“God defends those who believe, God does not love the unfaithful, ungrateful” (Quran, 22: 38)
After a tough event I was going through in my life, my sheikh, a wise man of few words, advised me to recite this verse everyday. As I started my daily recitation, all what I was thinking about was that I’m the good one, I’m among “those who believe” so God will defend me and my oppressors fall under “the unfaithful, ungrateful” and thus God does not love them. Yet, as the days went by and as I kept repeating the verse over and over again, I found myself delving deeper into the meaning… I realized that the verse wasn’t about the oppressors and the oppressive event… it wasn’t about them… it was all about me… It is about the choice I have to make, do I choose to be among “those who believe” or among “the unfaithful ungrateful”? Do I choose to be among those who God defends or among those who lose His love? The recitation my sheikh instructed me to perform was a daily heart-cleansing exercise, a compass that re-orients my intentions, my thoughts and actions towards Him alone, exalted be He.
It is that change in perspective that makes all the difference. It’s all about me and my relationship to God, exalted be He. It’s all about the choices I make, the worldview I choose to adopt and the lens through which I choose to see my world. It’s all about me… about my heart and how hard I work at purifying and cleansing it, how diligent I am in the pursuit of ihsān, spiritual excellence, in all my acts and thoughts… It is about how I choose to worship God as if I see Him, although I do not see Him, but He sees me… how I choose to walk the Path of Love and Service with the intention of only seeking God’s love and being His servant. It is not about whoever wronged me. I can’t judge them… I don’t know their motives, their intentions, their hearts… I simply don’t know… What I know, though, is that they were sent my way for a reason… they were here to teach me a lesson that, if I choose, will draw me closer to my Lord, exalted be He.
When I asked my sheikh about forgiveness, he told me that I’m not obliged to forgive; he told me that it was my choice. Forgiveness is a praised value in our Islamic teachings, he explained, but still, it’s optional not obligatory… I could choose not to forgive, that’s my right… My wise sheikh paused for a moment, and then added, “Yet, at a certain point on our spiritual journey, we can go no further if we do not forgive.” It is then that I realized, that again, it is not about “them,” it’s not about whoever wronged me… it’s all about me and my relationship with God, exalted be He. Choosing to forgive clears the heart so it’s exclusively His, exalted be He… Choosing to forgive frees me from the chains of worldly gains… I’m seeking Him, and only Him, exalted be He… choosing to forgive shows me that I learned my lesson, I’ve grasped the wisdom embedded in my exhausting tribulation… choosing to forgive is choosing to believe that, as our Prophet teaches, “if all people gather to benefit you, they will not be able to benefit you except with that which God has fore-ordained for you; and, if all of them gather to harm you, they will not be able to afflict you with anything other than that which God has pre-destined against you… The pens had been lifted and the ink had dried up.”
It’s the fine work of surrendering to the Divine decree and striving to change your life and your heart for the better… It is the heart that balances every thing; “God does not change the condition of a people until -and unless- they change what is in their soul,” (Q. 13: 11)… until we change what is in our souls… what is in our hearts… See, we’re back to “it’s all about me” it’s all about my heart… it’s not about them… it’s not about retribution… it’s not about waiting for Divine punishment to befall the oppressors… they are simply out of the picture… I need to zoom in… on me… on my heart… on its connection to the Divine, exalted be He… How is this connection? How sincere am I? How free am I?
It’s a life-long struggle… a struggle for a wholesome sound heart, qalb salīm (Qur’an, 26:89). Returning to God at the end of our life with this sound heart is our ultimate aim... A sound heart is one, like Prophet Abraham’s, that is sincerely filled with the truth of Divine Oneness and free from worldly attachments, free from judgements, free from doubts, free from fears, worries, and vain; an empowered heart that has surrendered entirely to its Creator, exalted be He; and that wishes for others all good that it wishes for itself.
