Nutrition and Your Mind

The Psychochemical Response, by Dr. George Watson, Foreword by W.D. Currier, M.D., New York: Harper & Row, 1972

Table of Contents

Value of this Book
Case One
Case Two
Case Three
Case Four
Case Five
Case Six
Case Seven

Value of this Book

This is a review of a most uncanny book about healing emotional disturbances and mental illness through deliberate changes in the biochemistry of the patients, by changing their nutrition, rejecting any psychiatric or psychoanalytic approach to healing.

I found this book on Amazon about a year ago and read it twice and a third time now for this review for it’s to a point shaking our cherished assumptions about psychotherapy that it is a must-read for anybody interested in transforming their life by changing their nutrition. I shall extensively quote from the book to extract from it the most unusual healing stories. I also reprint the Foreword by Dr. W.D. Currier.

Let me mention here that while this page appears to be long, this is is just about 1/10 of the book’s immensely rich content and case stories. I found the seven here presented interesting enough to illustrate the point the author is making. It should give us enough food of thought to question the myths and fairy tales of so-called ‘psychotherapy’ and render us alert to look for the causes of disease in the biochemistry of the body, and the obeisance or not, of a balanced work-sleep rhythm, a balanced emotional life, a balanced attitude toward success and advancement without depleting one’s energy resources.

After I myself studied psychoanalysis and psychology since 1975, I was very much shocked by the insights of this book which is why I publish this review here, for this book got me to fundamentally revise my own attitude toward so-called ‘mental illness.’

On the other hand, it would be unreasonable to reject psychotherapy as generally ineffective, for this is not what Dr. Watson’s book is saying. What it does say is that a thorough physical examination is needed at the start of any kind of therapy, to see if the enzyme household is working properly in the body and if the patient lives a half-way balanced life emotionally and with regard to the expenditure of energy. We must not forget that after all Dr. Sigmund Freud was a medical doctor by training before he engaged in psychoanalysis, and he says in his books very clearly that every patient subject to psychotherapy must undergo a thorough physical examination in order to exclude any physical causes of the disease.

The problem is that at Freud’s time, and even up to about the 1970s, there were no reliable medical techniques to detect if the enzyme household in the body is disturbed for the tools for this type of examination were only available from about the 1960s. Dr. Watson’s book was published in 1972, precisely at the time those very sophisticated methods of examination of the blood and urine were available to the medical community. However, I believe that most general physicians still today tend to overlook the continuum balance that is so important for the physical body before we even think of a mental or psychic deregulation. This continuum comprises all of the complex data about the digestive metabolism and the energy metabolism, in order to see if there are no deficiencies of any kind or if energy is otherwise wasted through a dysfunctional energy-wasting lifestyle or unreasonable habits on the side of the patient. Only a thoroughly holistic medical approach can do justice to the complexity of the human body, I believe.

Any comments are more than welcome:)

Foreword by W.D. Currier, M.D.

Emotionally disturbed people are perhaps the most difficult patients to treat. In order to give such patients at least temporary relief, doctors prescribe sedatives and other drugs — a treatment that may for a while ease the patient, but doesn’t solve his problem. If the source of the trouble is truly a deep-seated or structural mental disorder, the doctor may not be qualified to tackle it. And a lot of investigation is needed before sending even the obvious candidate to the psychiatrist.

Freud, who invented the technique of psychoanalysis and is credited with ‘discovering’ the unconscious, insisted that physical examination is the first step in treating emotional illness — a basic premise that was quickly forgotten in the flurry of enthusiasm for the new technique. Although psychiatry is now a highly developed field, very little of its expansion has been directed toward clarifying the physiological aspect of mental illness. In a sense, psychiatric treatment in the hands of rigid psychotherapists has been greatly responsible for holding back investigation and therapy in the field of the biochemistry of mental illness. Of course, psychiatrists have a vested interest, emotional and financial, in their particular field of practice, as do all other physicians.

Every function of the body involves a chemical process, whether it is physical or mental activity, even just breathing and feeling. When we get sick, we are suffering from a metabolic upset — a chemical imbalance. Ultimately, then, we must look to biochemistry for diagnosis and treatment. Sickness may attack only one small area of the body — maybe a cut on a finger — but many biochemical products are mobilized and carried by the blood to the traumatized spot to effect healing. The brain is especially susceptible to changes in body chemistry. And yet psychiatric diagnoses are almost always couched in terms which tell us nothing of the physical state of the patient.

Our willful ignorance about the sources of mental illness is not new. In the words of Henry Maudsley, a pioneering English psychiatrist, spoken in a lecture almost 100 years ago: ‘The observations and classifications of mental disorders has been so exclusively psychological that we have not realized the fact that they illustrate the same pathological principles as other diseases, are produced the same way, and must be investigated in the same spirit of positive research. Until this is done, I see no hope of improvement in our knowledge of them and no use in multiplying books about them.’ Apparently, Maudsley was right.

At present, the biochemical and nutritional aspects of mental illness are almost completely neglected. This newer approach to treatment, as suggested in this book, places in the hands of psychiatrists and other practitioners a tool of utmost importance. It is an addition to their own specialized knowledge and an indispensable adjunct to their modes of treatment. The more secure among them will approach this biochemical and nutritional therapy with an open mind. A whole new field of therapy may be his for managing one of the greatest medical problems on earth, the mentally ill patient.

