Oliver Sacks Promotes the Healing Power of Gardens: They’re “More Powerful Than Any Medication”

Early European explorers left the continent with visions of gardens in their heads: The Garden of Eden, the Garden of the Hesperides, and other mythic realms of abundance, ease, and endless repose. Those same explorers left sickness, war, and death only to find sickness, war, and death—much of it exported by themselves. The garden became de-mythologized. Natural philosophy and modern methods of agriculture brought gardens further down to earth in the cultural imagination.

Yet the garden remained a special figure in philosophy, art, and literature, a potent symbol of an ordered life and ordered mind. Voltaire’s Candide, the riotous satire filled with gardens both fantastical and practical, famously ends with the dictate, “we must cultivate our garden.” The tendency to read this line as strictly metaphorical does a disservice to the intellectual culture created by Voltaire and other writers of the period—Alexander Pope most prominent among them—for whom gardening was a theory born of practice.

Exiled from France in 1765, Voltaire retreated to a villa in Geneva called Les Délices, “The Delights.” There, writes Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker, he “quickly turned his exile into a desirable condition…. When he wrote that it was our duty to cultivate our garden, he really knew what it meant to cultivate a garden.” Enlightenment poets and philosophers did not dwell on the scientific reasons why gardens might have such salutary effects on the psyche. And neither does neurologist Oliver Sacks, who also wrote of gardens as health-bestowing havens from the chaos and noise of the world, and more specifically, from the city and brutal commercial demands it represents.

For Sacks that city was not Paris or London but, principally, New York, where he lived, practiced, and wrote for fifty years. Nonetheless, in his essay “The Healing Power of Gardens,” he invokes the European history of gardens, from the medieval hortus to grand Enlightenment botanical gardens like Kew, filled with exotic plants from “the Americas and the Orient.” Sacks writes of his student days, where he “discovered with delight a very different garden—the Oxford Botanic Garden, one of the first walled gardens established in Europe,” founded in 1621.

“It pleased me to think,” he recalls, referring to key Enlightenment scientists, “that Boyle, Hooke, Willis and other Oxford figures might have walked and meditated there in the 17th century.” In that time, cultivated gardens were often the private preserves of landed gentry. Now, places like the New York Botanical Garden, whose virtues Sacks extolls in the video above, are open to everyone. And it is a good thing, too. Because gardens can serve an essential public health function, whether we’re stressed and generally fatigued or suffering from a mental disorder or neurological condition:

I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.

“In forty years of medical practice,” the physician writes, “I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.” A garden also represents—for Sacks and for artists like Virginia Woolf—“a triumph of resistance against the merciless race of modern life,” as Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, a pace “so compulsively focused on productivity at the cost of creativity, of lucidity, of sanity.”

Voltaire’s prescription to tend our gardens has made Candide into a watchword for caring for and appreciating our surroundings. (It’s also now the name of a gardening app). Sacks’ recommendations should inspire us equally, whether we’re in search of creative inspiration or mental respite. “As a writer,” he says, “I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. The effect, he writes, is to be “refreshed in body and spirit,” absorbed in the “deep time” of nature, as he writes elsewhere, and finding in it “a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth,” and a remedy for the alienation of both mental illness and the grinding pace of our usual form of life.

via New York Times/Brain Pickings

Related Content:

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A First Look at The Animated Mind of Oliver Sacks, a Feature-Length Journey Into the Mind of the Famed Neurologist

How the Japanese Practice of “Forest Bathing”—Or Just Hanging Out in the Woods—Can Lower Stress Levels and Fight Disease

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Exercise May Prove an Effective Natural Treatment for Depression & Anxiety, New Study Shows

Image by cuegalos, via Flickr Commons

Maybe it seems intuitive that exercise would be prescribed to treat anxiety and depression, lower stress levels, and make people happier. After all, exercise and nutritional interventions are regularly discussed in the context of the U.S.’s other major killers: heart disease, diabetes, various cancers, even Alzheimer’s. How often have we heard about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle or over-processed foods? Or read about remedies from walking, yoga, and spin cycling to the Mediterranean diet?