It is estimated that psychosis affects around 2% of all population across all ages. From evolutionary perspective, those traits must have survived because they are required to play a role in human development: leadership, working under extreme pressure, thinking out of the box, wild creativity, invention, art and poetry… are among many characteristics found in people suffering from different forms of psychosis like schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
It is interesting to see that no traditional culture looked at those traits as disease or impairment. People affected were regarded as different, yes, but they were still considered “normal.” Their atypical behavior was part of the grand scheme of the societal structure. And, who has the right to define “normal”? Nowadays, evidence-based healthcare relies heavily on statistical analysis of a collected data. Lennard Davis argues that the use of statistics, which began in the 1800s by eugenicists, aimed, and in most cases is still aiming, at establishing the “normal distribution” of human beings in an attempt to reduce deviation from the norm. This idea of the norm in itself is a tyranny that ignores many aspects of the human experience trying to fit the entire population into well-defined boxes.
Even the neurotransmitter theory, it is just that, a theory. We know that dopamine is elevated in people with schizophrenia and that serotonin is low in people suffering from depression. But, we don’t know whether it is a cause or an effect: Is the elevated dopamine level causing the schizophrenia, the bipolar or the psychosis, or is it caused by them? And, is the elevated serotonin level causing the depression or is it caused by it? No one really knows.
The human brain is way more complicated than our neurotransmitter or neurobiological model of reality. People experiencing those symptoms have always been assimilated into society. They were “different,” but still “normal.” They were atypical, but still functional. They performed specific roles that no “normal” person can do. Like shamans in native cultures, Joan of Arc in France, and Al-Hallaj in Sufi history, if any of them were to be presented to our modern conventional medical model, they would have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Yet, at their time and in their culture, they were very special, even gifted individuals and highly esteemed at times.
Joseph Polimeni, a British psychiatrist and author of the book Shamans Among Us, believes that “people with schizophrenia are the modern manifestation of prehistoric tribal shamans.” Nevertheless, he affirms that he still treats his patients within the conventional biopharmacological model, because, we simply have no other alternatives. For those people to be assimilated into society and for them to lead a functional life, our whole social structure needs to be changed. Dr. Gabor Maté, the renowned Canadian psychiatrist, sees that a person with schizophrenia in a tribal culture holds a better chance of survival and well-being than one following the Western medical model. Our view on mental illness cannot be removed from the person’s context and culture. Our Western materialistic and individualistic society focuses on achievements and possessions cutting off emotional, social, and spiritual needs, which, according to Maté, separates us from ourselves and paves the road for pathology. Unfortunately, those ancient cultural and tribal modes of life do not exist anymore. They have been crushed under the weight of industrialism and individualism. The nuclear family is not enough nor is the extend family -that still occasionally exists in some communities- to assimilate those individuals’ needs. The whole societal model does not accept or tolerate anyone who is “different.” Sebastian Junger, in his book Tribe, notes how history has never witnessed such high rates of mental illness. As opposed to the traditional tribal culture where everyone is involved in a meaningful community role and purpose, modern Western culture, he adds, and I totally agree, made us feel un-necessary and unimportant, which is one of the main reasons behind modern-day mental disorders.
I totally acknowledge that in many cases, those individuals could pose substantial risk on society. They could be violent and even dangerous. But, how do we know that this violence is not triggered by violent media, movies, and video games that we, as a society, are bombarded with on a daily basis? How do we know that this violence is not caused by nutrients deficiency from our genetically manipulated and heavily sprayed food, or by chemical pollution from our toxin-loaded environment, or by viral vulnerability from our highly compromised immune defence?
I believe we are messing with a highly precious gift that God has bestowed upon us, our brain. This highly sophisticated neural system was supposed to be a tool that helps us read “the signs on the horizons and within our souls” (Q. 41: 53), the signs that show us the way to the Truth, to our Creator. It was supposed to be a tool that helps us align our innate heart and soul knowledge of Him (our Fitrah) with our logical, analytical understanding of ourselves, our world, and our life meaning and purpose. This highly precious gift has been corrupted and damaged. It has been confused and disconnected from its source.
I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I honestly can’t envision hope in the near future. This is not because the answer is difficult or untenable, but rather because we are looking for answers in all the wrong places. If we are to effectively find answers to the rising rates of psychosis, mental illness and all chronic diseases for that matter, we need a paradigm shift. In the modern Western biomedical model, the scientific research is still based on and undergirded by the Cartesian-Newtonian dualistic, linear, and reductionist approach to life. This view “not only presents an inaccurate vision of human existence but also contributes to the disease of modern society.” All research concerning our health must conform to the evidence-based, statistical “scientific” model that highly overlooks the multifactorial nature of causation (instead they focus on linear causation); the interconnectedness of mind, body, and soul (instead they see life through the dualistic Cartesian lens of separation); and the interrelated holistic nature of life (versus the isolation, compartmentalization, and individualization view of modern thinking).
