By Ellis Barker J.
THE present age is frequently described as a nervous age. Nerve weakness, called neurasthenia, is extremely common. In many books and articles we have been told that it is due to the rush and pressure of modern life. I am afraid I cannot agree with that view. Neurasthenia is found not only among men in the city who deal in large amount, where fortunes are made and lost every day. The trouble is extremely frequent among seamstresses who live in quiet byways, far from the rush and turmoil of life. Neurasthenia, like many other diseases, is due very largely to faulty nutrition. Unfortunately this has not been adequately recognized by the medical profession.
Patients frequently consult me and tell me that they have visited doctors and distinguished specialists, who have examined them carefully and who at the end of the examination have told the patient: ” There is nothing organically wrong with you. It is only nerves.” Many patients are foolish enough to be satisfied with that extraordinary stupid explanation. Nerve troubles are as curable as organ troubles, and perhaps more easily curable, but nervous patients cannot be cured by doping them with poisonous sedatives such as bromide and luminal.
Unfortunately many distinguished nerve specialists are principally dope vendors. They do not make the slightest attempt to cure the nerve cases which come to them. They keep them quiet with poisonous sedatives, and occasionally tell the anxious relatives that nothing else can be done for them.
I have had a very large number of nerve cases, and most to them have to come to me when general practitioners and distinguished specialists have failed. It is, of course, quite impossible to treat all nerve cases alike. In every case the most careful investigation must be made in order to discover the cause of the trouble.
Neurasthenia, like hysteria, appears in innumerable forms. There are people who are afraid to go into crowds, afraid to go into shops and afraid to go into the city, afraid to travel in a convenience, afraid to go along the street because the houses might fall on them. there are other who feel too weak to move, too weak to concentrate, who read mechanically and cannot make out the meaning of the simple phrases which they have read. There are people who have lost their memory, people who can no longer sign their name or add a few figures. There are people who can cannot sit still, and others who sit still for hours staring in to space.
There are nerve cases who sleep almost day and night, and others who cannot sleep at all. There are those who have visions and hallucinations, who believe that they have committed crimes, who are afraid of being pursued. There are nerve patients whose digestion has gone to pieces. Gas comes up from the stomach unceasingly with terrific noise, and there are nerve cases who eat voraciously and yet remain thin and lose weight. The types of nerve sufferers are past counting, and therefore past describing.
It is a good rule that no medicinal treatment should be given until common-sense faults and commonplace matters have been put right, but before dealing with this it is necessary to enquire very carefully into the history of the patient and into his inheritance. In some cases nerve weakness is due to the faults or disorders of the parents.
Careful and tactful enquiry will often elicit that there is a syphilitic, tubercular or other taint, or that the balance of the patient was upset by injury to the brain owing to a fall, possibly in babyhood, to injury at birth by the forceps, to a fright, such as a fire or an explosion, when the patient was quite small, etc. The nervous system is very frequently deeply injured by vaccinial poisoning, of which the orthodox profession knows nothing, or by the diseases of childhood.
I never consider the diseases of childhood if the attacks were small, unless the disease was more or less suppressed. If there is reason to believe that inherited syphilis, tuberculosis, etc., or measles, scarlatina, and so forth in childhood is at the bottom of the trouble, then we must tentatively treat the patient with the indicated antidote, such as Syphilinum, Tuberculinum of Bacillinum, Morbillinum, Scarlatinum, etc. However, as I stated before, common-sense matters must have precedence before the study of the various disease factors.
Sir Robert McCarrison and other eminent students of nutrition have shown that animals which are faultily fed suffer not only physically, but that their nervous system and their brain are grievously affected. If one puts a cage full of rats or other laboratory animals on a restaurant diet with white bread, white sugar, over-cooked vegetables, strong tea, etc., the animals suffer not only from numerous nutritional diseases found in civilized men, such as appendicitis, colitis, gastric and duodenal ulcer, etc., but they suffer also from nerve diseases and eventually from insanity. Animals fed on devitaminized diet becomes frantic.
They rush about, aware of the deficiency of their food, and in their despair they eat their own dung and lap their own urine, which happens to be rich in vitamins. Therefore it is customary among dietetic researches who wish to study the effect of vitamins starvation, to keep these unfortunate animals in cages, the floor of which consists of write netting. The object is to prevent these wretched animals from eating their own dung and lapping their own urine. Vitamin starved animals show every sign of all health.