But mental health is seemingly different—the disease model that guided depression research for so long has faltered. “We do not have a biology for mental illness,” writes Derek Beres at Big Think. Researchers lack a medical pathology for mood disorders that affect overall health, careers, relationships, and quality of life for millions. The antidepressants once sold as a cure-all and prescribed to dizzying degrees proved to have limited efficacy and unfortunate side effects. No one seems to know exactly how or why or if they work. “Mental health scripts are guesswork,” Beres writes, “more of an art than science.”

Where does this leave the state of mental health research these days? One team of scientists at the University of Vermont found evidence that exercise significantly improved mood in patients with severe and chronic mental illnesses. As Newsweek reports, “a total of 100 patients signed up to participate in the study,” whose results were published recently in the journal Global Advances in Health and Medicine. The study volunteers came from “wards that dealt with conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and schizophrenia.”

After a workout schedule that included cardio, resistance, and flexibility training, four times a week for sixty minutes at a time, as well as nutritional programs “tailored” for each patient, 95 percent of the participants “said their mood has improved… and 63 percent said they were ‘happy’ or ‘very happy,’ rather than ‘neutral,’ ‘sad,’ or ‘very sad.’” 97.6 said they were motivated to continue working out and eating better. “The research yielded positive outcomes in all areas investigated,” write authors David Tomasi, Sheri Gates, and Emily Reyns of the study’s results. They conclude that physical exercise may contribute to “a more balanced and integrated sense of self.”

The researchers also recommend exercise as a treatment before the prescription of psychiatric drugs. There may not yet be a clear medical explanation for why it works. But that may be because modern medicine has only recently begun to see the mind and the body as one, at a time when our cultural evolution sends us hurtling toward a greater artificial divide between the two. “We’ve constructed a world in which most of the population survives by performing minimal physical activity.” A world soon to be engulfed in VR, AR, self-driving cars, and an “internet of things” that promises to eliminate the few physical tasks we have left.

We are in danger of forgetting that our mental and emotional health are directly tied to the needs of our physical bodies, and that our bodies need to move, stretch, and bend in order to stay alive and thrive. Read more summary of the study at Newsweek and see the full results from Global Advances in Health and Medicine here.

via Big Think/Newsweek

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

How Carl Jung Inspired the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

There may be as many doors into Alcoholics Anonymous in the 21st century as there are people who walk through them—from every world religion to no religion. The “international mutual-aid fellowship” has had “a significant and long-term effect on the culture of the United States,” writes Worcester State University professor of psychology Charles Fox at Aeon. Indeed, its influence is global. From its inception in 1935, A.A. has represented an “enormously popular therapy, and a testament to the interdisciplinary nature of health and wellness.”

A.A. has also represented, at least culturally, a remarkable synthesis of behavioral science and spirituality that translates into scores of different languages, beliefs, and practices. Or at least that’s the way it can appear from browsing the scores of books on A.A.’s 12-Steps and Buddhism, Yoga, Catholicism, Judaism, Indigenous faith traditions, shamanist practices, Stoicism, secular humanism, and, of course, psychology.

Historically, and often in practice, however, the (non)organization of worldwide fellowships has represented a much narrower tradition, inherited from the evangelical (small “e”) Christian Oxford Group, or as A.A. founder Bill Wilson called them, “the ‘O.G.’” Wilson credits the Oxford Group for the methodology of A.A.: “their large emphasis upon the principles of self-survey, confession, restitution, and the giving of oneself in service to others.”