In the 1970s, William Dembski introduced his idea of Intelligent Design in an attempt to intersect science and theology. The Intelligent Design theory relies on scientific research while acknowledging the Divine action and order. He advocated broadening our understanding of scientific evidence to include metaphysical first principles and include thoughts, feelings, relationships, and holistic view of life. His theory demonstrates that reinstating the bridge between science and theology can reinvigorate the ethical stream and promote the flourishing of human life. I believe we can make a difference if we start with even the tiniest step towards re-connecting:
Sufis teach that if our life journey “appears to move through time and distance, that is not that we can eventually reach God, since ‘He is with you wherever you are’ but rather ‘so that He can cause [us] to see His signs’ that are always there, ‘on the horizons and within [our] souls,’” those signs that lead us to Him. We need to stop ignoring the signs and stop messing with the precious tool God gave us in order for us to heed those signs.
 Daniel Nettle. Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity, and Human Nature (Oxford University Press, 2002)
 Davis, L. J. (2013). The Disability Studies Reader. (4th ed.). New York: Routledge.
 Kelly Brogan, A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives (Harper Wave, 2016) and Craighead, W. Edward. Miklowitz, David J., and Craighead Linda W. Psychopathology: History, Diagnosis, and Empirical Foundations (3rd ed.). Hoboken: Wiley, 2017.
 Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal (2016). From YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_j5mmBa4mw (accessed October 30, 2017).
 Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal.
 Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York: Harpercollins Publishers, 2016).
 Epperly, B. G. (2000). Prayer, Process, and the Future of Medicine. Journal of Religion and Health, 39 (1), 23-37.
 Dembski, W. (1999). Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
 ʿArabī, The Meccan Revelations.
For early Muslims, knowledge was a treasure they would eagerly seek. Medical science and pharmacy were no exceptions. Muslim physicians’ early practice emphasized the importance of preserving health through natural gentle interventions. The Hippocratic philosophy of ‘Premium non nocera’ (first don’t harm) was a well kept notion in their minds as it reflected the teaching of their religion. Prophet Muhammad’s words, “Your body has rights over you” (agreed upon – Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī) paved their way to amazing advancement in the medical, pharmaceutical, and health fields.
Studying history, we can see that medicine within the Islamic civilization passed through three main stages (Abouleish, n.d.). The first stage started in the early 7th century by collecting and translating the medical knowledge of the Greeks, Persians, Assyrian Syriacs, Indians and Byzantines. (Nagamia, 1998)
Soon enough, Muslim physicians started to elaborate on the collected body of knowledge and largely expanded it through experience, exploration, experimentations, testing, and practice. This was during the Golden Age of the Islamic civilization that brought the original contributions of Muslim physicians in the medical, pharmaceutical, herbal, nutritional and botanical fields. This second stage extended during the ninth through thirteenth centuries. During the last stage, however, decline occurred which reflected the stagnation and gradual deterioration of the whole Islamic nation. During the second stage, many physicians, Arabs as well as non-Arabs, contributed to the flourishing of the medicine. Physicians like Al-Razi, or Razes (841 – 926 AD), and Ibn-Sina, known as Avicenna (980 – 1037 AD) were pioneers in the medical fields. Their books and teachings were used as bases for medical study in Europe for centuries to come.
Al-Razi’s fame started with the establishment of a hospital in Baghdad in the 9th century which included a special ward for mental illness. He also pioneered in holistic and spiritual medicine, advocating healing and caring for the whole patient. This idea was well reflected in his book ‘Al-Tibb al-Rawhani’ (Spiritual Medicine) where he emphasized the importance of heart purification and ethical and virtuous conducts in achieving total healing.
In his famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Law in Medicine), Ibn-Sina laid the foundation of medical practice, compiled a complete Materia Medica, described diseases and malfunctions and gave a full formulary of remedies, suggestions and recipes for treatment.