Recently, some important studies have been devoted to the effects of deficiency diseases on mental states. In certain instances, retarded children have been found to suffer from a congenitally faulty metabolism in which a particular enzyme is absent or inactive. Even lay people recognize the manifestations of thyroid deficiency in their friends, such as lethargy and dullness, as well as the opposite personality traits of hyperthyroidism: anxiety, excitability, and nervousness. At least, the influence of nutritional deficiencies on psychic functions is beginning to be acknowledged. We now know that lack of vitamin B may lead to such serious diseases as pellagra and beriberi that can affect brain metabolism, producing systems of mental disorders. And starvation often brings about radical changes in personality.

Many of the mentally ill have inborn of acquired biochemical defects. Some adventurous psychotherapists are using what is called ‘mega-vitamin’ therapy, such as the use of B-3 (nicotinic acid). Although this treatment helps many patients, it is oversimplified in using only one vitamin. Mental illness is often a manifestation of elaborately disordered metabolism, especially of the enzyme systems. Glucose metabolism, for instance, has a great influence on nerve tissue, which requires vastly more quantities of properly utilized blood sugar than any other tissue. Dr. Watson rather simply describes the extremely complicated biochemical processes involved.

It is dangerous to classify mentally disturbed persons solely in psychological terms. They may have the same symptom complex as others but for opposite biochemical reasons. In chemical testing, the norms for a mentally ill patient are not necessarily the norms for a mentally stable person. That is why, when chemical tests are run on patients with mental illness and compared with those for ‘normal’ patients, they are frequently told, ‘There is nothing physically wrong with you. Go to see a psychiatrist.’ Such a verdict is a cruel but accepted and medically ethical way of getting a troublesome, emotionally ill patient out of the physician’s practice.

The old saying ‘Your are what you eat’ is not precisely true, although every function of the body and especially mental activity, is dependent upon the quality and kind of food we eat, as Dr. Watson explains. Our genetic endowment plays a fundamental part in mental health, and some persons may become mentally disoriented when they eat or lack certain foods. Most people believe that they eat well-balanced meals, but routine dietary surveys show that there are frequently important deficiencies in necessary nutritional elements; this is particularly so in the mentally ill. The metabolic profiling Dr. Watson outlines can be used to advantage by any psychiatrist or psychologist to augment whatever technique of analysis or psychotherapy he routinely employs. I am sure that his own experiences will convince him of its value.

Mental health in general would be greatly advanced if every physician and psychotherapist and every medical student would read this book. In addition to its direct application, some might be stimulated to enter the related research field, for — as with all knowledge — the surface has so far only been scratched.

— W.D. Currier, M.D.

Case One

One day I received a phone call from a professor in classics I hadn’t heard from in years. Professor McVay wanted advice on a distressing situation involving his wife. Here is what he told me:

‘The other evening Isabelle and I were watching television when, without a word, she got up and walkout out of the front door, down the driveway, into the street. I ran after her, calling, ‘Isabelle! Isabelle!’

‘She didn’t seem to hear me. I caught up to her as she was about to step in front of an oncoming automobile. I grabbed her, and when I turned her around I saw tears streaming down her face. She wasn’t able to say anything. She just kept turning her head slowly from side to side, and appeared to be gasping for air.’

‘I led her back into the house and she sank down on the coach and covered her face with her hands. I repeatedly asked her what the trouble was, but she only shook her head. I was frantic. My thought raced over everything that had occurred in the past weeks that might have upset her. But there was nothing I could think of.’

‘I thought a brandy might calm her down, so I poured some into a glass and added sugar and water. She began to sip it. Within a few minutes she seemed to be all right. Then she told me that at times during the past few weeks she had been overcome with dread. She felt a sense of ‘impending doom,’ a conviction that something terrible was going to happen. Yet at other times she was convinced that these fears were silly.’

‘I insisted that she see a doctor at once for a thorough examination, which she did. The results showed her to be in excellent health, except that her blood sugar was a little low.’

Professor McVay asked whether I knew someone who could help Isabelle, someone she could talk to in order to find the reasons for her attacks of panic.

‘In the first place,’ I told him, ‘I really doubt that there are any ‘reasons’ for her attacks; and even if there were, I couldn’t possibly recommend anyone. But let me arrange a consultation with the medical director of our research project. We have developed certain tests which might help to spot the source of your wife’s difficulties.’ The professor agreed.

A few days later I received a medical report on his wife. It showed just about what I had expected, based on his incidental remark that about a half-our sipping the brandy, mixed with sugar and water, his wife seemed perfectly all right — just as though nothing whatever were wrong with her.

To me this rapid recovery had only one explanation. Alcohol is quickly absorbed from the stomach and raises the blood sugar by acting on the liver to release glucose. Glucose is one of the many kinds of sugar, but it is the principal fuel of the body. The brain and nervous system are almost totally dependent on it for normal functioning. Among the first things that happen if sufficient glucose is not available to the brain is loss of normal emotional control.

The report on Mrs. McVay showed that not only was her blood sugar was barely at the minimum level necessary for her health, but in addition, her oxidation rate — our index for the speed with which her tissues were breaking down food to create energy — was far below normal by standards we had developed through our research.

We traced the two findings of low blood sugar and slow rate of energy production to a fad low-carbohydrate reducing diet she had recently adopted, which did not provide enough sugar to support the normal functioning of her nervous system. This appeared to be the sole cause of her attacks of panic; when we corrected her diet, the trouble disappeared.

After Mrs. McVay had recovered, her husband called to thank me for our help, and then he asked, ‘Would you mind telling me why you said you couldn’t possibly recommend a psychiatrist or psychologist for Isabelle, supposing she might have needed one, since I know you work with some?’