They lose weight, look miserable, get skin disease, have inflamed eyes, they become bad tempered, they fight among themselves and show every sign of incipient insanity. They suffer from neurasthenia in every form.
In every case of nerve weakness we must carefully enquire not only into the occupation of the patient, his inheritance, etc., but also carefully study the patients diet. In most cases it will be found that the diet is a highly artificial one, that the patient lives principally on refined foods from which the essential elements have been abstracted, with a view to making the food more attractive to the eye, more easy to chew, etc.
The first necessity consists in placing the patient on a diet of natural food in its most natural condition. It is not necessary to study the text books of scientific nutrition, of which I have a very low opinion., and it is certainly not necessary to order a diet based on calories. Diet is not a question of theory but a question of common sense.
The patient should be given a diet composed of wholemeal bread, an abundance of bran, fresh butter, superlatively weak China tea, milk and milky foods if he is thin, an abundance of raw fruit, salading, vegetables, fresh eggs, cheese, and putrefactive foods such as flesh, fish, and fowl and everything made of them should be strictly forbidden. Of course, the patient should be given an adequate amount of liquid in the form of lemon water, plain water, water with orange juice, water in which vegetables have been boiled, extremely weak China tea, etc.
Alcohol is useful for weak patients. It helps them digest their food, it is a tonic and an internal disinfectant. Alcohol is the only food disinfectant. A foul wound can be disinfected with wine or with diluted whisky, or with plain diluted alcohol. The Greeks and Romans washed their wounds with wine, and so did many of the nations of antiquity. Of course, alcohol is not advisable for those who take too much alcohol.
In some cases neurasthenics owe their trouble to habitual consumption of very strong tea, strong coffee, alcohol, and overheating foods which act as stimulants for a time, and temporary stimulation is followed by a disastrous reaction which causes the patient to take still more alcohol, still more tobacco, still more meat, etc. Consumers of these heating and irritating foods and drinks frequently take enormous quantities of spices and condiments to whip up their flagging energies and their flagging digestion. It is, of course, not easy to change the diet of these patients. At least temporarily their digestion must be supported.
Patients who are used to over-consumption of meat, alcohol, spices and condiments, etc., are greatly benefited by Nux vomica, which I usually give in the 3x potency with excellent results. If there is at the same time much acidity, vegetable charcoal is very helpful. The orthodox doctor prescribes vegetable charcoal in enormous quantities. The most palatable form consists of charcoal biscuits, and there are patients who eat charcoal biscuits all day long. Their tongues are as black as ink.
Charcoal in large quantities is extremely dangerous. It frequently produces stones in the bowel. I have seen cases of diverticulitis apparently caused by vegetable charcoal taken in large quantities. In such patients pouches are formed along the bowel wall which are filled with black stones as large as marbles, consisting of vegetable charcoal.
In giving a diet sheet to nerve cases one must aim at eliminating anaemia, feeding up the patients who are too thin, reducing the weight of patients who are too stout, and thinning the blood of the plethoric. The thin and underfed should be given milky foods rather than milk, because milk taken neat is apt to clot in the stomach and to produce indigestion and constipation. I prescribe, as a rule, weak china tea half milk, and all kinds of milky foods for the thin, and in a few weeks they are in much better condition. The anaemic should be given dark vegetables, dark fruit, black treacle and other foods rich in iron.
Hand in hand with the regulation of the diet must go regulation of excretion. Nerve sufferers are frequently troubled with chronic constipation and with poisoning of the system from a foul bowel. A natural fleshless and fishless diet, and an abundance of bran vastly improves bowel activity, and very frequently chronic constipation disappears as if by magic when a patient is given an abundance of bran, black treacle, etc. Vegetables and fruit alone are insufficient to combat constipation in most cases.
I have seen numerous cases of inveterate constipation among people who have lived practically exclusively on raw fruit, salading, etc. Patients with weak nerves should endeavour to have two or three motions a day, and they should make it a rule to go to the place of retirement three times a day, after every meal.
Faulty management of the body is also harmful to the nervous. There are weak people who try to strengthen themselves by taking cold baths which chill them through and through, and weaken them. There are other weak people who try to get strength, not by adequate nutrition, but by violent exercise. Others again try to get strength by exposing their bodies to the air, by taking sun baths which frequently lead to a complete nervous breakdown, etc. Animals which are exposed to the blazing sun try to get into the shade.
If they cannot get into the shade they go frantic because their instinct tells them of the danger of over-exposure to the strong sun. Numerous nerve cases are due to injudicious sun bathing, injudicious exercise, injudicious cold bathing, etc.