As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians were treating eye diseases and even performing cataract surgery. Al-Mawsili, an Iraqi ophthalmologist and physician, designed a special needle to remove cataract by suction. And, an amazingly complete text book on eye disease ‘Notebook of the Oculist’ was written by Ali Ibn Isa also in the 10th century Baghdad. On Ibn Isa’s valuable reference was based the European knowledge of modern ophthalmology. (Al-Hassani, 2006)
Ibn al-Nafis, the Syrian Muslim scholar, described in a treatise written in 1210 AC the role of the heart and lung in blood purification and elaborated on Ibn-Sina’s description of the pulmonary circulation. Ibn al-Nafis accurately described the anatomical structure of heart chambers and the fine structure of the circulatory system hundreds of years before Western discoveries.
Early Muslims also laid the foundation of modern day pharmacology through the early work of Sabur ibn Sahl, Al-Razi and Ibn-Sina in the early 9th century. Later on, in the 11th century, Al-Biruni wrote his famous master piece ‘The Book of Pharmacology’ compiling an amazing work on drugs and remedies. Al-Zahrawi’s writings ‘Al-Tasrif’ (Dispensing) further taught methods of drug preparations and formulation starting from simple remedies all the way to complex compounding. (Al-Hassani, 2006)
The principal concepts embodying medicine as practiced during this period were based on the essential meaning of balance. They presented the physician’s role as one of balancing and harmonizing overall bodily functions while restoring health and healing on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual planes.
Physical ailments were thought to arise mainly as a result of accumulation of excess waste substance in the body. Overeating, improper food choice and other unhealthy habits were regarded as the source of the accumulated morbid matter, and a disease’s symptoms appears when the digestive process becomes overwhelmed. (Al-Jauziyah, 2003)
More importantly, however, it was the fundamental belief of a Muslim physician that the physical body should never be the sole interest of the physician. It is the Ruh, or soul, which gives this body its vitality and true essence. (Nagamia, 1998) It was thus essential for a Muslim physician to be well aware of the diseases of the heart and soul and how to treat them along with managing physical symptoms.
During the third stage of this thriving medical history within the Islamic world, and around the fourteenth century, a new type of medical writing emerged. The authors were religious scholars, rather than physicians. Their aim was to preserve the wealth of knowledge and heritage compiled and practiced by Muslims over the years from fading away before the rapidly rising Western society. (National Library of Medicine, 1998)
Their writings all carried the same title: Al-Tibb Al-Nabawi (Prophetic Medicine) and was intended as an alternative to the Greek-based medical science. Most famous among them were the writings of Al-Jauziyah, As-Suyuti, and Az-Zahabi which are considered as the base for what is today referred to as ‘Islamic Medicine.’
Al-Jauziyah’s recommendations for approaching the patient reflected the preserved notion of balance and holistic approach taught by early Muslim physicians. He advised physicians to investigate all areas of their patient’s life, research the real cause behind the disease, examine the patient’s feelings, mood and life style and consider dietary options before resorting to drugs. (Al Jauziyah, 2003)
The physicians were knowledgeable about the ‘sickness of the heart and soul’ and took great care when approaching them in a professional yet caring manner. They realized the effects of stress, emotions and mental state, and used positive affirmations from Qur’an and Prophetic teachings to increase hope and strengthen the will for healing.
Moral values, love, courage, patience, kindness, and altruism were prescribed as the best remedies for the inner self, and prayer was practiced for maintaining the connection with God, preserving the health of the body and soul, strengthening faith, bringing happiness and energizing the body against acute ailments. (Ayad, 2008)
The six primary channels that should be balanced to avoid contacting diseases, as stated by As-Suyuti, further reflected the wisdom of early Muslim knowledge. He emphasized the importance of the quality of air we breathe, food and drink we consume, physical exercise and movements, our emotional state and feelings, our sleep and waking cycles, and our body’s ability to excrete toxins, get rid of accumulated morbid matter and retain valuable nutrients. “Whenever it is possible to use gentle remedy, do not use something powerful instead,” he wrote, advising a physician to be “gentle in his speech, kind in his words and close to God” (As-Suyuti, 2009). Az-Zahabi, on his side, recommended using only medicines that are similar or related to regular food and that contained no noxious or harmful substances. (Az-Zahabi, 2004)
Starting from the beginnings of the seventeenth century, Islamic Medicine was challenged by rapidly spreading science of conventional modern medicine, which eventually replaced the core of the health care systems in most of the Islamic countries (Nagamia, 1998).
