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Troubles Of The Nervous System
Category: EXERCISE AND GROWTH
Source: A Handbook Of Health
The Nervous System is not easily Damaged. The nervous system is
subject to a good many more diseases than are either the muscles or the
bones; but, considering how complex it is, it is not nearly so easily
damaged or thrown out of balance as we usually imagine, and has
astonishing powers of repair. Instead of being one of the first parts of
the body to be attacked by a disease, such as an infection or a fever,
it is one of the very last to feel the effects of disease, except in the
sense that it often gives early that invaluable danger signal, pain.
Headache. Next after fatigue the most valuable danger signal given us
by our nerves is that commonest of all pains, headache. Indeed, it is
not too much to say that headache is the most useful pain in the world.
It has little to do with the condition of the brain, but occurs in the
head chiefly because the nerves of the head and face are the most
sensitive of all those in the body, and the first ones, therefore, to
cry out when hurt.
Headache has been described as the cry of a poisoned or starved or
over-worked nerve, and is simply nature's signal that something is going
wrong. Toxins, or poisons, formed anywhere in the body, from any cause,
get into the blood, are carried to the sensitive nerves of the head and
face, and irritate them so that they ache. It is foolish to try to do
anything to the head itself for the relief of headache, although cold
cloths, or a hot-water bottle, may be soothing in mild cases. The thing
to do is to clear the poison out of the blood, and the only way is to
find what has caused it.
Nearly all the things that cause headache do so by poisoning the blood.
A very common cause of headache, for instance, is getting over-tired,
especially if at the same time you do not get enough sleep; and, as you
already know, tiredness, or fatigue, is a form of self-poisoning.
Another very common cause of headache is bad air--sitting or sleeping in
hot, stuffy rooms with the windows shut tight. If you do this, not only
are you not getting oxygen enough into your blood to burn up the waste
poisons that your own cells are making all the time, but also you are
breathing in the waste poisons from other people's lungs, and the germs
that are always in bad air.
Another very common cause of headache is eye-strain. Whenever you find
that, when you try to read, the letters begin to dance before your eyes,
and your head soon begins to ache, it is a sign that you need to have
your eyes examined and perhaps a pair of glasses fitted to enable you to
Constipation and disturbances of digestion also very often cause
headache by poisoning the blood; and, as you know, the first sign of a
bad cold, or the beginning of a fever, or other illness, will often be a
In short, a headache always means that something is going wrong; and the
thing to do is to set to work at once to see if you can find out what
has caused it, and then to remove the cause. If you cannot find out the
cause, then go to a doctor and ask him to tell you what it is, and what
to do to get rid of it.
Above all things, don't swallow a dose of some kind of headache
medicine, and go on with your work, or your bad habits of eating, or
using your eyes; because, even though it may relieve the pain, it
doesn't do anything whatever to remove the cause and leaves you just as
badly off as you were before you took it. Besides, most of these
headache medicines, which for a time will relieve the pain of a
headache, are narcotics, or pain-deadeners; and in more than very
moderate doses they are poisons, and often dangerous ones. Those in
commonest use, known as the coal tar remedies, because the chemists
make them out of coal tar, are likely to have a weakening effect
upon the heart; and, while not very dangerous in small doses, they are
very bad things to get into the habit of using.
The Exaggerated Claims of Patent Medicines. The same thing must be
said of the habit of dosing yourself every time you feel a pain or an
ache, with some sort of medicine, whether obtained at some previous time
from a doctor, or bought at a drug store. A large majority of the
medicines that are most widely advertised to cure all sorts of pains and
aches contain some form of narcotic--most commonly either alcohol or
opium. The reason for this is that no one medicine can possibly be a
cure for all sorts of diseases; and the only kind of medicine that will
make almost every one who takes it feel a little bit better for the time
being is a narcotic, because it has the power of deadening the nerves to
pain or discomfort.