There are nerve cases which are traceable to sexual over- indulgence to self-abuse, to frequent nightly emissions, to avoidable anxieties, etc. If a man has overstrained his financial resources he is in constant anxiety to financial disaster and he may become a nervous wreck. There are people who work sixteen or eighteen hours a day, who go to bed with thoughts of business, who think of their business when awake in bed, and who dream of their business when asleep. Patients must be told firmly but kindly that they must alter their ways.
The curative treatment of cases of nerve weakness must depend on all the circumstances mentioned in the foregoing, and on numerous other circumstances which have not been allude to. Nerve patients who are emaciated and restless frequently do well when they are given a natural diet, a good deal of rest, and they recover promptly as soon as they put on weight.
At one time I favoured the rest cure. A patient is put into bed for six weeks, he is highly fed with an abundance of milk and milky foods, he is not given any exercise, but is vigorously massaged to ensure absorption of food, and his bowels are carefully regulated. Am emaciated nerve case kept in bed can thus be made to gain weight at the rate of five or ten pounds a week, but the rest cure is intensely disliked by most patients.
They are made to lie in bed and to vegetate. They must not receive visitors, must not receive or write letters, they either are given no books or only childrens books which require no concentration. The rest cure can be properly given only in a nursing home, and nursing homes are expensive.
To ensure digestions of the large quantities of food the under- nourished can be given certain remedies which assist digestion, such as Thyroid, Gentian, and other stimulants of the digestion, and further assistance can be given by means of hot poultices on the abdomen such as linseed poultices. For many years I have not given the rest cure to any of my nerve cases. I find that as a rule I can increase the weight of the emaciated by 5,6,7 or 8 lbs. a week while allowing them to live their normal life, going to business, etc.
However, I do not allow much exercise. They are enjoined to take the minimum of exercise and to spend as much time as possible on their backs, and in my directions to the emaciated I always tell them: “Spend as much time on your back as you can, never sit down when you can lie down.” Lying down after meals is particularly helpful. It assists digestion and excretion, especially when the bowel is kinked, a condition which is extremely frequent.
The stout and the plethoric have to be reduced in weight. The plethoric frequently suffer from high blood pressure, which worries them. Obesity can be cured only by under-nutrition, by compelling the body to burn up the redundant fat. Such patients should be given the absolute minimum of feeding foods and the maximum of raw fruit, salading, and liquids such as water, unsweetened lemon water, etc.
An obese person is given for breakfast two small slices of thin wholemeal toast with the thinnest butter, a lightly boiled egg or some mild cheese, any quantity of raw juicy fruits, superlatively weak China tea with the minimum of milk and no sugar. His mid-day meal should consist of a superabundance of plainly boiled vegetables, salading raw fruits, a meagre egg dish or egg and cheese dish, and a couple of biscuits, and his evening meal should be similar to the mid- day meal.
It is dangerous to reduce the obese too quickly. I therefore stipulate that they should lose only two or three pounds per week. If they lose more they are told to increase their intake of milk and butter. The obese and the plethoric rapidly feel more comfortable when their weight goes down. Their throbbing headaches disappear, their blood pressure goes down, their nervousness vanishes and they become happy and normal again.
Nervousness in women is very frequently due to some abnormality in the sexual organ. After all, a woman is built round her sex organs. It is very important to ascertain whether a womans periods are too scanty or too profuse, or have stopped altogether. The regulation of these matters is essential. If there is violent pain, then the cause of the pain has to be ascertained, or at least the appropriate homoeopathic remedy should be given, and then things will become normal.
Some woman become nervous wrecks because there is no adequate outlet for their affection, others because they are not married or because they are not happily married, others because they have no children, others because sex relations are unsatisfactory. There are woman who become completely exhausted and hysterical through avoidable mismanagement or through lack of consideration on the part of their husbands. There are others who have irregular relations or who live in fear of infection.
The use of preventives has made many women nervous wrecks, and sop has tampering with pregnancy. The relations between the sexes should be easy and natural, and in sex relations there should be unreserved joyousness and happiness without fear, pain, mutual reproaches or disgust and horror. Some women are to exacting in their husbands, and some husbands are too exacting on their wives. The nervous wear and tear of such conditions is terrible in many cases. The wise prescriber, after having tactfully ascertained the position of affairs, should ask the husband to visit him, explain the position and insist on the correction of obvious mistakes.
