Not All in The Mind

Not All in the Mind: How Unsuspected Food Allergy Can Affect Your Body –and Your Mind (1976) by Dr Richard Mackarness

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It’s not surprising that the publication of this book had an immense influence when it drew the Western world’s attention to the existence, and impact, of masked food allergies. Most adults knew that people could develop eczema if their skin came into contact with irritant chemicals; and that sensitive subjects could succumb to a bout of asthma if their lungs were exposed to irritant dusts and pollens, but few at the time were aware that it was also possible to suffer mysterious sicknesses as a result of exposure to everyday foodstuffs like wheat flour, eggs and milk, reactions which could occur without their awareness because the symptoms frequently bore no relationship to the provoking cause.

The book caused a stir because the author was not only a highly respected scientist, but also a persuasive writer and passionate campaigner. He’d honed his literary skills as a medical correspondent for the Daily Mail and generated his proselytizing zeal because he wanted the world to share the health benefits he’d gained by going on a high fat, low cereal diet. Early in his medical career he’d been a sick man, over weight and perpetually tired. Seeking a solution to his personal problems, which drugs couldn’t cure, he went on what he described as a Stone Age Diet. This not only helped him lose weight, but also overcome his fatigue and general debility. In order to explain this dramatic change, he developed the theory that man had existed on meat, fat and proteins for two or three million years, whereas he’d made starches and sugars his nutritional mainstay for only the last ten thousand year at most. This, he considered, was far too short a time for full adaptation to take place. This led him to write a dieting book called Eat Fat and Grow Slim (1958) which advocated a ‘Stone Age’ diet rich in protein and fats but low in carbohydrates and sugars. It was while he was in America promoting that book that he came across three doctors specialising in the treatment of allergies, a specialist discipline which they’d come to describe as ‘clinical ecology’. This fitted in with his evolutionary theories, that the human body was not yet biologically adapted to cope with the vast new range of chemical allergens in the environment: the pesticide sprays which were now being sprayed on crops; the vast quantities of artificial fertilizers used to boost the nitrogen content of the soil; the endless toxic sprays used in the home, and the additives, colorants and preservatives added to manufactured foods.

Once Mackarness returned to the England he carried out clinical experiments on his patients who were suffering symptoms for which there was no clear medical explanation. This led him to believe that 60 percent of people attending UK doctors were suffering symptoms which were wholly, or partially, due to food or chemical allergies. This led him to face the wrath of his colleagues by writing Not All in the Mind, a book for the general public which pulled no punches and set out the case for Clinical Ecology with uncompromising clarity and passion. Allergy, he declared, had overcome infection as the major cause of illness in Westernized society.  Anyone suffering bizarre symptoms, for which there was no clear medical diagnosis, and which maybe their doctors were hinting could be psychosomatic in origin, should consider that they might be the victims of a masked allergy. Since the symptoms Mackarness listed included catarrh, bad breath, headache, indigestion, fibrositis, impotence, tension and depression there was no shortage of desperate readers who thought the warning applied to them. Some, who were particularly suggestible, thought that they were allergic to everything they touched, inhaled or eat. They were diagnosed as suffering from the Twentieth Century Syndrome, and incarcerated in specially constructed sterile rooms. Mackarness tried to overcome the risks of hypochondriasis and faulty self-diagnosis by publishing a caveat at the end of the book. This read: ‘Only after you have been told by both your GP and a specialist that they can find no cause for your trouble should you start to carry out – with your GPs approval and cooperation – the tests and procedures described in this book.’  Many would have ignored this advice, particularly since on the very next page he gives detailed instructions on the practical steps that readers should to take to diagnose, and undertake the self-help treatment, of masked food allergies.

Nevertheless one mustn’t belittle the extent of his achievement. He brought attention to the existence and impact of masked food allergies, demonstrated that they could be the cause of serious mental as well as physical illnesses, launched the first NHS clinical ecology unit at the Park Prewett Mental Hospital, Basignstoke, and played a major role in the creation of the charity ‘Action Against Allergy.’ As his obituary in The Independent newspaper affirmed: ‘Richard Mackarness was a physician of great vision, a man of original mind who, though much frustrated by the sceptics in his own profession, fought with some success for the recognition in Britain of ‘Clinical Ecology’”.

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