The Oxford Group’s theology, though qualified and tempered, also made its way into many of A.A.’s basic principles. But for the recovery group's genesis, Wilson cites a more secular authority, Carl Jung. The famous Swiss psychiatrist took a keen interest in alcoholism in the 1920s. Wilson wrote to Jung in 1961 to express his “great appreciation” for his efforts. “A certain conversation you once had with one of your patients, a Mr. Rowland H. back in the early 1930’s,” Wilson explains, “did play a critical role in the founding of our Fellowship.”

Jung may not have known his influence on the recovery movement, Wilson says, although alcoholics had accounted for “about 13 percent of all admissions” in his practice, notes Fox. One of his patients, Rowland H.—or Rowland Hazard, “investment banker and former state senator from Rhode Island”—came to Jung in desperation, saw him daily for a period of several months, stopped drinking, then relapsed. Brought back to Jung by his cousin, Hazard was told that his case was hopeless short of a religious conversion. As Wilson puts it in his letter:

[Y]ou frankly told him of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned. This candid and humble statement of yours was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our Society has since been built.

Jung also told Hazard that conversion experiences were incredibly rare and recommended that he “place himself in a religious atmosphere and hope for the best,” as Wilson remembers. But he did not specify any particular religion. Hazard discovered the Oxford Group. He might, as far as Jung was concerned, have met God as he understood it anywhere. “His craving for alcohol was the equivalent,” wrote the psychiatrist in a reply to Wilson, “on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

In his reply letter to Wilson, Jung uses religious language allegorically. AA took the idea of conversion more literally. Though it wrestled with the plight of the agnostic, the Big Book concluded that such people must eventually see the light. Jung, on the other hand, seems very careful to avoid a strictly religious interpretation of his advice to Hazard, who started the first small group that would convert Wilson to sobriety and to Oxford Group methods.

“How could one formulate such an insight that is not misunderstood in our days?” Jung asks. “The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a higher understanding.” Sobriety could be achieved through “a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism"—through an enlightenment or conversion experience, that is. It might also occur through “an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends.”

Though most founding members of AA fought for the stricter interpretation of Jung's prescription, Wilson always entertained the idea that multiple paths might bring alcoholics to the same goal, even including modern medicine. He drew on the medical opinions of Dr. William D. Silkworth, who theorized that alcoholism was in part a physical disease, “a sort of metabolism difficulty which he then called an allergy.” Even after his own conversion experience, which Silkworth, like Jung, recommended he pursue, Wilson experimented with vitamin therapies, through the influence of Aldous Huxley.

His search to understand his mystical “white light” moment in a New York detox room also led Wilson to William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. The book “gave me the realization,” he wrote to Jung, “that most conversion experiences, whatever their variety, do have a common denominator of ego collapse at depth.” He even thought that LSD could act as such a “temporary ego-reducer” after he took the drug under supervision of British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond. (Jung likely would have opposed what he called “short cuts” like psychedelic drugs.)

In the letters between Wilson and Jung, as Ian McCabe argues in Carl Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous, we see mutual admiration between the two, as well as mutual influence. “Bill Wilson,” writes McCabe’s publisher, “was encouraged by Jung’s writings to promote the spiritual aspect of recovery,” an aspect that took on a particularly religious character in Alcoholics Anonymous. For his part, Jung, “influenced by A.A.’s success… gave ‘complete and detailed instructions’ on how the A.A. group format could be developed further and used by ‘general neurotics.’” And so it has, though more on the Oxford Group model than the more mystical Jungian. It might well have been otherwise.

Read more about Jung's influence on AA over at Aeon.

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Carl Jung: Tarot Cards Provide Doorways to the Unconscious, and Maybe a Way to Predict the Future

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout!: Discover the 15-Minute Exercise Routine That Swept the World in 1904

Does your spare tire show no signs of deflating as bikini season looms?

Is the fear of bullies kicking sand in your face beginning to outstrip the horror of transforming into a giant bug overnight?

Do you long to experience lasting health benefits along with an impressively fit appearance?

Friends, we make you this promise: The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout will transform your life along with your physique in just 15 minutes a day.

