site logo

Troubles Of The Nervous System

Sources: 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 on
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

see properly.

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

bad headache.

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,[27] 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

entirely alone.

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.