as used by many nutritional doctors in one that most doctors know very little or close to nothing about.
"In my experience hypoglycemia is as common as diabetes which means that 3-4 per cent of the general population may be suffering."
**
"Associated conditions of hypoglycemia may show up among alcoholics and drug addicts. It usually means that starvation of the brain has driven a person to unacceptable social behaviour. Many crimes- and let us not forget that over 70 per cent of prisoners have an association of alcohol and drug abuse – are the result of hypoglycemia that has gone wrong. I am of the opinion that in most cases hypoglycemia precedes the development of anti-social behaviour, alcoholism or drug addition. Many alcoholics and drug addicts manifest a Type 1 sugar curve flowing glucose tolerance testing. This means following the rise in blood sugar, there is a very sharp fall. The body compensates the subsequent sugar starvation by pumping adrenalin from the adrenal glands into the blood, which then raises the sugar levels. High levels of adrenalin may cause mood swings, violent outbursts and emotional instability. People with excessive adrenalin levels may drink alcohol – a calming drug – in order to combat the adrenalin side effects. Alcohol is a legal drug and helps to calm down nerves caused by high adrenalin levels in Type1 hypoglycemia.
"Thus rehabilitation programs based exclusively on ‘psychological models’ are often found to fail as they tend to ignore the metabolic aspect involved in behaviours. Major social issues are tied up in this condition.
"Another associated condition is hyperactivity or what is now called ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder where the brain is not fed properly when children eat sugary foods. The behaviour can go either way; the child may withdraw into a corner or it may climb on practically everything. A glucose tolerance test usually indicated which way a child will behave as in both cases they have an underlying sugar-handling problem."
**
"Hypoglycemia is a hormonal disease, caused mainly by insulin over secretion often associated with adrenal over secretion. Other hormonal conditions such as thyroid and adrenal problems tie up with hypoglycemia. Typical symptoms are; tiredness, moodiness, depression, poor concentration, irritability, sugar cravings, nervousness, poor memory. The condition usually runs in families and can include diabetes, alcoholism, ADD, hyperactivity, drug abuse and behaviour disorders.
"Treatment consists of keeping off the simple carbohydrates such as sugar, honey, glucose and having six small meals every day. The meals should be roughly equal. Minimum size of a meal should be half a sandwich with the equivalent of a boiled egg or a chicken wing and a packet of Smiths Crisps (Plain). A protein breakfast made up of fish, chicken, mince or eggs is important to provide the necessary fuel for the brain...."

-----------------

HYPOGLYCEMIA - IS IT A 'CURE-ALL' FOR MENTAL ILLNESS?
By Jurriaan Plesman, BA(Psych), Post Grad Dip Clin Nutr

"It is assumed that the causes of depression can be removed by changing a person’s attitudes and beliefs and confronting irrational thoughts and negative thinking styles by for instance Rational Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (RCBT). It is believed the patient can then safely withdraw from drugs and lead a more normal life. One important question remains unanswered; how can talk therapy ‘cure’, what is basically a physical disease?

"No doubt there will be ample evidence in support of this approach. But the reality is that for many if not most depressed patients either drug therapy and/or psychotherapy simply does not work.

"We need to find a solution for this sub-category of patients."

***
"The brain, representing only two percent of the body, requires 75 per cent of all available glucose (ATP) in the body as its only source of energy AT ALL TIME, whether asleep or awake. (Stryer Page 438). Thus unstable and wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels to the brain would have unforeseen ‘psychological’ consequences. Erratic supply of biological energy to the brain causes it to send stress hormones to the adrenal glands in the form of adrenaline and cortisol in an attempt to rebalance energy supply. These internally driven stress hormones - produced in excess - are seen as the symptoms for depression, anxiety attacks and other abnormal psychological experiences.

"Having regard to the complexity of the biochemistry of mental illness, it is obvious that the ‘single bullet’ remedies in the form of either single drugs or nutrients is bound to fail in the majority of cases. In fact, these ‘single bullets’ may be expected to further disturb the delicate interplay and equilibrium among biochemicals in the body.

"What is needed is NOT ‘single bullets’ but a ‘shotgun’ remedy supplying all the bullets that will target biochemical abnormalities.

"Such a remedy could well be the Hypoglycemic Diet. This diet can be defined as a NATURAL diet, supplying all the necessary ingredients for the body to manufacture the right neurotransmitters. It is specially adapted to overcome unstable blood sugar levels- common among depressed people - as well as erratic insulin and stress hormones. This diet does not conflict with drug therapy and may even overcome some of their side effects."
Section 3: Every society manifests the struggle between the will to be healthy and whole, and unhealthy, in its own way, and comes up with its own balance. Some are more life and health-affirming. Others (such as ancient Sparta or Nazi Germany) are turned toward constriction and death. This idea is partly based on the ideas of the humanistic philosopher Erich Fromm who said there are conflicting tendencies in human nature, and in societies, between the love of life and the love of death. Fromm’s idea was partly based on Freud.
 
Section 3: A psychotherapist may even see that a parent and offspring have a similar psychological problem and incorrectly conclude the parent unconsciously passed it on to the children during interaction, when what the parent really passed on is a genetic susceptibility to the problem.
 
Section 3: Parents and children may also suffer from genetic vulnerabilities to physical flaws that are built in to the body, and that don’t need to be released by unhealthy external inputs, such as unhealthy food.
 
Section 4: Regarding the UN declaration, there is a question about whether saturated fat is a serious problem. But the use of fats to help make manufactured foods addictive certainly is, and higher calories are, as well, for many people. Salt is a heath risk only for some people. But it is also used to make foods more addictive.

- - - - - - - - 

A briefer overview of some of these ideas: 
What Is the Cause of Mental Illness? The Hidden Connection Between Food and the Unconscious That Is Changing America

Other links:
Mental disorder or mental illness from Wikipedia
Mental illness at NAMI
Understanding Mental Illness
Mental Illness
Mental Illness described by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Mental illness described by medicinenet.com

- - - - - - - -  

The purpose of this essay is to provide information, and help point to a new direction for medicine, psychotherapy and our understanding of mind and body. This essay doesn’t provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor does it substitute for help from qualified doctors and other health care professionals. The writer also isn't a health care professional or psychotherapist of any kind. If you need professional attention, or if your health or safety may be in danger, you should contact the appropriate professionals without delay. You should also consult health care providers and other appropriate professionals before taking a course of action that could affect your health, and be aware that actions affecting health can have unforeseen and undesirable consequences.
- - - - - - - -  

Image by Alexandre Moreau [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Go to the briefer overview on this subject.

let@transparencynow.com / What's Being Said About Transparency

Copyright 1996-2012 Ken Sanes
On file with the U.S. Copyright Office


Homepage Link