In our society people often try to cure themselves. A obvious example are people who go on diets to cure obesity. Some such people are clueless about biology, such as a woman I knew who had subsisted on only popcorn and ice-cream for a long period of time as a teen. Years later she joined a bike trip that I was on, (we were riding with a group from Portland along the Columbia River Gorge to the Pacific, and then south to Eugene, OR, and then inland across the Cascades and the Rockies). At the time, the bike leader was impatient at me for my own dietary quirks, but this young woman explained to him “where I was coming from” based on where she had been coming from. She could not cycle well, and she said the reason was the damage she did to herself with the diet all those months or years.
As another example of self-cure, my parents knew a physicist who lived in the hills outside Boulder, who was a smart man who wrote a clear and well-reasoned science newsletter, but when he contracted an incurable cancer, he tried a pseudo-scientific cure that some charlatan was marketing. I guess it didn’t make much difference that he tried it, since there was nothing that could have saved him, and you could argue that trying dubious and random cures is a good strategy if you have nothing to lose.
Unfortunately, there are cases of people who for health reasons do very self-destructive things. And they sometimes involve their kids in their health-regimens, which can result in tragedy for their kids.
There are weight lifters who take steroids, though steroids can damage their liver, as well as change their appearance in general for the worse. Weightlifters often take protein supplements too, which in the case of people who already have kidney problems, can kill them (at least in one case that I read see ‘sources’ below).
Part of the reason for the attempts at self-cure is that while you can lead a healthy life in an affluent society where food, junk or otherwise, is always available, and where sedentary recreation and sedentary occupations are common, it takes knowledge and priorities and some will-power to lead a healthy life.
I too fell for pseudo-science several times, and I’ll explain why here.
As a teen, I was under a furnace of stress. I also overate constantly. It was common for me to devour several boxes of heavy cakes, plus all sorts of other food, and that was just as a snack. Looking at me now, you would not think this could have happened, since I’m frail and skinny and short. But its true.
One day, sitting in the library, I came across a diet-book that claimed if I changed the balance of my diet to mostly protein, I would get my body into a state called ketosis, which would peel off the pounds. So here I was, lonely, overly well padded, hugely stressed, at the mercy of out-of-control urges (food, sex, etc), and I was grasping for salvation. The diet book seemed to be my salvation, which was illogical, since being over-weight was only one of my problems. As I read it, goose bumps rose all over me. Probably the same thing happens to a leftist idealist when he first reads Marx.
I latched onto that diet like a fanatic. I ate nothing but meat, fish, and fat. I tried to convince myself that I felt better, but frankly, I felt awful. The weight did peel away, however. Fat disappeared. Muscle disappeared.
So that was my first pseudo-science mistake.
As an excuse, you might say that books like the diet book I found are convincing because they are coherent universes in themselves. It doesn’t occur to a teen to read counter-arguments, or get familiar with the literature, or see the alternatives. I would think that high-schools should incorporate into health class some sensible advice on treating obesity, since such a large fraction of American young people are overweight.
Interestingly, I recently read the hypothalamus can be damaged by too many nutrients in the blood stream, and then you get a higher set point for satiety so you get even more overweightsee sources. And the hypothalamus also affects reproductionsee sources, so you could speculate that a diseased hypothalamus could lead to undesirable behavior there. And various other things get out of whack, such as insulin sensitivity etc.
Whatever was going on in my body at that time, I felt like a simmering cauldron of sickness, stress, shame, etc. And this might seem odd. I lived in a safe suburb, with no enemies hunting me with a machete, plenty to eat, enough sleep, a nice set of parents and brothers. So why should I be on this course of self-demolition?
And then, something really interesting happened. I’ve gone into the story (or at least aspects of it) several times on this blog. So I’ll skip all the details, except to say that I was in a sleaze scandal, and then attacked by a Mafia. The first drug they used was a drug that amplified sexual urges.
I did not of course know there was a Mafia, when the ‘feelings’ started, but I knew I did not want those feelings, and I went to various doctors, a psychiatrist, and had a quick talk with an endocrinologist. The psychiatrist, unfortunately, tried to treat me as if I had a fungal infection. He gave me a drug named ‘diflucan’ , and I doubled the dosage, so anxious was I to be rid of the sexual dreams, sexual urges, and so forth. It is not a good idea to take drugs like this, and especially not good to double the recommended dosage. It may be the reason that a doctor told me that I had a damaged liver, about a year after that.
So that was pseudo-science response number 2.
I should say that the idea of a Mafia that wastes its time persecuting some non-entity like me sounds completely insane, and I know it sounds completely insane. But it happened.
My parents had put me in a mental hospital when I first told them that I was – in a word ‘notorious’. They also told the psychiatrist that I was an “anorexic” (this anorexia was also a misdiagnosis, as a doctor who examined me at Mt. Sinai told me). But anyway, there I was in this hospital, forced to take dietary supplement shakes, as well as regular meals, and prevented from even walking up and down the hallway of the ward – because I obviously had to be fattened up.
Talk about pseudo-science!