Here is the answer to Professor McVay: Let us suppose that you have been feeling more tired than usual and are also having morning headaches along with other unwelcome pains in the chest and back that come and go without reason. You put it off as long as you can, but finally you call your doctor for an appointment.

After he examines you and has taken blood and urine tests, let us further suppose he suspects you may be developing a glandular disorder. He then tells you that it would be a good idea for you to see a specialist, an endocrinologist, and he gives you the names of several doctors, any one of whom — he says — can competently diagnose and treat your condition.

On the other hand, let us imagine that your doctor says he can find ‘nothing wrong’ with you. This is, after all, about the most frequent result of investigating ‘vague’ complaints. Now in this event your physician may think that your tiredness, headaches, and other pains may have an emotional basis. Does he now suggest to see a specialist, psychotherapist, and does he accordingly give you a list of several, any one of whom is equally competent to diagnose and treat your condition?

No. He doesn’t, because he can’t. And he can’t because there simply isn’t sufficient scientific knowledge about the working of the mind upon which to base the art of psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is a form of treatment practiced by psychiatrists (M.D.’s), clinical psychologists (Ph.D.’s), pastoral (minister) counselors, marriage counselors, and others without academic degrees who may call themselves ‘psychotherapists.’ The therapist tries to find the sources of the problem in order to change the thinking, feeling, and behavior of persons who are mentally and emotionally upset or ill. He does this primarily by listening to what the patient says and then interpreting what this means in terms of the underlying motives, attitudes, and beliefs of the patient. In simplest terms, the basic assumption behind this type of treatment is that the patient’s illness results from unresolved conflicts, and their attendant motives, and attitudes. Further, it is assumed that when the patient becomes aware of his true situation, he will ‘see the light’ so to speak, solve his hidden problems, and may consequently either recover from or adjust to his illness.

Case Two

A twenty-two-year old unmarried woman volunteered as a research patient in a study of the effects of nutritional biochemical treatment in mental illness. Although she offered to participate in the tests, she did so rather reluctantly, urged by a friend who had personally witnessed some of the results we had obtained in an earlier experiment. The young woman frankly stated that she had no confidence whatever in the general physical approach we were taking to her kind of problem, but was convinced, rather, that she ‘needed psychoanalysis.’ When I asked her what she meant by ‘psychoanalysis,’ she seemed surprised that possibly I hadn’t heard of it! I explained to her that the word had many meanings. She appeared puzzled, saying that she thought that ‘the standard treatment for mental disturbances discovered by Sigmund Freud.’

She gave the following information about herself in our initial interview: She lived in her family home alone with her father. Her mother, a heart patient for many years, had died two years previously of a heart attack. She had two brothers, considerably older than herself. Her father was an excessively ambitious physician who had spent almost no time at all at home with his wife and children. If he took a vacation he went alone on a trip to a medical or scientific conference. Her recollections of childhood and early youth consisted mainly of painful memories of family arguments, of her mother having fainting spells and heart attacks as a consequence of such arguments. She felt her father had indirectly caused her mother’s early death by his indifference, neglect, and cruelty.

She reported the following symptoms: severe depression with frequent suicidal urges; often she would stay in her room for days, afraid to see anyone; she developed an extreme revulsion for her father to the point of feeling like running and screaming at his sight; and she could not bear to have him approach her or touch her. She brooded over her mother’s death constantly, and could not separate this event from her revulsion for her father. On the other hand, she would occasionally be overcome with remorse about her hatred for him and would admit to herself that she also loved and admired him

Although she was convinced that the suggested biochemical treatment was ‘silly,’ she agreed to give it a fair trial. During the first month her worst symptoms began to disappear. Her depressed days became less and less frequent until they did not recur. And within three months’ time she stated that she was well. Her attitude toward her father became normal. Six months after the start of treatment she became engaged, and she was married the following year.

This case is typical of those found in the literature of Freudian psychoanalysis, illustrating the theory of the unconscious origin of neurotic behavior owing to repressed sexual desires of an infantile nature. Here is an unmarried young woman, living alone with her father; she is afraid to be near him, she both hates him and loves him, and she wants to commit suicide.

To a Freudian this young woman may have an Electra complex, in which the conflict between the infantile love of a little girl for her father, in competition with her mother, still continues unresolved in her unconscious mind, although she is now twenty-two years old. The psychoanalytic therapy indicated in such a case is to resolve the unconscious conflict, which, according to a practitioner of the Freudian school of thought, is the apparent cause of her abnormal mental and emotional behavior.

But was it actually the cause? Under treatment directed solely at improving the functional capacity of her brain and nervous system to produce energy, all of the alleged ‘symptoms of unconscious conflict’ completely disappeared. Not one word was ever said to her in the context of psychotherapy. The amount of time that she had contact with the director of the research project was a total of an hour and a half — over a period of three months. In three thirty-minute interviews she was simply directed to take a certain number of capsules a day and was given general advice on diet, to make certain that adequate fuel was available to maintain both her physical and psychological functions at an optimum level.

Case Three

A thirty-year-old unmarried man presented himself to us as a potential research patient. In our initial interview he said that most of the time he felt a terrifying apprehension that something dreadful was going to happen to him, but he couldn’t say what. During such an attack he was in a state of ‘almost unbearable panic’ and felt that certainly he was ‘losing his mind.’ He could literally ‘see the walls closing in’ on him, and felt that he was suffocating.