That's right, just 15 minutes of daily calisthenics (and some common sense practices with regard to diet, sleep, and hygiene) is all it takes. Even pencil-necked authors walking around with their backs bowed, their shoulders drooping, their hands and arms all over the place, afraid of mirrors because they show an inescapable ugliness, can discover the confidence that eludes them, through improved posture, breathing, and muscle tone.

(Note: the Amazing Franz Kafka Workout will not protect you from the pernicious, eventually fatal effects of tuberculosis.)

The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout is more correctly attributed to fitness guru Jørgen Peter Müller, above, the author of several exercise regimen pamphlets, including the bestselling My System: 15 Minutes' Exercise a Day for Health's Sake, which was published in 1904 and then translated into 25 languages.

Kafka was definitely the best known of Müller’s devotees, scrupulously running through the prescribed exercises morning and evening, wearing nothing more than the skin he was born in—another practice Müller heartily endorsed.

The chiseled Mr. Müller was a proponent of regular dental check ups, sensible footwear, and vigorous  toweling (or "rubbing"), and an enemy of constrictive woolen underwear, closed windows, and sedentary lifestyles. My System includes some observations that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kafka novel:

The town office type is often a sad phenomenon prematurely bent, with shoulders and hips awry from his dislocating position on the office stool, pale, with pimply face and pomatumed head, thin neck protruding from a collar that an ordinary man could use as a cuff, and swaggering dress in the latest fashion flapping round the sticks that take the place of arms and legs! At a more advanced age the spectacle is still more pitiable… the eyes are dull, and the general appearance is either still more sunken and shriveled or else fat, flabby, and pallid, and enveloped in an odour of old paper, putrified skin grease, and bad breath.

In an essay on Slate, Sarah Wildman, the descendent of two lean Müller fans, delves into the Müller System’s popularity, particularly amongst 20th-century European Jews.

Just as best-selling fitness experts do today, Müller beefed up his franchise with related titles: My System for Ladies, My System for Children, and My Sunbathing and Fresh Air System.

The original book is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from the Internet Archive, where one commenter who has been following the system for nearly seventy years gives it a hearty thumbs-up for its stamina restoring powers.

Others seeking to make a buck by charging for Kindle downloads have the decency to offer free instructions for each of the individual exercises, including Quick Sideways Bending of Trunk (with Rubbing) and the plank-y Bending and Stretching of the Arms, partly Loaded with the Weight of the Body.

Even those unlikely to perform so much as a single deep knee bend should get a bang out of the original photo illustrations, which, back in 1904, were as ripe for erotic double duty as the wholesome men’s physique mags of the 50s and 60s.

Insert speculation as to Kafka's sexual orientation here, if you must.

via Mental Floss

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City tonight, March 11, for the next installment of her ongoing book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sleep or Die: Neuroscientist Matthew Walker Explains How Sleep Can Restore or Imperil Our Health

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could fix the work/life thing by chucking out the difference? At home, you're in the office, at the office, you're at home, always on and never off—sleep, optional. Two-four hours per 24-hour cycle should be enough, right? Wrong. We need proper sleep like we need good food, low stress, engaging pursuits, etc.—to thrive and live a long and happy life. If you wait until you’re dead to sleep, you’ll be dead sooner than you think. “Short sleep predicts a shorter life,” explains sleep researcher Matthew Walker in the RSA animation Sleep or Die, above. "Sleep," he says, "is a non-negotiable biological necessity.“

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults sleep an average of eight hours a night. That number may vary from person to person, but fewer than six can be highly detrimental. Walker is something of a “sleep evangelist,” notes Berkeley News. Ask him about “the downside of pulling an all-nighter, and he'll rattle off a list of ill effects that range from memory loss and a compromised immune system to junk food cravings and wild mood swings.” The neuroscientist tells Terry Gross on Fresh Air, “Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep.”

