It will come as no surprise to
readers of this column that we believe in Nature, in all its glories,
as a never ending source of inspiration, intellectual exploration and
deep spiritual satisfaction. We worry about urban sprawl and the
degradation of our public parks. We value co-existence with wildlife,
it’s natural habitat and try to tread softly, in our habits and
behavior so as to protect and preserve the natural environment.
Now comes some justification and
confirmation of what some of us have known all along: Exposure to
Nature, on a regular basis, enhances both physical and mental
Emery University’s Rollins School of
Public Health scientist Howard Frumkin, M.D., presents the results of
his study in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive
He points to a mass of evidence that
shows spending time in a natural environment may have positive health
effects and can help prevent and treat illnesses.
“Our standard clinical paradigm
involves medications more than non-medical approaches, treatment more
than prevention,” he says. “ But many people are intuitively
drawn to this idea [of spending time in nature] “ Dr. Frumkin
explains. “They feel restored and healthier in a beautiful
“And on the other side,” Frumkin
says, “ many environmentalists work to preserve nature for a range
of very good scientific reasons, but forget that one of the major
benefits may be human health.”
So, don’t be surprised when some day
soon, your doctor, psychotherapist or clergyperson suggests a hike, a
picnic in the park, or a walk on the beach.
Dr. Frumkin’s work on public health
aspects of natural environments is admittedly influenced by the work
of renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Harvard scientist E.O.
Wilson, whose “biophilia” hypothesis claims that humans are
innately attracted to other living organisms and that this contact
with the natural world is both a primal instinct and benefits human
Frumkin’s research points to evidence
of health benefits from four distinct interactions with the natural
environment: contact with animals, contact with plants, viewing
landscapes and contact with wilderness. Frumkin further asserts that
evolution may have hard-wired humans with a longing and preference
for specific natural settings
“Early humans found that places with
open views offered better opportunities to find food and avoid
predators,” Dr. Frumkin writes, “but they needed water to survive
and attack prey, and groups of trees for protection. Modern research
has shown that people today, given the choice, prefer landscapes that
look like this scenario.”
One wonders then, within the context of
the contentious public debate over urban sprawl, just who “owns”
a landscape? What long-term effect on the well-being of a community
may happen by cutting down trees and leveling the landscape to make
way for another strip mall?
Clearly psychologists, social workers
and health care practitioners have suspected for years that there is
a strong link between human health and exposure to the natural world.
A century ago, ocean cruises and summers in the mountains were
prescriptions for vague ailments only the rich could afford.
In modern times, pet therapy,
horticultural therapy, healing gardens, and New Age practices like
aromatherapy, stress reduction audio tapes of ocean waves other
sounds of nature are just a few example of attempts to reconnect with
our natural instincts. It’s no surprise that gardening is both the
most popular and fastest growing leisure activity in the U.S.
So, plant a garden, walk the dog,
stroll the nature trail. It does a body good.
(Originally published in Messenger-Post newspapers, April 1001)
Starting tomorrow those in Devon with symptoms of
depression, anxiety or eating disorders will be referred to clinics
where they will be prescribed books to read alongside support sessions
with graduate mental health care workers.
The plan aims to cut
waiting lists for more serious cases, reduce over-prescription of drugs
and offer some form of treatment for patients who may otherwise receive
is needs driven,' said Paul Farrand, a senior lecturer in health
psychology at Plymouth University, who developed the scheme. 'Nine out
of 10 people with mild or moderate depression do not receive any
treatment at all. Others are put on long waiting lists or are given
medication that may be unnecessary.'
said the scheme was developed following recommendations in a government
report, Self-help interventions for mental health problems. By the
summer there will be 80 self-help clinics in Devon, all using books
based on cognitive behavioural therapy.
Believe the hype and you'd think it the biggest nutritional breakthrough in history - a designer diet that can be used from as young as five which will help us all stay healthy and live longer.
British nutritionists have developed a groundbreaking diet programme based on detailed analysis of DNA, to set out exactly what each person as an individual should and should not eat for the rest of their life.
According to scientists, the so-called "nutrigenomic diet" could greatly increase active life expectancy and, more importantly, eliminate genetically related killer diseases such as breast cancer and other common cancers and heart disease.