When I asked him about his previous treatment he said that he had been in Freudian analysis for a little over five years; for the first year he had visited the analyst five times a week, the following year his visits were down to three times a week, while the last year he went only twice a week.

When I asked him whether the treatment had helped him, he said no, that it had not only been ineffective, but that he was much more ill now than he had been at the start of the analysis. I then asked him whether or not he had told the psychotherapist that the treatment had made him no better but possibly worse. The young man said that he had indeed, and that the analyst had told him, ‘You are simply going to have to get hold of yourself — you are no longer a child.’

During the first two months of our experiment this young man showed no improvement; nor did we expect any, for he was administered placebos (dummy pills) to see whether he might react to the suggestion that biochemical treatment was helping him. However, one month after the real treatment began he reported that his anxiety attacks appeared to have stopped, but that he couldn’t believe it ‘after all those wasted years of analysis and no hope.’

We observed this patient for about two years, during which time he remained psychologically normal, functioning in the community, and holding a job, none of which he had been able to do during his five years of psychotherapy.

Case Four

John Gibson, an attorney I’d known for many years, asked me to have lunch with him. He wanted my opinion on something personal.

At lunch I learned that, after a dozen years of what he had believed was a happy marriage, he had recently discovered that his wife apparently didn’t love him at all. In fact, it seemed to him that she hated him, and had for a long time.

I asked what led him to this conclusion, and he told me what had happened on his birthday: ‘It was late, around eleven, and Jan and I were sitting over coffee and an after-dinner drink. I pushed the drink aside because it didn’t taste good to me. Jan looked at me with a puzzled expression. I said, ‘I guess I’m just too tired to enjoy it’ — and without reason or warning she shouted, ‘You’re too tired!’ And then she jumped up and ran to the fireplace, grabbed one of my golf trophies off the mantel, and threw it through the front window.

‘I was terrified by the crashing sound of breaking glass and by the unexplained suddenness of her fury.

‘What’s wrong? What have I done?’ I managed to ask. But instead of answering she began shouting almost incoherently at me, accusing me of everything imaginable — selfishness, neglect, abuse — oh, I can’t remember it all. She ran from the room, screaming and sobbing.

‘I just sat. I was scared. In a moment she returned with her coat on and rushed out of the front door, slamming it behind her. Just before she got into her car she yelled, ‘Happy Birthday?’ and drove off.

‘She came back several hours later, went to bed, and remained there most of the next day. When I returned from work I didn’t mention the explosion. I later realized that she had no recollection of having thrown the golf trophy through the window, because she asked me how the window got broken?’

I asked him whether there had been an argument or some difference between them that had been building up to an explosion. But he assured me that he knew of nothing he had done that could have caused her violent reaction.

I had known Jan Gibson for many years, long before she was married, and as far as I knew she was hardly the type one would expect to act violently. She was a thin, delicate girl, quite pretty and definitely shy.

I questioned her husband in detail about his wife’s previous behavior, whether there had been other such outbursts or actions or moods that he considered unusual.

Indeed there had. He told me that he first noticed that something was wrong during a recent vacation trip they had taken to Central America. After the first week or so he realized that they weren’t having their usual relaxed, enjoyable time together.

He said he found himself on the defensive day and night. His wife complained about almost everything he did or wanted to do: ‘Why do you have to dress so sloppy?’ ‘Quit staring at the waitress!’ ‘Can’t you ever think of anything but eating?’

When they returned home, her petulance and nagging got worse. Nothing seemed to please her. The house suddenly had become almost unlivable in her eyes. To hear her complain, one would think the place was a shak. Some $75,000 shack!

But her principal target was her husband, and the outburst that occurred on the night of his birthday apparently reflected the tremendous amount of pent-up rage and smoldering hostility that she harbored against him. At any rate, this is how he interpreted her wild behavior. She simply hated him and could no longer hold it in.

To me, however, this conclusion seemed both simple-minded and mistaken. Something else must have suddenly gone wrong. Two people don’t live affectionately together for many years, as I knew they had, only to have one of them suddenly declare it all to have been a masquerade.

Consequently, I first questioned him carefully on one important point: Was he convinced that he first noticed the change in his wife’s behavior while they were away on their vacation?

He said he was absolutely certain of this, for he remembered what a good time they had together planning the trip. And even the first week they were away everything seemed normal. They had flown to New Orleans for a day, then on to Miami for several days, before going to Central America. And it was there that her difficulties began.

He was obviously irritated by my line of questioning, for two him it seemed irrelevant. He became more and more impatient when I wanted to know whether they drank bottled distilled water, and whether they ate raw fresh fruit and raw vegetables while in the tropics.

He said, ‘I know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong. We didn’t get diarrhea or stomach upsets, even though we ate some raw fruit and vegetables. We also drank only bottled drinks. Really, my wife isn’t physically ill!’

But when I asked him how they avoided the stomach and bowel infections that frequently attack tourists in the tropics, he said simply, ‘We just started taking sulfa drugs the minute we got off the plane — and that was all there was to it. We took them all the time we were there, and I think my wife is still taking small doses just to be sure.’

‘She is?’ I asked, my tone of voice indicating my astonishment.

Sulfa drugs can inhibit the growth of bacteria: they are bacteriostatic agents. While taking such a drug it is possible to eat foods and drink liquids that contain otherwise harmful bacteria without suffering the usual stomach and bowel distress.