Walker has a lot more to say about sleep in the interview below, including tips for getting there, whether you can make up for lost sleep (you can’t), and why you shouldn’t yank teenagers out of bed on the weekends. Why should we listen to him? Well, he isn’t just any sleep scientist. “To be specific,” writes Rachel Cooke at The Guardian, “he is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, a research institute whose goal—possibly unachievable—is to understand everything about sleep’s impact on us, from birth to death, in sickness and health.”

 

The benefits of sound sleep include enhanced creativity and concentration, lower blood pressure, better mood regulation, and higher immunity and fertility. Lack of sleep, however, is "increasing our risk of cancer, heart attack and Alzheimer’s," notes Cooke. Indeed, "after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep," Walker tells The Guardian, "your natural killer cells—the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day—drop by 70%." Sleep deprivation has such serious outcomes that "the World Health Organisation has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen."

Sleep holds many mysteries, but one thing scientists like Walker seem to know: poor sleep leaves us more in sickness than in health. And we are in the midst of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic.” “No one would look at an infant baby asleep, and say ‘What a lazy baby!” Walker observes. Yet adults have “stigmatized sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting.” It’s a way to broadcast that we aren’t falling behind or missing out. But our bodies’ natural cycles and rhythms don’t speed up along with technology and global markets.

“As bedrooms everywhere glow from the screens of round-the-clock technology consumption,” Berkeley News writes, millions of people suffer physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychological stresses. Or, put more positively, “a growing body of scientific work” shows that “a solid seven to nine hours of sleep a night serves functions beyond our wildest imaginations.” Learn more about not only what’s gone wrong with sleep, but how to start addressing the problem in Walker’s book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Jim Morrison Declares That “Fat is Beautiful” …. And Means It

There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance in a young rock god giving voice to the fat pride movement some four decades after his death.

Years before social media amplified celebrity weight gain coverage to the realm of national news, The Doors’ lead singer, Lizard King Jim Morrison, was the subject of intense bodily scrutiny.

The musician’s drug of choice—alcohol—swiftly added some extra cushioning to the sexy, shirtless young lion image photographer Joel Brodsky managed to capture in 1967.

That lean, leather-panted version is the one the Morrison director Patrick Smith went with for the Blank on Blank animation above, using audio from a 1969 interview with the Village Voice’s Howard Smith (no relation).

Occasionally animator Smith balloons the 2-D Morrison’s belly for humorous effect, but let’s be frank. By today’s standards, the 5’11 Morrison, who by his own estimate tipped the scales at 185lb, was hardly "fat."

Pleasingly plump perhaps...

Filling out...

Eating (and drinking) like someone whose bank account didn't require belt tightening.

His compassion toward generously proportioned bodies likely sprang from early experience.

As photographer Linda McCartney recalled in Linda McCartney’s The Sixties—Portrait Of An Era:

He … told me that he’d grown up as a fat kid that no one wanted to know and that this had caused him a lot of emotional pain.

Then he explained what had brought it all to the surface. Apparently he had been walking around Greenwich Village that morning and a girl who he knew as a child had spotted him and started going crazy over him. That bothered him because he sensed the hypocrisy of it all. When he was a fat military brat these people had rejected and ignored him but now, because of his new public image, they were fawning over him.

That “new public image” is the one most of us think of first when thinking of Jim Morrison, but as a flesh and blood exemplar, it was unsustainable. Photographer Brodsky reflects:

The shot on the inner sleeve of the Greatest Hits album was pretty near the end, I think. By that time, he was so drunk he was stumbling into the lights and we had to stop the session. Morrison never really looked that way again, and those pictures have become a big part of The Doors’ legend. I think I got him at his peak.

Morrison didn’t dwell on childhood miseries in his Village Voice interview, nor did he show any self-loathing or regret for physiques past.

Rather, he gave voice to the positive effects of his increased size. He felt like a tank, a beast—a body of consequence.

