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Vegetarianism- The Mind and its Health

O.P. Kapoor

Diet is always connected with health. But then, health is a combination of physical and mental health. It is a fact that without having a healthy soul or mind, there is no sense in having a healthy physical body (Mens sana corpora sana).

It is our experience in clinical practice, that mental illnesses in our country are on the increase, as in all other parts of the world. In fact even people having a physical illness like an enlarged heart or cirrhosis of the liver or arthritis are being harassed more by associated complaints related to their abnormal mental health. Also straight forward psychiatric illnesses are increasing day by day.

The public is being educated on the role of different diets and foods for maintaining health. Little does the public realise that this education and knowledge holds true only for physical health. The people should know that the recent knowledge about our body requirements of proteins, vitamins etc. has enlightened us to the fact that these requirements are much less than we ever thought of.

It is so common to see people who are consuming a very rich diet supplemented by heavy doses of vitamins (which are all excreted in the urine or stools), are still very unhealthy and ill (because of poor mental health). As against this, even footpath dwellers enjoy good physical health (with the so-called poor food which they can obtain). They can walk and run faster than the affluent class. Surprisingly vitamin deficiencies are very rare in these people(because in adults the vitamin requirements are very little). Not only that, they are mentally very healthy. Thus their total health is better than the rich people. Also, they do not suffer from many chronic diseases which are related to an unhealthy mind brought about by the stresses of life.

There are so many diseases related to stress. To quote a few, stomach ulcers, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, irritable colon etc. These stresses are increasing in domestic life, in professional life or at work and even during commuting.

In trying to deal with these stresses, people are turning to smoking, alcoholism, and socialising at parties - all of which increase the above illness.

Then what is the food for good mental health? The people should understand that like a regular breakfast, lunch and dinner to maintain your physical health, this food will have to be consumed daily.

Stresses cannot be reduced. You cannot change the pace of life in big cities or temporarily forget it by smoking or drinking.

This is where spiritualism, religion or faith in God plays its role. This is being forgotten in this fast life. This is 'the' food for mental health. We doctors should be thankful to our present modern spiritual leaders - like Satya Saibaba, Radhoswami, Chinmayanand, the Pope, Aghakhan and many more-who are maintaining the mental health of our public without charging them any fees. But for them, our clinics would have been overflowing with patients. Of course others who have no spiritual leaders, get their 'food' from their religious 'Gurus' and Lords.

Now the prime question which we have to consider is that can the 'food' for physical and mental health be correlated ? Is there a common food, beneficial to both ?

Can we doctors answer this question ? Unfortunately since we, the medical scientists have not devoted any time to mental health, we will not be on the proper platform to advise. We spend all our time in diagnosing, treating and calculating the incidence of mental and stress-induced illness in our practice.

Surely then, the people to answer the above question are those doctors (spiritual leaders) who have been quietly handling the mental health of our population.

It happens to be true that many of the different saints, sages and perfect masters who have come at different times, in different parts of the world and spoken in various languages— have suggested that "Vegetarian diet is good for a peaceful mind".

The following quotations and sayings from Mahabharat and Bible will possibly make you reflect on the above subject.

A wise sage said in 'Mahabharata', "Those to possess good memory, beauty, long life with perfect health, and physical, moral and spiritual strength should abstain from animal food".

Talking about Christianity and vegetarianism, there are many quotations in the Bible against flesh-eating e.g. (Chap VII V 23) "Ye shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat. And the fat of which diet of itself and the fat of that which is torn of beast, may be used for any other service. But ye shall in no wise,eat it: For whosoever eateth the fat, of the beast, of which men offer an offering made by fire unto the lord, even the soul that eateth it shall be cut off from his people".

If that is so, it is for us doctors to stop encouraging the use of sedatives and tranquillisers to treat the stress and mental component of illness, and to advise people on the benefits of vegetarian diet in maintaining good mental health. The public should know that statistically it has already been proved, that the incidence of alcoholism is markedly reduced in the vegetarian population. This may be the first scientific proof, because alcohol is certainly related to mental health.

In another chapter in this book, the effect of various articles of vegetarian diet on mental health have been discussed. Whether scientifically proved or not (by allopathic standards), if in the age old literature food articles like "Amala " have been linked to a cleaner "mind ", sure enough there are no articles in the literature to suggest, that eating pork, beef or sausages keeps mental health in good shape !!

In the meanwhile, it has been now shown, that drinking a glass of butter milk produces chemical substances in the stomach which act on the brain to induce drowsiness. Similarly it appears that the vegetarian food will stimulate formation of endorphins and enkephalins which are known to act on the brain to reduce anxiety and create a sense of well being.

Finally it will not come as a surprise if in the future, research reveals that vegetarian food has a superior effect on the mind and the intellect.