But there is another aspect of the use of bacteriostatic drugs such as sulfa or antibiotics that is definitely undesirable under any circumstance. They not only prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine — they prevent the growth of all bacteria, the good as well as the bad. (…)

As I began to discuss this subject my friend appeared skeptical and uninterested until I mentioned that mental depression was one of the first abnormal reactions that occurred when the intestinal flora was not functioning normally. He then told me that his wife had been ‘on the verge of tears’ ever since they returned from the tropics, and that he had also been feeling very ‘low.’ However, he attributed his wife’s depression as well as his own to the psychological conflicts that had recently occurred between them.

I told him that while it was clearly possible, however unlikely to my mind, that he and his wife were really at odds with each other, it was far more likely that their troubles were psychochemical rather than psychological, because of the unusual circumstances associated with his wife’s recent personality changes.

At any rate, the simplest way to find out would be to check whether or not their tissues were creating energy normally, and if not, whether intestinal flora replacement treatment would result in the expected psychological changes for the better.

When I talked to Jan Gibson the day she came to give us a blood sample, she confirmed what her husband had told me. She said that she had left home for their vacation feeling wonderful, but that everything ‘seemed to fall apart’ during the trip. She also told me that since returning home she had felt so strange, so unlike herself, that she feared she was losing her mind.

Our tests soon revealed why she felt this way. Not only was her blood-sugar level too low, but the rate at which her tissues were turning food into energy — her oxidation rate — was about 30 percent below normal.

This latter finding was surprising in view of the fact that Mrs. Gibson said she had stopped taking the sulfa drug at least two weeks before. Normally when one discontinues taking a drug that suppresses the intestinal flora, the bacterial population restores itself within a few days, provided one’s diet contains sufficient carbohydrate — preferably starchy foods.

But since we also found that Mrs. Gibson’s blood-sugar level was too low, this was evidence that something more than the suppression of her intestinal flora was contributing to her trouble — most likely her diet.

When I asked her about her food intake, she told me that she had gained several pounds while on vacation. When she returned home she decided to reduce by eliminating virtually all carbohydrates! She had picked up a book at the airport newsstand about a ‘low-carbohydrate diet,’ and what it recommended seemed so easy to follow that she began dieting as soon as she returned home.

Three days after our interview she telephoned and said: ‘Thank God. I am beginning to feel like Jan Gibson again.’

She had followed my suggestion that she change her diet to include adequate calories from carbohydrates, including starchy foods, and in addition, to take yoghurt and acidophilus until she felt normal psychologically.

Case Five

We studied a young man suffering from mental depression accompanied by several claustrophobia (a morbid fear of small enclosures). He had been unable to take a bath or shower for more than five years! He simply could not remain in a bathroom long enough to shower before he would be overcome by sheer panic.

Our tests indicated that he was unable to break down glucose normally, and consequently was unable to derive the major part of energy available to the cells from the acetate.

His dietary history was peculiar indeed: He ate only hamburger, or so he said, ‘balanced’ by coffee with skim milk. (He also smoked cigarettes incessantly — both his hands were stained yellow.)

When he described this diet to me I simply couldn’t believe it. But when I asked his mother about it, she said: ‘Yes, Donald really loves his hamburger.’

I questioned Donald about his unusual eating practices, expressing alarm and dismay that anyone would so abuse his mind and body. He became quite hostile and defensive and demanded, ‘What’s wrong with my hamburger?’

Now, although there is obviously nothing ‘wrong’ with hamburger, there is everything wrong with eating only hamburger, or eating only anything else, for that matter. Here is why:

Earlier I indicated that energy is released in the cells by a series of interlocking chemical reactions. Each of these reactions requires the participation of a specific enzyme.

In one respect enzymes may be likened to the spark plugs in an automobile engine; without them the engine won’t run. Similarly, the biochemical reactions on which the release of energy depends simply do not take place without enzymes. In one important respect, however, enzymes differ from spark plugs; enzymes must be regenerated — renewed constantly, they are not designed to last for 20,000 miles.

The materials required for the continuous renewal of enzymes come from only one source: the food one eats. Although the complexities of this subject need not concern us here, for there are hundreds of enzymes in the body, it is important to point out that the proper maintenance of the various enzyme systems requires a continuous supply of a wide range of nutritional substances (including especially vitamins and minerals).

This is why a diet of hamburger and coffee, or a limited and unvarying diet of any kind, can result in literally wrecking the energy-producing systems of the body. And there is no ‘perfect’ food, no ‘perfect combination’ of foods, that can be relied on to provide all of the nutrients one needs under any and all circumstances.

As for the young man who had been living several years on hamburger and coffee, we found that this tissues had all but lost their capacity to convert food into energy. When he was placed on a diet containing adequate carbohydrate, fat, and protein, and including fruit and vegetables that normally supply some of the essential vitamins and minerals the body requires for the renewal of enzymes, we found that he was still unable to utilize these nutrients normally.

However, when he was given large quantities of certain vitamins and minerals he had been missing on his hamburger diet, he gradually improved, over a long period of time, and as his ability to produce energy improved, his depression and fears left. He regained the ability to remain in a small enclosure, without panic.

Case Six

I recall the unusual case of John Marks, a thirty-five-year-old man who had recently won a big promotion to West Coast manager of a large national corporation. An appropriate increase in salary led to the purchase of a new home in one of the exclusive residential areas. The house was on spacious, landscaped grounds, requiring the weekly services of a professional gardener.

Mr. Marks assumed his new position with enthusiasm and performed his duties with ease and considerable success. Everything seemed to be fine — for a while.

Then he began to come home exhausted, almost to the point of nausea. But soon he recovered, and he forgot about it.

