Take it or leave it.

Friday, March 25, 2016


I once had a friend who suffered panic attacks. Bouts of intense fear and trepidation would seize her unawares and without warning. These episodes were replete with all the usual symptoms: heart palpitations, sweaty palms, trembling, choking, chest pain and shortness of breath. During these attacks she'd always believe she was dying or going crazy, or both. My friend also developed agoraphobia, which is seen in a third of individuals with panic disorder and involves fear of open spaces from which it is difficult to escape, like shopping malls and arenas. To make matters worse, she'd often experience sleep terrors, where she'd awaken in the middle of the night in the grips of intense fear, not knowing where she was, and incapable of being soothed, only to forget about it the following morning. 

Said friend didn't have any organic cause for panic attacks, which can mimic the effects of heart disease, thyroid dysfunction, anemia, asthma and other conditions. So I suggested she give up eating meat. It is well known that when animals are slaughtered their adrenal glands release stress hormones into the blood. Adrenaline and cortisol flood their system and are concentrated in the meat, which unwitting consumers then eat. Since all the symptoms of a panic attack can be brought on by adrenal hormones and are regulated by these hormones, I argued that if she curtailed her intake of this exogenous source of stress her system would cool down and we could once again go to Angels games. 

Because I'm no stranger to panic-like symptoms. One summer I was visited by an intense dread of drowning every time I'd jump into the pool. When submerged I imagined myself without means of egress and would quickly grope for the water's surface. It made for a not-so-fun time. That summer I was eating sushi a couple times a week. Were the stress hormones in the fish to blame? In part. But also something which science has yet to develop the sensitivity to trace. Imagine if you will our little fish swimming about in its natural habitat only to be swooped out of the water and left to flounder and flop to its death on the boat's deck. Or if you're like the deep-sea fisherman I once went on an excursion with, you lock the fish in a cabin beneath the deck and wait for it to stop thrashing about. Try to fathom the fear the fish must be going through in those final moments of life. I can. Because this fear was transmitted to me through the meat, and I was fearing for my life not on land as the fish but in the water, which is not my natural habitat. 

So I gave up sushi, and the fears went away. Was there a psychosomatic component to my self-prescribed remedy? Perhaps. As of yet, we can't be sure. Is giving up meat the cure for night terrors? I don't know. My friend never took my advice. Rather than give up grilled chicken, she went on an antidepressant. It killed her sex drive, which killed our friendship with benefits. Bummer. But if you suffer from panic attacks, anxiety or outright sleep disorders and you persist in your yen for dead flesh, try giving it up. Your dread just may abate. Your sex drive too, since you won't be taking in as many sex hormones, but only a little. You'll still be able to get it up, unlike with Prozac. Or so I've heard.

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