(To consider the implications of bodily size for a female in Morrison’s world, have a look at cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu’s California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot before the Mamas and The Papas.)

Related Content:

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City March 11 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Nutritional Psychiatry: Why Diet May Play an Essential Role in Treating Mental Health Conditions, Including Depression, Anxiety & Beyond

For years neuroscientists have been trying to correct the old assumption that our minds are reducible to our brains. Research into what is known as the gut microbiome, for example, has shown that mood and mental health are intimately linked to the functioning of an ecosystem of microorganisms within the digestive system. As researchers write in the Journal of Neuroscience, “experimental changes to the gut microbiome can affect emotional behavior and related brain systems [and] may play a pathophysiological role in human brain diseases, including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.”

Even Parkinson’s Disease has been linked to gut bacteria in studies performed by microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian, who points out that “70 percent of all neurons in the peripheral nervous system—that is, not the brain or spinal cord—are in the intestines, and the gut’s nervous system is directly connected to the central nervous system through the vagus nerve.” Our guts also supply the brain with fuel, and it requires a “constant supply,” notes Dr. Eva Selhub at the Harvard Health Blog. “That ‘fuel’ comes from the foods you eat—and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.”

Such findings have given rise to the emerging field of Nutritional Psychiatry, which you can hear described in the TEDx talk above by clinical psychologist Julia Rucklidge. Initially taught that “nutrition and diet were of trivial significance for mental health,” Rucklidge, like most of her colleagues, believed that “only drugs and psychotherapy could treat these serious conditions.” But after encountering evidence to the contrary, she decided to do her own studies. Beginning at around 5:30, she presents compelling evidence for a dramatic reduction in rates of ADHD, PTSD, depression, and psychosis after dietary treatments.

That's not to say that drugs and psychotherapy do not play important roles in treatment, nor that they should be supplanted by a nutrition-only approach. But it does mean that nutritional treatments are shown by many fields of study to be effective and perhaps essential, for reasons consistent with widespread knowledge about the body and brain. “It is now known,” for example, as Joyce Cavaye reports at the Independent, “that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain which ultimately causes our brain cells to die.” Inflammation is, in part, caused by “a lack of nutrients such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins and minerals… all essential for the optimum functioning of our bodies.”

Diets consisting primarily of highly processed foods and sugars are also a cause of inflammation. “Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function,” Dr. Selhub writes. These diets promote a “worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.” Processed foods with high carbohydrate content and few nutrients have created an epidemic of malnutrition among a significant portion of the population who otherwise seem to have plenty to eat. The situation seems to have majorly contributed to the corresponding epidemics of depression and other mental health conditions.

Nutritional psychiatry is not a fad or a program claiming to recreate the diet of early humans. While “a potential evolutionary mismatch between our ancestral past (Paleolithic, Neolithic) and the contemporary nutritional environment” merits exploration, as researchers write in an article published at the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, many more contemporary factors—such as economic development and the rise of scientific medicine—play a role in how we understand diet and mental health.

Rather than look to prehistory, scientists have studied the diets of “traditional” societies (those not reliant on mass-produced processed foods) in the Mediterranean and Japan. They have found a 25-35% lower rate of depression, for example, in those who eat diets “high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood,” writes Selhub, with “only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.” There is no perfect dietary formula, however. Everyone’s gut processes things differently. Dr. Selhub recommends cutting out processed foods and sugar and experimenting with adding and subtracting foods to see how you feel. (Nutritional experiments like these are probably best carried out after consulting with your doctor.)

Just as we will need to change the way we eat if we want to preserve our outer environment, the health of that rich, and no less necessary, inner world known as the microbiome will require what for many is a dramatic change in eating habits. Sadly, it is not a change everyone can afford to make. But for millions suffering from mental illnesses, nutritional psychiatry may represent a life-altering course of treatment.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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