Dr Keith Grimaldi, the chief scientist behind the project revealed that his own DNA profile indicates he had an inherited high risk of strokes, heart attacks and deep vein thrombosis. He said, "I have an Italian surname, and 50 per cent of Italians, and about 5 to 10 per cent of people
"In order to reduce this risk," he said, "I need to eat food with high levels of folic acid and B6 and B12 vitamins like green, leafy vegetables, spinach, whole-grain cereal and liver."
Early trials with overweight men in Greece following a nutrigenomic diet have already been a dramatic success.
Dr Grimaldi said: "We have been carrying out trials with obese people in Athens who were eating a good, healthy Mediterranean diet but were having great difficulty getting their weight down. They discovered that, although they were eating a healthy diet, they had a genetic trait which meant that the normal processes for suppressing appetite were not working.
"They were told to eat lots more foods containing folic acid like onions, garlic and spinach, and the results have been extremely convincing."
"Using DNA, we believe we can actually give people the information they need to make the right choices in terms of lifestyle and diet for their health." More
Continuing the theme of mental illness, The Guardian has a very interesting excerpt from the book Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments Of The 20th Century, by Lauren Slater, which describes a 1972 experiment in which nine pranksters--trained psychologists and other professionals--set out to get themselved admitted through psychiatric emergency rooms to a mental hospital.
The way the mentally ill are treated in America has always troubled me. Discrimination in treatment and shabby services make the mentally ill third class citizens in this country. It's a shameful situation all round that never seems to get better, in part, because it is seen as shameful—to be mentally ill.
Since the discovery of certain psychotropic drugs, some brain chemistry based diseases like depression and schizophrenia's have demonstrated how many mental illnesses are biological in nature just as other somatic diseases like diabetes or hypertension.
And yet, the social stigma, prejudice and discrimination continues -- in social services, housing, and, most egregiously, in financial coverage by insurance companies. Why should insurance companies pay less for prescription drugs and hospital visits or doctor's care for mentally ill patients than that for those suffering from other diseases?
The Village Voice has a riveting article about the New York State Museum's new exhibition, "Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic."
"In our society, people—if they think about mental patients at all—they think of them as nameless, faceless, perhaps dangerous people. They don't usually get the opportunity to learn who they are, in all their richness and complexity. But I think, for at least the 12 people whose materials are in the exhibition, that people will get a clearer understanding of who they were as people before they went into the hospital, and what kind of lives that hospitalization interrupted, or actually ended.
I've heard a lot of comments where people were saying, 'Geez, that could've happened to me.' I think that's the major point: that they're human beings too, and they're not so different from me and you."
Ranit Mishori, my friend and a former colleague has a very interesting article about the trend in the training of doctors to assign readings taken from literature.
The article, in the Washington Post stands on its own, but I take special delight with it because of my 'backstory' with Ranit.
I admire Ranit because of her intelligence, ambition, hard work, and common sense. She left a secure career as a journalist to pursue her desire to work more closely with people in need, first by earning a Master's degree in Public Health and then an M.D. from Georgetown University. At the same time she married and had two children.
Could it have been anymore difficult? And yet, she did it all, and did it superbly. I've been lucky in my life to have known many remarkable people, but Ranit is the one I admire most of all.
Here's a bit from the beginning of her WaPo piece. But, be sure to read the whole thing too.
Poem for the Breasts," by Sharon Olds, into a lecture on "common breast problems" she delivered at a Washington clinic where I was a medical intern.
According to the latest research cocoa teems with antioxidants that prevent cancer--twice the punch of antioxidants found in red wine and up to three times those found in green tea.
"If I had made a prediction before conducting the tests," says Chang Lee, chair of the Department of Food Science at SUNY Agricultural Station in Geneva, "I would have picked green tea as having the most antioxidant activity, but when we compared one serving of each beverage, the cocoa turned out to the be highest in antioxidant activity.
Lee and his colleagues used two chemical tests that measured how well the cocoa compounds scavenge for free radicals--agents that cause cancer, heart disease and other ailments.
Faced with the confusing prospect of drinking red wine or green tea or cocoa, Lee suggests enjoying all three in different parts of the day.
"Personally," Lee says, "I would drink hot cocoa in the morning, green tea in the afternoon and a glass of red wine in the evening. That's a good combination."