This section is from the book "The Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine. Volume 2.", by J. H. Kellogg, M.D.. Also available from Amazon: The Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine, Volume 2.
First among the causes which have undoubtedly led to this state of things, may be mentioned the unnatural hurry and bustle of modem life, and the numerous sources of excitement and morbid nervous activity characteristic of our modem times. In business life, the sharp competition of trade is a continual goad to the man whose necessities or ambition leads him to desire pecuniary success. New means of producing various commodities must be invented, and new plans for creating a demand for the same must be devised, giving no opportunity for rest or recreation. In the haste to get rich, men forget the demands of physical law, and commit the grossest outrages against themselves, depriving their overwrought brains and nerves of the proper amount of sleep and necessary relaxation. The desire for speculation has extended till it is no longer confined to the larger centers of trade, but extends to the smallest towns and villages, and often to the most remote country districts.
The hope of amassing wealth suddenly, leads men to incur the risk of losing the results of the small accumulations of years; and while wait ing for the turn of the wheel controlled by fickle fortune's caprice, the mental and nervous strain often becomes so great that some of the delicate threads which form the network of this most intricate of all the bodily systems, are snapped asunder, so that pecuniary wealth is only secured at the expense of the most wretched physical poverty. Many times the nervous system, which has, from intense hope and anticipation of greatly desired results, been stimulated to the highest degree, is, by a reversal of prospects, subjected to such a sudden revulsion that the mental and nervous equilibrium is destroyed, perhaps never to be restored. But it is not only in the world of trade and commerce that these disasters occur. In the world of politics, the strain is equally great, and the damaging results of overexcitement may be seen with equal frequency.
So, too, in other departments in life. The scientist is continually taxed to the utmost limit by the endeavor to keep pace with the numerous discoveries and advances which rapidly succeed each other in every department of scientific investigation. The literary student is overwhelmed with the attempt to familiarize himself with even a small fraction of the modem literary productions of merit, to say nothing of the productions of by-gone ages. In social life, competition in dress and display through the desire for social distinction, together with the follies of fashionable dissipation, tell first and most powerfully upon the illy sustained nervous systems of the participants.
In a large number of cases, the foundation for chronic nervous diseases is laid in infancy and early childhood.. The popular methods of education, well designated as "school cramming," pervert and overstrain the mental faculties and the nervous system of a large proportion of all who are subjected to the process of being educated. Children are sent to school at too early an age, are kept in school too long at a time and too many hours a day, and are stimulated in every possible manner to exert themselves to the utmost to accomplish in five or six years the mental work which a century ago was not accomplished in ten or twelve. The high schools of the present day present a much more extended curriculum of studies, and require of candidates for examination a degree of qualification far superior to the colleges and universities of the last century; yet it is expected that young men and women will complete their education at an age at which our great grandfathers would have considered themselves well advanced if fairly started.
Everything in modern times seems to be conducive to mental and nervous overwork. Our railroads enable us to accomplish in a day journeys which would have required a week by the old-fashioned stagecoach. The telegraph and the still more recent telephone are rapidly supplanting the mail system, although in some States mails are carried with almost lightning speed by special trains, which load and unload their bags of letters without checking their speed, even renewing their supply of water in the same way.
Another powerfully acting cause, and, perhaps, one quite as important as any that has been mentioned, is the great and increasing prevalence of the use of various stimulating and narcotic drugs. Alcoholic intemperance produces a distinct class of nervous derangements. The same may be said of opium, of tobacco, and, as can now be clearly shown, of tea and coffee also. Dr. Richardson has lately called attention to the fact that chloral, a drug introduced into England by himself, has already come into such extensive use as to have given rise to a serious train of nervous disorders. Absinthe, hashish, and numerous other drugs, the habitual use of which has become more or less extensive, are also accountable for special disorders of the brain and nerves. The particular effects of these poisons have been more fully described elsewhere in this work.
Other injurious habits which are productive of nervous diseases may also be mentioned, as errors in diet, particularly the use of stimulating condiments and of food deficient in nutritive elements, as wheat, deprived of its nerve-nourishing elements, in the form of superfine flour bread; sedentary habits of life; late hours; deficiency of sleep; exciting entertainments; improper dress; novel-reading; sexual excesses and vices; want of control of the passions; all exhausting, depressing, and over-stimulating agencies.
Lastly, we may mention as a cause of the great increase of nervous diseases in modem times, hereditary influences. Nervous diseases of all kinds are much more frequent in the developing generation than in their parents. We have many times made the observation that the children of parents addicted to the use of tea and coffee, of tobacco or alcoholic liquors, suffer much more from the effects of these abuses, in various nervous derangements, than the individuals themselves. Through the influence of these hereditary causes, the "nervous temperament" is becoming much more frequent. This fact is true with reference to the severe forms of this disease, as well as those of milder character. The marked increase of insanity in civilized countries, and the increasing frequency of what is now well recognized as the insane temperament, are evidences of the truth of this assertion.
The only remedies for this disastrous tendency, which if not checked is destined to increase with each succeeding generation, is a thorough revolution in nearly all of the habits and practices of modern civilized societies. How this might be accomplished, or whether a reform of such magnitude is possible, we will not here attempt to say.