Neurological Disorders: The Growing Epidemic of the 21st Century

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By: Robert Zieve, M.D.

How many of us today can sleep for eight hours and feel rested in the morning? How many of us can think clearly and do not feel in a fog a lot of the time? Or remember the names of events and people we meet? How many of our children are not neurologically impaired in some way? If you have any of these issues in your daily life, it is likely your nervous system is stressed and toxic, and may be on the way to developing a chronic neurological illness.

Although cancer and cardiovascular disease garner much of the news today as the two biggest killers and the two biggest cash cows of medical research funding, chronic neurological diseases are fast becoming the most debilitating epidemic of our time. These illnesses, which do not take many lives and therefore do not grab headlines like the big killers, are nevertheless ravaging the daily lives of millions of Americans and making it much more difficult to be a conscious and self-aware participant in life. This article explores why this is happening, and what you can do to both prevent and treat these illnesses.

Having a healthy brain and nervous system is vital to being able to think clearly, without which our active will lacks intelligent guidance and is weakened.

Neurological illnesses (chronic inflammatory and toxic-induced breakdown of healthy nerve tissue) occur across the entire life span. They manifest as autism and attention deficit problems in children, multiple sclerosis and insomnia and seizures in adults, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease in the aging population.

Whereas we are often not aware of the disturbances in our metabolism that precede the appearance of the signs and symptoms that occur with cancer or high blood pressure, in neurological disorders we become aware quite early that something is not right. We may observe that our child is delayed in developing speech or stops speaking; we may notice one of our legs is not moving right; or we may find that our parent is having serious memory impairments.

Why are these events and illnesses happening with increasing frequency today? There are a number of key reasons.

One reason is that we live in a toxic world. The great majority of chemicals we now take in daily were not on the planet 30 years ago. Many of these accumulate, especially in our fatty tissue, and slowly incapacitate our nerves. These toxins become neurotoxins, damaging the nervous system. The brain is essentially composed of fats in its structure. Its healthy function depends on an intake of good fats—eggs, coconut oil, and others—to function optimally. This high fat content enables our brains to float in the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes it, similar to the way oils float on water. It is this quality that enables us to think clearly, reflect on life, develop insight and intent, and plan for the future.

The accumulation of environmental toxins impairs these functions. It is important to limit your exposure to these chemicals as much as possible, and take steps to eliminate them from your body. You can do this by eating good fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, fish oil, are good examples), by sitting in infrared saunas, and by properly disposing of the commercial home and yard products you have on hand and purchasing nontoxic replacements at health food or other "green" stores. (Note that it isn't only the pesticides to watch out for; common household cleaning and laundry supplies are filled with chemical toxins.)

The toxins you are exposed to also include heavy metals, especially mercury, which destroys nervous tissues. The sources of mercury today are dental metal amalgam fillings, many fish, coal burning, and most vaccines. The mercury in vaccines is strongly implicated in our autism epidemic. What can you do? Thoughtfully consider the pros and cons of vaccinating your children and yourselves, eat northern ocean fish, and consult a dentist who is aware of the dangers of mercury fillings.

There is an old saying in natural healing: all disease begins in the gut. There is truth in this. Due in large part to the epidemic of fear of illness, and our adversarial relationship with nature, we go to great lengths to kill any microorganism that we blame for our illnesses. This has led us to the overuse of antibiotics, which leads to immune impairment and severely disrupts the balance of healthy microflora in the intestines. Use of antibiotics permits overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria and other microorganisms, damage to the intestinal walls, and subsequent absorption of the toxic microbes into the body. The intestines are our second brain. Over 90% of all detectable neurotransmitters in the body are produced in the small intestine. We need healthy bile flow to excrete many of these neurotoxins.

Therefore, care for your gut: eat slowly, take enzymes or apple cider vinegar in water before eating to prime the pump, limit your use of antibiotics to only the most serious conditions, take probiotics (beneficial bacteria), learn healthy breathing, take green clay orally in water, and use topical castor oil packs to improve liver, lymphatic and intestinal function.