A couple of weeks later he arrived home from work feeling normally tired, but good. It was a Friday; his wife was attending a club meeting. It was a warm night in June, and after dinner, while sitting out in the patio looking over his spacious gardens, he suddenly felt unaccountably excited. His thoughts began racing through unrelated fantasies, and soon he felt overcome with a nameless fear.

My God, he said to himself, something’s happening — something’s going to happen … He began to sweat and take deep breaths. He felt scared, really scared. He was miserable — hot, sweating, wild, and panicky. He wiped the sweat from his forehead.

Looking at his sweat, the thought of a steam bath occurred to him. His bathroom contained a large stall shower that had a tile bench in it. He got into the shower, turned the spray on hot, and directed it against the opposite wall. He sat on the bench, and was soon dripping wet with sweat in the cloud of steam generated by the hot shower playing against the tile.

Gradually he felt himself relaxing — ‘coming out of it,’ he said. The wild, racing thoughts began to give way to more normal mental patterns, then suddenly he seemed to just ‘snap back’ to being himself.

He looked around in surprise, wondering what had happened, wondering why he was in the shower. And he began to worry. Am I cracking up? he asked himself.

He took a sedative and went to bed, and the next morning felt almost normal, but a little jittery. He had to go out of town on business for several days, and by the time he returned home he felt good and had just about forgotten the whole incident.

But not quite, for every once in a while a small inner voice would say: If it happened once, it can happen again.

The days slipped by, however, and the increasing responsibilities of his new position soon obscured the feared event of the past.

In was another Friday evening, his wife’s club night, and he was walking out in the garden. Suddenly the whole scene began again — the initial surge of excitement, the racing mental fantasies, followed by engulfing fear. And all of this was accompanied by the same intense physical discomfort and heavy perspiration as before.

Once more he saved himself in a cloud of steam, sitting dripping with sweat on the tile bench in the shower.

Now he was sure something was really wrong. The next day he called his physician, told him what had happened, and asked for the most complete medical examination it was possible to obtain. To his surprise, as well as to his relief, the doctor told him that such an examination would require a five-day stay in the hospital, beginning the following Monday.

Mr. Marks said that the extensive tests covered every possible physical explanation for the attacks, but since they all turned out to be normal, his doctor told him that he ought to see a psychiatrist to try to find the cause of this thing.

Consequently he began a series of once-weekly psychiatric interviews, and although he had several more attacks during the summer, they became less and less frequent during the fall, and by the end of the year appeared to stop altogether. He then discontinued his conferences with the psychiatrist.

I asked him what had developed during these psychiatric interviews, and he told me that the psychiatrist had once asked him, ‘Has it every occurred to you that you really don’t want to succeed?’ Although he didn’t come right out and say so, Mr. Marks got the impression that the psychiatrist believed that his attacks were the expression of an unconscious desire to fail in his new position, a notion he dismissed as ludicrous.

During the winter months there was no trouble of any kind; in fact, Mr. Marks worked so well that he was given a new contract with another substantial increase in salary. The past, while presenting a mystery, seemed over and gone.

That is, until one warm, spring evening when Mr. Marks felt that peculiar feeling of excitement begin again. This attack ultimately led to his volunteering to become one of our research patients. He said that he had always believed that there must be some physical reason for his attacks, principally because they could be relieved so dramatically by something as simple as a sweat bath.

In our initial interview he made one remark that finally led to the discovery of the cause of his acute mental and emotional episodes.

He said, ‘I know this will sound crazy, but what puzzles me is that these spells only happen in the evening and only on Friday!’ He was absolutely sure of these points.

Since Friday was also the night his wife went out to a club meeting, his psychiatrist had suggested a connection between the wild feelings of panic and a long-repressed fear of being abandoned by his mother, now transferred to his wife.

I asked him to tell me if there was anything else that happened only on Friday evenings. For example, did he possibly drink something exotic once in a while to relax after a hard week, something that he might be allergic to? He said he didn’t drink, and didn’t eat anything unusual.

The only thing he could think of was that Friday usually marked the end of a tough week — but, he protested, I’m not beat, not worn out, when Friday rolls around. In fact, I often go to the office again Saturday morning, just to think things over when the phones aren’t ringing and nobody is waiting to see me.’

I was about to give up this line of inquiry and assign the Friday connection to a rare coincidence when he said he had just thought of something ‘silly.’ I asked him what it was.

‘The gardener comes on Friday,’ he said, a little sheepishly.

I learned that the gardener did indeed come Fridays, and that he sometimes brought a tank sprayer, with which he sprayed all of the shrubs with a pesticide (parathion) to control insects.

This particular chemical happens to be one of the strongest insecticides in use, and one that is perhaps among the most toxic to humans. The effects that result from inhalation include nausea, weakness, sweating, breathing failure, and mental disturbances. Mr. Marks had experienced all of these symptoms. Yet when I suggested to him that this was undoubtedly the cause of his mysterious attacks, he asked, ‘How could such a chemical affect my mind?’

I told him that it affected the nervous system by disrupting the normal energy-producing activity of the cells and thus interfering with the transmission of nerve impulses.

Case Seven

A very good friend called and asked me if I would do him a favor. He said he knew one of the most talented, most intelligent, and most gifted young women in Hollywood, Doris James, who was in desperate need of help. ‘She isn’t going to make it, the way it looks right now,’ he said.

He also told me that she had been to ‘all the doctors’ and had been going to a psychiatrist for three years, and yet she was becoming more and more upset.

I agreed to look into the case.