Careful analyses by boards of health and government chemists of a great
number of advertised medicines have shown that three-fourths of the
so-called tonics and bitters and bracers of all sorts contain
alcohol--some of them in such large amounts as to be stronger and more
intoxicating than whiskey. The same investigations have found that a
large majority of the colic cures, pain relievers, nearly all the
soothing syrups and teething syrups, and most of the cough mixtures,
cough cures, and consumption cures contain opium, often in quite
dangerous amounts. The widely-advertised medicines and remedies
guaranteed to cure all sorts of diseases in a very short time are almost
certain to be one of two things: either out-and-out frauds, costing
about four cents a bottle and selling for fifty cents or a dollar, or
else dangerous poisons. All patent pain relievers are safe things to let
Another risk in taking medicines wholesale, especially those that are
known as patent medicines, is that you never can be quite sure what you
are taking, as their composition is usually kept a strict secret. It may
happen to be something very good for your disease, it may be entirely
useless, and it may be something very harmful. There is no one drug, or
medicine, known to the medical profession, that will cure more than one
or two diseases, or relieve more than four or five disturbed and
uncomfortable conditions. As you not only do not know what you are
taking, but are not always quite sure what is the matter with you, the
chances of your getting the right remedy for your disease are not much
more than one in a hundred. If it isn't the right thing, you are
certainly wasting your money, and may be doing yourself a serious
We should not pour drugs of which we know little into a body of which we
know less. Doctors give scarcely a fourth as much medicine now as they
did fifty years ago. The best cures are food, exercise, sleep, and fresh
The Effects of Disease. In the case of nearly all infectious diseases,
the effects on the nervous system are among the last to appear, and may
not occur until weeks, months, or even years after the main fever or
attack of sickness. This is one of the reasons why, when they do occur,
they are often hard to cure; the whole system has become saturated with
the poisons before they reach the nerves at all. So it happens that the
idea has grown up that nervous diseases are very hard to cure. When,
however, we know that two-thirds of them are a late result of some of
the preventable infectious diseases and fevers, we can realize that it
is perfectly possible to prevent them, and that prevention is the best
The poisons that attack the brain and nervous system may be formed in
the body by disease germs or brought in from without, as are alcohol,
tobacco, lead, or arsenic. Even such mild infections as measles, scarlet
fever, and influenza may poison certain nerves supplying the muscles of
an arm or a leg, causing temporary paralysis, or even permanent laming;
or they may attack the nerve of sight or of hearing and produce
blindness or deafness.
A great many of the cases of paralysis and insanity are caused by
alcohol. Alcohol in excess may attack the nerves supplying the arms and
legs, producing severe pain and partial paralysis. It may also, after
long-continued use, affect the cells of the brain itself, producing the
horrible condition known as delirium tremens--a form of acute insanity
with distressing delusions, in which the patient imagines that he sees
rats, snakes, and other reptiles and vermin crawling over him, or in his
room. Even in those who never use it to such excess as this, or indeed
in those who may never become intoxicated, the long-continued use of
alcohol may produce a slow poisoning and general breaking-down of the
whole nervous system, causing in time the hand to tremble, the eye to
become bleared and dim, the gait weak and unsteady, the memory
uncertain, and the judgment poor.
Are Nervous Diseases Increasing? The direct use of the brain and
nervous system has much less to do with the production of its diseases
or even its serious disturbances than is usually believed. Most of
these, as we have seen, are due either to the poisons of disease or
alcohol, or to the fatigue-poisons, or other poisons, produced in the
stomach, the liver, the muscles, or other parts of the body. The worst
results of brain-work are due to the extent to which it deprives us of
proper exercise and fresh air. Good, vigorous mental activity,--hard
brain work, in fact,--when you are in good condition, is, if not
overdone, as healthful and almost as invigorating as physical exercise
or hearty play. We often hear it said that the rush and hurry of our
modern strenuous life is increasing the number of mental diseases and
nervous breakdowns. But there is no evidence that the strain of
civilization upon our brains and nervous systems is damaging them, or
that either nervous diseases or insanity are more frequent now than they
used to be one hundred or five hundred years ago. In fact, all the
evidence that we have points in exactly the opposite direction; for, as
we have seen, most of these brain and nerve diseases are due to
infectious diseases, bad food, and bad living conditions generally, all
of which the progress of modern civilization is rapidly lessening and
We are collecting our insane in modern hospitals and comfortable homes,
instead of letting them wander in rags about the country, and this makes
them live longer and seem more numerous. But the poorest and least
highly civilized classes and races have much more insanity among them
than those who live under more favorable conditions.
Next: Exercise And Growth
Previous: Disorders Of Muscles And Bones