Contemporary practice of Islamic Medicine is restricted to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where one can find established medical schools teaching this type of medicine, certified and supervised by the Indian Medical Council. (Nagamia, 1998) And while these schools do teach such medical approach while being highly influenced by the teachings of the old Greek practice, it is also common to find conventional physicians in Middle Eastern countries and Malaysia giving medical advice and some treatment while making use of the Islamic approach. Some believe that this mixing of the old and the new, the eastern and the western, makes their patients benefit from ‘the best of both worlds.’
Around the 8th century, one man took it upon himself to dig deeper into this amazing world of chemistry. A long forgotten historical figure, Khaled Ibn Yazeed came from the house of the Umayyad Caliphate. It was very unusual for a man in his social and economical stature to adopt such an unrecognized profession. However, his decision was a turning point in the history of chemistry.
Ibn Yazeed started his journey by translating Greek and Roman references in the field. He studied chemical reactions and started his pioneering experimentations in synthesizing drugs and remedies.
Just as the Greeks and Romans had acquired their learning from ancient Egyptian and Sumerian breakthroughs, Ibn Yazeed set the foundation upon which chemistry and pharmacy could be studied which was later built upon by his successor Jabir Ibn Hayyan.
By the beginning of the 9th century, pharmacy was already a well established, independent profession with well regulated rules and laws. In fact, pharmacists were knowledgeable about drug use, compounding, preparation, and dispensing. At that time, pharmacists mastered dosage adjustment, drug interaction, and prevention of drug adulteration. Muslim physicians have further developed the field of pharmacy. Being the most knowledgeable about body ailments and diseases, physicians were the most suited to develop and prescribe the cure. Famous physicians like Al-Razi, Ibn Sina and Al-Kindi, contributed much in the advancement of this field of science. Furthermore, they combined their knowledge about medicine with herbal remedies, chemistry, and philosophy to develop an amazing body of work describing disease diagnosis, description of appropriate remedies, and the required dosages. Al-Biruni’s book, ‘The Book of Pharmacology,’ Al-Zahrawy’s 30 volumes ‘Al-Tasrif’ (Dispensing), Al-Razi’s ‘Al-Hawi’ (The Comprehensive Book on Medicine), ‘The Secret in Chemistry’, Al-Mansur Muwaffaq’s ‘The Foundations of the True Properties of Remedies’ and Ibn al-Wafid’s work ‘The Book of Simple Drugs,’ were some of many outstanding references in pharmacology at the time.
As a result, upon the work of these great Muslim scientists, the modern Western World has founded its pharmaceutical knowledge.
The most important aspect of Muslims’ development to the pharmaceutical profession, though, was their honoring of the Islamic teachings. They believed in the Hadeeth that states, “God created the disease and the cure, and made a cure for every ailment; so seek healing but do not seek treatment with haram (unlawful means.)” (Abu-Dawood and al-Bayhaqi). Consequently, Muslim pharmacists and physicians didn’t delve into any unlawful treatments or quackery. They based their knowledge and studies on scientific experimentations and practical experiences. Additionally, they honored the whole human being, body and soul, and sincerely and ethically pursued their mission in easing people’s pain and relieving their sufferings. Physicians, like Al-Razi, advocated resorting to diet and herbs for treatment before referring to chemical drugs. His one-of-a-kind book, ‘Tibb Al-Fuqara’a’ (Medicine of the Poor), described ways of treating diseases using affordable foods and herbs rather than expensive preparations and formulations.
While delving into this great history, I can’t help but feel awed by such wisdom, knowledge and honor. And, I can’t also help but wonder when the achievements of modern-day Muslims will match that great era of human advancement.
References:As-Sergany, R.. Khaled Ibn Yazeed. Retrieved from: www.islamstory.com. 2008.
As-Sergany, R.. العلم وبناء الأمم [Science and the building of nations]. Egypt: Iqraa. 2007.
Al-Hassani, S. (Editor). 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World. UK: Foundation for Science Technology and civilization. 2006.