I got out of the ward, after two months, by phoning a relative of mine who was a psychiatrist outside Boston. He knew me from a few years that I had spent there, and he said “You don’t belong in a mental hospital, I’ll get you out.”
and he did.
And the sky did not fall afterwards.
One of the poisons that the Mafia used on me had an extreme constipating effect, and also made blood run out of my intestines. When they hit me with the stuff, it was very unpleasant, very distinctive, and like clockwork, the blood would come out later. But I also had hemorrhoids, which in severe cases can also fill your toilet bowl with blood. For various reasons, I believe it was an interaction between the two, and I adapted by wearing diapers.
I also would not drink out of cartons of milk – I asked my parents to buy cans of milk instead.
The Mafia started poisoning my clothing, and I tried to adapt by wearing plastic bags under my pants (this did not work too well), wearing pants inside out (this did work, but had obvious drawbacks when I was in public), or buying new pants (this worked too).
They poured gas with pronounced biological effects in my bedroom. I became a bath of chemicals. Nasty chemicals.
I had been somewhat good-looking, but whatever handsomeness I had had mostly disappeared after year one of this treatment.
Now what can we conclude from all this, apart from my being totally psychotic?
Lets assume I’m not psychotic, and see where we get. First of all, if I’m not a mental case, then I was in a situation where the various professionals mis-diagnosed the situation. It was a new type of situation – not one that law-enforcement or the medical or psychiatric profession had ever had to handle. I was on my own, and I tried to cope on my own, sometimes with pseudo-science.
Despite the fact that I’m a person who has fallen for false remedies, and a person with a penchant for jumping to conclusions, I was the real beacon of sanity ultimately.
My advice, based on all these experiences, is that if you have a child or teen who is under huge stress in school, remove him from school. If you are under huge stress in your job, you should consider leaving your job. If you have urges that control you, as opposed to controlling them, get what help that can be had. Many Americans today are slaves to opiates that were foolishly prescribed to them, and some die because their willpower is not strong enough to offset the addiction. If shame is what keeps you from getting help, overcome the shame.
In general, if you live in a society that has everything, you have dangers that don’t occur in a society that is deprived. Even the smart-phone, with its undeniable benefits, has killed people who text while they drive, for instance. Some people say that it has reduced face-to-face social interactions as well, and contributed to the increasing incidence of mental problems in the younger generation now entering college.
Taking the problems of modernity to an extreme, I should mention that you can be ‘gaslighted’. ‘Gaslighting’ normally means that someone creates a world for you that makes you conclude you are insane, but I’m inventing a new meaning for it as follows: If you get some source of information entirely by electronic means, whether phone, texting, emails, then your world can be hacked. I think this is what happened to an acquaintance of mine named Gail, a woman who thought she was communicating with me. Remember, I claim the “Mafia” had assigned people who could get into my house, who knew in general what my plans were, where I would travel, and so forth. This allowed them to impersonate me in the virtual world. Gail was deceived, because she did not step out of the virtual world.
Even if you dismiss my speculation here, you can read of cases such as a young man who interviewed for a job, got an acceptance email, but never saw it, because his “girlfriend” deleted the email on purpose. The truth only came out because the company had liked him so much that it contacted him asking how he could have rejected their offer. This young man’s girlfriend had hoped that she was cutting off his link to reality.
A cousin of mine one quoted at me “It is better to be silent, and thought a fool, then to speak, and remove all doubt.”. You could change that to “being thought insane”. Nonetheless, that’s my choice here, I’ve chosen to speak, and if you believe the story, you have learned something worth learning.
- The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat – February 7, 2017 by Stephan J. Guyenet Ph.D. (Author)
After reading this book, I sent the following question to the author:
1. If the hypothalamus is somehow damaged by too much food (presumably circulating in the blood), why aren’t other parts of the brain also damaged? Is there some particular receptor in the hypothalamus that gets overwhelmed?
2. The hypothalamus has other functions apart from generating hunger. Is there any evidence that those functions are impaired in people with inflammation of the hypothalamus?
He replied as follows:
1. I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anyone does, but there is an obvious possibility that comes to mind. Parts of the hypothalamus (the parts that get inflamed) have a leaky blood-brain barrier, presumably because the hypothalamus is designed to sense the metabolic state of the rest of the body. So anything that’s circulating in the bloodstream can impact the hypothalamus more than other parts of the brain, e.g. if a person overeats and experiences excessive circulating levels of nutrients.
2. Good question. The hypothalamus regulates many things, and many are linked to energy status. Four of them that are altered in obesity are blood glucose regulation, sexual maturity onset, reproductive function, and blood pressure regulation. There is some evidence that the neuronal changes that accompany obesity can contribute to poor blood glucose regulation. Sexual maturity onset is linked with leptin levels and this probably explains why puberty onset has been getting earlier lately as the population has been gaining fat, although that doesn’t seem like a case of dysfunction. …. There is evidence that obesity-related hypertension is caused by excess leptin acting in the hypothalamus, so that could be an indirect effect of hypothalamic inflammation (hypothalamic inflammation -> leptin resistance -> fat gain -> high leptin -> hypertension).