Neurasthenia appears in children as well as in grown ups. Occasionally one reads of children who are completely broken down in nerves, of children who have committed suicide from fear of examinations, or because they have received a few bad marks at school. Nervousness in children is largely due to nutrition, but there are other factors as well. Parents who have procreated children while under the influence of alcoholic drink, or who are addicted to dopes, very frequently have nervy children.
I have seen terrible nerve cases due to sexual disease of the parents or to attempts of the mother to produce an abortion when bearing the child. One must have consider these cases as incurable. Nerve cases of all ages require building up. One can rebuild the nervous system just as easily as one can strengthen muscles by adequate exercise and deliberate training.
In diseases and disorders of the nerves, homoeopathic medicines are of infinite value. Dopes used in large quantities by orthodox doctors are dangerous and harmful. I have seen patients who were absolutely ruined by bromide, luminal, and other so-called sedatives taken for years and years. Nervous patients who cannot sleep are often given veronal or other poisonous drugs for years in ever-increasing quantities, and then they become enslaved to the use of the drug. It is extremely difficult to deal with such cases. One cannot withdraw the drug immediately, but one must do it cautiously and gradually.
I remember the case of a wealthy clergyman in the country. Years ago he could not sleep because his nerves had become upset. The doctor gave him sedatives in ever-increasing quantities, and then gave him morphia injections, heroin, cocaine, large quantities of aspirin, and so forth. The unfortunate clergyman lived in a state of coma or semi-coma. He lived as in a trance., When the effect of the drugs began to wear off he became excited, hysterical, weepy, melancholy, irritable, and then he was immediately given another injection or a dose of heroin or some other poison. He was given nothing but poisons for years.
He was a complete wreck when he came to me. One must gradually reduce the quantity of the dopes and replace them by non-dangerous tonics and sedatives, such as a decoction of entire oats or oat shucks. This medicine is known to homoeopathy under the name of Avena sativa. This is an excellent tonic. A tonic which will replace alcohol is China, the tincture made from China bark, from which quinine is extracted.
When the life of the nerve patient has been suitably regulated, then the question of medication arises. In the first place the patient should be given those constitutional remedies which his constitution calls for. If the patient is irritable, craves highly spiced foods, has a dark skin, is liverish and constipated, he will probably need Nux vomica. If he has a dirty skin, cannot stand heat, puts his feet out of bed because they burn, cannot stand before a fire, is prone to skin eruptions, he should be given Sulphur.
If he has an ultra delicate skin, cannot stand the strong sun, is upset by thunder in the air, has a weak chest, he should be given Phosphorus. If the woman is a nervous woman, is fat, flabby, weepy, chilly, hates fat, Pulsatilla will most likely benefit her greatly. If she is thin and scrawny, dark haired, complains about bearing down pains, is always in a hurry, has deep lines in her face and an expression of suffering, she will be vastly benefited by Sepia.
The medicines mentioned are not nerve specifics like bromide, luminal, etc., but they make the use of nerve specifics unnecessary or almost unnecessary. The constitutional remedies will improve the constitution as a whole, including the nerves. After all the nerves are part of the body, and one should treat the body as a whole.
Every homoeopath knows exceedingly valuable nerve sedatives, tonics, etc. I would mention only a few. People who are extremely sensitive to pain, irritable, unreasonable and must always be on the move will be benefited by Chamomilla. Old women in the country prescribe Chamomilla tea to people of this character. People who are very irritable, violent, given to excesses of fury, will be greatly benefited by Nux vomica, while those who are depressed and who sigh much should be given Ignatia.
There are neurotics who are full of fear, who have a fear complex. These should be given Scutellaria. People with fidgety feet should be given either Zincum or Zincum Phosphoricum. Nervous children will do exceedingly well in almost every case when given Chamomilla, particularly when nervousness becomes apparent when teething. The nervous who suffer from sexual mania should be given in Hyoscyamus in high potency. That medicine given in the 30th potency or higher has cured innumerable cases of sex mania.
Neurasthenia cannot be cured with a medicine or two. Neurasthenics can be kept in comfort for years by doping them, but the end is evil. Nerve cases, like every disease case, require rebuilding from the foundations. The average nerve case may require six months or two years continuous treatment, and during that time he may need twenty or thirty different medicines in accordance with changing symptoms and conditions, but it is eminently worth while to restore a suffering individual to complete health. Hard work is required on the part of the prescriber, and full co-operation on the part of the sufferer and his family.