Chronic infections also play a huge role in the development of neurological illnesses today. These include Lyme disease, viral conditions, fungal infections (which have increased exponentially due to overuse of antibiotics), mercury toxicity, and disorders related to mold exposure. In addition to dampness in homes, wireless technology and the impaired wiring in old and new homes; all these factors can lead to a thousand times the overgrowth of mold.

When absorbed into the body, most of the toxins discussed in this article damage what is called the blood-brain barrier. This is a very thin layer of protective cells that keep toxins from seeping into the brain and doing harm. In most people today, this barrier is damaged. Most of the chronic neurological disorders of today originate physiologically in this damage.

Another area of toxic exposure, and one that is increasing at an alarming rate today, is electromagnetic radiation to the head. The number one source of this radiation is cell phones and cordless phones, the use of which we nowaccept as normal. We live in a culture of convenience, and we are paying the price for this. It is time to change. Studies in Germany have demonstrated that children who live within 300 meters of a cell phone tower have abnormal EEGs. New research in Sweden indicates that children and teenagers are five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use cell phones. In addition, the way many homes are wired today increases the electrical currents that go through our brains while we are in buildings. This is more damaging when we are asleep.

What can you do? Limit cell phone use to emergencies and essentials. Use corded phones rather than cordless phones. Avoid microwaving foods. Avoid wireless technologies, especially Blue Tooth. Use high speed internet that can be unplugged at night. Turn off the electricity to the bedroom at night if you can. Clean up hidden mold in the house.

Beyond the accumulation of toxins that we have deluded ourselves into believing is a normal part of life in this excessively materialistic and comfort culture, there are deeper reasons for our epidemic of chronic neurological disorders.

The psychological conflicts in previous generations become the biological conflicts in children. And we are all children. It can be that a child with autism is not speaking because someone in the family tree from an earlier generation is not spoken about. The autistic child is like a black hole; he attracts everything to himself but cannot emit a single word. The same family tree issues can hold true in other neurological illnesses of today, or it may be a present lifetime issue. Someone who develops multiple sclerosis, for example, has often experienced a deep devaluing of self. These problems often originate in the preverbal times of life, especially between conception and one year old, and even before conception, in what we inherit from our ancestors. We can access and heal these unconscious memories in many ways.

As you can surmise, the healing of our neurological impairments and illnesses will require a concerted effort by all of us in many areas of life. Though this includes addressing the specific contributing causes mentioned in this article, healing also includes widening our fields of perception and actions to include homeopathic and anthroposophical treatments—oral and topical remedies, color and sound, and movement therapies like eurythmy—to activate more subtle forces in healing.

In addition, let us be mindful that sometimes our healing requires us to learn to live with an illness rather than to cure it. I recall a patient with multiple sclerosis who transformed from a cold businessman to a warm loving man as his illness progressed to become more debilitating.

It is time to wake up! The economic events of our time shake up our complacency and assumptions. We need healthy brains and a change of perception toward our illnesses in order to have the necessary mental clarity, the receptivity to the whispers of higher suggestions, and the will to make constructive therapeutic movements toward healing our neurological illnesses of today.


ROBERT J. ZIEVE, MD is the director of Pine Tree Clinic for Comprehensive Medicine in Prescott, AZ, and is a participating physician in the Scottsdale Complementary Medicine Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ. He is a practicing phy­sician, author, and national speaker. His practice includes homeopathy, European biological medicine, nutrition, herbal medicine, and anthroposophical medicine, as well as conventional allopathic medicine. Dr. Zieve is the author of the 2005 book, Healthy Medicine: A Guide to the Emergence of Sensible Comprehensive Care, as well as the 2006 book Beyond the Medical Meltdown: Working Together for Sustainable Health Care (Bell Pond Press.). He can be reached at or

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