Mrs. James arrived for her initial interview on a cold, rainy Saturday morning. She was a frail wisp of a girl who that morning looked like a wet kitten. I met her in the waiting room, where she acknowledged my hello with a nod, without even looking at me.

I led the way to my office. She sat down, took off her gloves, and began to cry. Finally exhausted, and out of tears, she apologized and began to talk.

What I heard was an almost endless list of ‘impossibles.’ Her position as a writer, although she was among the highest-paid writers in the country, was ‘impossible.’ Her husband, a successful lawyer, was also ‘impossible,’ even though she said she admired and respected him. ‘He’s kind, gentle, understanding, and helpful.’ She paused, then sighed, ‘But he’s impossible! I never should have married him.’

Their home, which I later discovered was a small mansion in Encino, was ‘just simply impossible.’

As the list of things she found intolerable grew, it became clear to me that the real truth was that perhaps none of these things was impossible.

As a rule, when every aspect of one’s life situation seems to be at fault, the most likely reason is to be found within the person himself.

When Mrs. James finally finished her long list of complaints, I asked, ‘Has it occurred to you that you haven’t made a single reference to yourself in all of you’ve told me?

Our subsequent discussion revealed what was really wrong in the life of Doris James. She had previously mentioned that her car, ‘on top of everything else,’ was ‘impossible.’ I asked her what she meant.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘I have this prestige car’ — she emphasized the word — that has a stick shift and is awfully tiring for me to drive in stop-and-go traffic. I’m simply worn out by the time I get to the studio in the morning.’

When I asked her why she didn’t drive a car with an automatic transmission, she gave me a funny look and asked, ‘Do you mean something like a Chevy?’ To Doris James such an idea was clearly preposterous.

Her own self-image could be reflected only by something exotic, exclusive, and expensive — like the ten-thousand dollar foreign sports car with the stick shift, even though it, too, was ‘impossible.’

I soon discovered that the Doris James who appeared to be a frail wisp of a young lady was in fact only the façade that hid a driving, status-craving ego. She simply had to have the best husband, the best home, the best friends (‘I know most of the right people in town’), the best job, the best clothes, the best car — everything.

There appeared to be no end to the list of things she coveted and was determined to get by her own efforts. She was well on her way to fulfilling most of her desires when she began to cave in emotionally. And after exhausting herself in their pursuit, she now found herself confronted by impossibilities wherever she looked.

This unusually bright young woman had consulted a psychiatrist for three years trying to find out ‘why’ everything that had formerly seemed so desirable, so necessary, now turned out to be ‘impossible.’

I told her that she had been looking for an answer in the wrong place, for there wasn’t any psychological reason for her reactions. As a matter of fact, everything is impossible to anyone who lacks the mental and emotional strength to make normal responses. It takes strength to enjoy anything — and the higher the capacity for energy output of the nervous system, the greater is the ability to respond with interest, appreciation, and enjoyment to the good things around us.

When I outlined our rehabilitation program to her, emphasizing the absolute necessity of sharply curtailing the range of her frenetic activities, while increasing her tissue repair time to a minimum of ten hours’ sleep a night, she said: ‘But I thought — at least the analysts say — that sleep is a form of escape!’

Mrs. James successfully followed the program we outlined for her, which consisted of an intensive nutritional program, together with a realistic balance between her average daily energy output and her allowance for tissue rebuilding in sleep.

She received a totally unexpected reward for facing up to the biochemical realities of her life. In addition to regaining her mental and emotional balance, she discovered that her creativity as a writer began to improve. She cited what I thought was reasonably objective evidence for this belief, for within the year she completed a very successful book, her first. When I asked her why she had never tried a book-length manuscript before, she replied, ‘I never thought I could. Every time I considered the idea in the past the task simply appeared too big. I just couldn’t face it.’


Probably most — if not all — of the psychochemical responses illustrated in this chapter could have been controlled by the individuals involved had they been sufficiently informed concerning some of the basic facts about how the mind and the body function.

Any type of unusual emotional reaction raises a question about the ability of the central nervous system to create energy normally. If a person is not physically ill — and none of the individuals we have been talking about were — then one must look for the causes of unusual mental and emotional reactions in the four general areas we have been discussing: 1) inadequate nutrition; 2) chemical interference with the ability of tissues to function normally, owing to drugs, poisons, allergies, or infections; 3) stress — including pregnancy and childbirth — the expenditure of mental or physical effort beyond one’s biochemical limits; and 4) failure to repair tissues because of lack of sufficient sleep which is necessary to restore the cells’ normal ability to create energy.


Many years ago a Freudian analyst asked me, ‘What on earth could nutritional biochemistry have to do with mental health?’ He asked this question after I had briefly mentioned some of the effects of semistarvation on personality which were revealed in a study conducted at the University of Minnesota. Since this therapist had never heard of the research, I described it to him briefly as being a six months’ study of semistarvation undertaken by some thirty volunteer male subjects, all of whom were psychologically normal at the start of the test. The semistarvation diet consisted of an average daily intake of about 1,600 calories, mainly carbohydrate, but including 50 grams of protein and 30 grams of fat. Even on this much food, however, which on the surface might not appear to represent a drastic deprivation, the group as a whole showed marked personality changes, both neurotic and psychotic. In fact, some subjects became so disturbed that they inflicted physical damage on themselves. One of the conclusions offered by the scientists who did this research was that ‘experimental neurosis’ could be induced entirely by nutritional means. Since ‘nutritional means’ are physical and not mental, the basic article of faith of all schools of psychotherapy — that minds must be treated with mental, not physical, techniques — is now in doubt. From today’s scientific vantage point, the concept of an independent mind is a carry-over from the speculative philosophy of the past. It has been replaced by the brain and the central and peripheral nervous system — and by the internal chemical environment of the body in which all cells live and from which they obtain the materials that keep them alive and functioning. These materials are nutritional biochemicals, and they come from one and only one source: what you eat. /14–15

