Littell's Living Age/Volume 129/Issue 1660/Food in Nervous Diseases

From The National Food and Fuel Reformer.


"Dr. Johnson, the professor of medicine at King's College, in the course of a series of lectures, now being published in the Lancet, upon nervous disorders, recommends as an efficacious method of treatment, a total change of diet without the aid of medicine. No doubt there may be much favour in this mode of cure when the disordered condition of the nerves springs from purely physical causes; but where overwork, mental strain, grief, religious despondency, or ennui are concerned in the matter — where, in fact, the mind has acted on the body, not the body on the mind — there can be nothing like a total change of scene and surroundings. The nervous excitement from which the speculator suffers may occur from very opposite causes in the office-clerk. Half the nervous disorders of middle-class women are due to the monotony of their lives. It is obvious that without a change in the manner of living, both of the speculator and the clerk, no good could come of a change of diet. In cases of disordered nerves, arising from grief or a severe mental shock, the diet-cure would be of but slight avail; and in the saddest of all forms of nervous disorders, religious despondency, it would be useless. Grief, anxiety, and religious despondency, are best treated by change of scene, and by a total separation of the patient from all former surroundings. Grief and anxiety wear themselves out in course of time, and as they lessen so does the nervous condition improve. Religious despondency, on the other hand, is far less hopeful. One thing, however, must be remarked, that the persons most subject to religious despondency are idle, with little or no occupation for mind or body. In these good steady work would be of great service. Nervous disorders are of so many kinds, spring from so many causes, and possess such an infinity of complications, that to lay down a uniform system of cure would be out of the question; but in any case, change of scene and surroundings, and change of occupation, are, doubtless, far more valuable aids than medicine."

The above paragraph appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette on Saturday, the 19th of February, and gives vivid evidence that scientific men are now becoming aware of the influence food has on human development. We have not yet read Professor Johnson's lectures, but the corroboration of an eminent medical man to our own views enhances their value. If a change of diet can cure nervous disorders, diet itself must have great influence on nervous development, and consequently on the mind. The article in the Pall Mall Gazette denies this, but the denial merely proceeds from an incomplete understanding of nervous action. The mind, as it is called, and the body are one, and can only act by the same laws; whether action' proceeds from the nervous centres and is invisible, or from the muscular system, and is visible — it is the action produced by force generated within.

The German professor, Helmholtz, has lately brought the calculations of the force that has to be engendered within to our comprehension, and if such a force has to be maintained, it can only be done by nourishment or food. Food consists not only of organic vegetable and animal matter, but also of air and water, and therefore a change of air is often invigorating to the nervous system. Our ideas of the mind's work are still very confused, for all nervous action is produced by exertion or waste of force. Grief is nervous exertion; joy is nervous exertion; despondency is nervous exertion; every thought is nervous exertion, and all this exertion wants maintaining and feeding. Whenever exhaustion appears, or so-called nervous disorder, it is nothing else but the consequence of want of nourishment. Grief makes a greater claim on the nervous centres than joy, and it is exceedingly wrong to avoid food in grief. Despondency is nothing but the result of incomplete nutrition of the nerves, which give way under outward pressure; it is only necessary to be judicious and give good nourishment to desponding persons, such as will invigorate and prove of tonic value, and the nervous system will return to its natural elasticity. Despondency exhausts the nervous system greatly, for all thought is action, and desponding thought wastes more force than joyous thought. Nervous diseases are the consequence of continued waste of nervous action and incomplete nutrition, and require nothing but judicious dietetic treatment. We have, at the outset of our movement, always maintained that all nervous disorders and socalled lunacy can be greatly affected by diet, and we maintain this now; healthy and judicious food moulds the character, and nourishes the brain.

But not only do we say that diets can relieve nervous disorders, but that the way in which we either strengthen or weaken our nervous system will largely influence the next generation, and on this point there can be no doubt we err greatly. Our social life, our industries, arts, sciences, our very instruction to our children, are daily becoming more absorbent of brain-power and exhaustive of the nervous system, and our food is, on the contrary, becoming poorer and less able to help us to maintain the strain. Nervous disorders and lunacy are increasing, and we are leaving to posterity a legacy for which it will not thank us; in fact, we have commenced an enfeebling process of the whole human system. We are shortening and vitiating that portion of food which consists in air; our water-supply is no longer of the healthiest and purest, and our organic food-supply from vegetable and animal matter is being lessened, and by heat-processes impoverished to a remarkable degree. Culture of organic food-substances is not carried out for usefulness, but for size and show, it appears, and though something like a consciousness of the importance of food is dawning upon us in the cooking, the real bearings of the case — its scientific substratum and the all-powerful influence food has on bodily and mental development — are as yet little understood. Mind is separated from body in our ideas, when it is impossible to separate them, and when the mind must be fed as well as the body; of the two mental exertion exhausts the frame more than bodily, and if nervous exertion of whatever kind exceeds the limits of the strength at its disposal, it naturally affects also the health of the whole system. Nervous disorders can only proceed from one cause, exhaustion of the nervous system showing itself in various ways, and we are now on the highroad to their increase; this is perhaps the saddest phase in that disregard for the nourishing process of the human frame, in which we have allowed the decking out of our persons with finery to take precedence over the healthy maintenance of both mental and bodily power and strength.

The Date of Easter. — We revert to this subject with the view to reproduce the arithmetical rule to find Easter Sunday in the Gregorian calendar, which was first given by the eminent German mathematician and astronomer Gauss, in Zach's Monatliche Correspondenz, 1800.

1. From 1800 to 1899 put m = 23, n = 4.

   "    1900 to 2099  "   m = 24, n = 5.

2. Divide the given year by 19, and call the remainder a.
3. Divide the given year by 4, and call the remainder b.
4. Divide the given year by 7, and call the remainder c.
5. Add m to 19 times a, divide the sum by 30, and call the remainder d.
6. Add together n, twice b, four times c, and six times d, divide the sum by 7, and call the remainder e.

Then Easter Sunday is March 22 + d + e, or d + e - 9 of April.

To apply this rule to the present year, we have —

1. m = 23; n = 4.
2. For remainder is 14 a.
3. For remainder is 0 b.
4. For remainder is 0 c.
5. For remainder is 19 d.
6. For remainder is 6 e.

And Easter Sunday is March 22 + 19 + 6 = March 47 or April 16; or 19 + 6 - 9 of April = April 16.

Note. — The following are the two exceptions to the above rule: —

  1. If Easter Sunday is brought out April 26, we must take April 19.
  2. If Easter Sunday results on April 25 by the rule, the 18th must be substituted when the given year, increased by one, and then divided by 19, leaves a remainder greater than 11.