Dr. H.J. Eysenck evaluated the results of nineteen studies on more than 7,000 patients and concluded that they failed to prove that psychotherapy — whatever the type — was of any value in helping patients recover from neuroses. He reports that roughly two-thirds of such patients will recover or improve to a marked extent within about two years of the onset of their illness, whether or not they are treated by means of psychotherapy. In other words, while it is indeed true that persons undergoing psychotherapy sometimes improve, such improvement may be merely incidental to the passage of time. They could have improved equally well, as controlled comparative studies show, had they not been treated by psychotherapy at all. /11

The failure to distinguish between psychochemical behavior and motivated, meaningful behavior is at the bottom of the chaos in psychotherapy. For all of the competing schools base their theories and treatment procedures on the assumption that abnormal mental and emotional reactions are somehow deliberate and purposeful, and thus basically reflect the patient’s ‘real motives.’ The psychotherapists believe that such abnormal acts, in addition to having meaning, have been learned, either directly or indirectly, and thus can be unlearned. In fact, psychotherapy — regardless of the type — is basically an attempt to induce the patient to change his behavior, that is, to learn to act differently. /13

Instead of trying to find the underlying motives or ‘reasons’ why people behave abnormally, we must rather seek to understand what they do in terms of the biological malfunctioning of the organism. /14

One of the main reasons psychotherapists tried to understand disturbed behavior strictly in mental, rather than in physical, terms was that early efforts to find physical causes were unsuccessful — though they go as far back as the medieval theory of ‘the humors.’ These early negative results led to the belief that mental disturbances were in no way linked to body disturbances, but were purely ‘mental phenomena.’ This mentalistic assumption, coupled with the introduction of intriguing and mysterious concepts such as the ‘id,’ the Oedipus complex,’ and ‘the collective unconscious,’ has had the effect of generating a romantic mystique in the popular mind concerning the origins of normal as well as abnormal behavior. /14

— Sulfa drugs can inhibit the growth of bacteria: they are bacteriostatic agents. While taking such a drug it is possible to eat foods and drink liquids that contain otherwise harmful bacteria without suffering the usual stomach and bowel distress. But there is another aspect of the use of bacteriostatic drugs such as sulfa or antibiotics that is definitely undesirable under any circumstance. They not only prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the inestine — they prevent the growth of all bacteria, the good as well as the bad. The normal ‘healthy’ bacterial population of the bowel is called the intestinal flora, and its importance stems from the fact that the flora synthesizes a number of vitamins — such as riboflavin, biotin, and vitamin K — of great importance to the energy-producing activities of the tissues, particularly the nervous system. For example, when the intestinal flora is not functioning normally, it is virtually impossible to substitute orally administered vitamins such as riboflavin that can adequately compensate for the lack of bacterial synthesis of these substances in the intestines. We have observed many abnormal psychological reactions in patients whose intestinal flora had been suppressed by drugs, or for any other reason, such as incorrect diet. These abnormal reactions include depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, irritability, and excitability — and a tendency to lose self-control. That such abnormal psychological reactions indeed resulted from the suppression of the intestinal flora could be simply and dramatically demonstrated by administering a liquid culture of ‘healthy’ bacteria — either yoghurt or acidophilus (a fermented liquid produced by growing lactobacillus acidophilus in milk) — preferably together with some starchy food such as bread or soda crackers, needed to supply the nourishment for the growth of the implanted bacteria. In most instances the abnormal psychological reactions would cease completely within a few hours. /18–19

The source of all the energy expended by the mind — considered as the function of the brain — is provided by a process called ‘cellular respiration,’ during which complex foods are broken down into simpler substances which are then burned (oxidized) in the individual cells of the brain. The principal fuel of the brain is glucose, a simple type of sugar. This is the material that is carried in the blood, the so-called blood sugar, to all of the body’s vital tissues such as the heart, liver, muscles, and brain. Although glucose can be obtained directly from some foods, such as honey and grapes, the body manufactures most of its requirements from other carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, cereals), milk sugar (lactose), fruit sugar (fructose), as well as from meat and other protein foods. In addition to glucose, many cells of the body can also burn fat for energy, even though it is not the fuel they prefer. The brain, however, appears to rely heavily on glucose for its energy, and, unlike other organs, it cannot switch to burning fat when sugar isn’t available. To illustrate just how important the sugar supply carried by the blood to the brain is, let us consider some of the immediate psychological effects that result when this supply is diminished. Among the first things that happen when the blood sugar is too low and sufficient glucose is not available to the brain is loss of normal emotional control. This can take many forms, from simple nervousness, unexplained weeping and depression, all the way to violent impulses, the immediate urge to smash something … /21

Every drop of alcohol burned in the tissues creates a nutritional demand for carbohydrates and for the many biochemicals that it does not by itself supply, the vitamins and the minerals necessary to process it. Consequently, continued, constant, or frequent use of alcohol can lead to the depletion of cellular nutritional reserves need for normal metabolism. (…) The more one can drink without adverse effect the worse off he is. It is just plain utter biochemical nonsense for people to pride themselves on being able to hold their liquor, for only those in very bad shape can do so. /105–106