National Library of Medicine. Islamic Culture and the Medical Arts: Prophetic medicine. April 5, 1998. Retrieved June 6, 2007.
When young adult prisoners’ diet was supplemented with multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, researchers noticed a striking reduction in their anti-social behavior, violence and aggression .
When school children with ADHD showing no improvement on standard drug treatment, received essential fatty acids daily for six months, parents reported significant improvement in “restlessness, aggressiveness, completing work, and academic performance”.
And, when 95 British middle managers were given dietary supplements to compensate for missing nutrients in their diet, after eight weeks, significant improvement in activity, mood, cognitive and behavioral strain, and stress management was recorded.
A closer look at those above examples shows us a staggering pattern that is recurrent in our everyday life: teenager and young adult violence and aggressiveness; school children hyperactivity, restlessness and poor academic performance; and, managers and employees stress, mood disturbance and lack of motivation. No one can deny that those behaviors are complex psychological and social problems that should be addressed from more than one perspective. Yet sometimes, the answer, or at least an important part of it, is closer than we could imagine: Our diet!
More and more studies are pointing at the importance of proper nutrients consumption for mental, social and cognitive behaviors and a simple look at our dinner table show us the damage we are inflecting upon ourselves and our loved ones. Typical modern-day diet is very poor in nutritional value, vitamins, minerals and fibers, yet very high in calories, refined carbohydrates and the wrong types of fats. This diet, studies show, is not only directly related to cardiovascular problems, inflammatory and chronic diseases, but it is also directly related to stress, mood disturbance, irritability, lack of motivation, inappropriate social behaviors, low cognitive performance and poor memory.
Studies show a significant correlation between the type of food we choose to eat and our mental health. Increased consumption of processed and refined foods is linked to anxiety . Low intake of fruits, vegetable, and good quality meat is linked to increased stress levels . Daily consumption of sweets and candy at the age of ten is linked to increased violent behavior in adulthood . Eating junk food at the young age of 4 is associated with hyperactivity and behavior problems in childhood as well as later in life . Omega-3 fatty acids deficiency is linked to depression and dementia, and omega-3 supplements are shown to prevent aggression and hostility, control anger and improve social behavior.
How Does it Work?
To understand the mechanism behind food effect on our mental health and social behavior, bare with me as we take a closer look at our biochemistry and physiological reactions.
Blood sugar level:
When we look at our mood swings, anxiety and irritability, the first culprit that comes to mind is erratic blood sugar level (BSL). Both hypoglycemia (low BSL) and hyperglycemia (high BSL) are detrimental to our health. The first drains our energy and depresses our mood and vitality; the later predisposes us to obesity, diabetes and uncomfortable mood swings.
When our blood sugar is low, our body sends us a signal usually by making us more fidgety, anxious, and stressed or by making us crave sweets and stimulants. Since we are always ‘on the run’, we fetch a quick fix. We resort to a chocolate bar, candy or cake to supply us with the required sugar ‘dose’; we get a cup of coffee, can of coke or smoke a cigarette to give us a boost of adrenaline, the well known fight-and-flight neurotransmitter that raises our BSL.
Eating instant refined sweets, although life saving in some cases, can start a vicious cycle of swinging blood levels of insulin and sugar which further disturbs our mood, increases our stress, and predisposes us to diabetes. Also raising our adrenaline through caffeine or nicotine aggravates our stress and anxiety, and, on the long run, affects our blood pressure, heart, and immunity.
An erratic BSL is not the only mechanism by which out modern diet wrecks havoc with our mental and social health, a diet lacking in many essential nutritional values is another major disruptive mechanism.
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are also the building blocks of our neurotransmitters; these are what Candace Pert, the famous neuroscientist, calls ‘molecules of emotion’. From the amino acid tryptophan for instance, serotonin, our mood boosting neurotransmitter, is synthesized. Low serotonin levels are linked to suicidal tendency, depression, violence and aggressive behaviors .
The amino acids phenyl alanine and tyrosine are the building blocks for dopamine and nor adrenaline, our motivational and feeling-good neurotransmitters. Dopamine also plays an essential role in controlling the reward and punishment processes in our brain . We need a constant supply of essential amino acids to keep our mood and emotions in check. The right balance, amount and type of the amino acids are determined by the composition and quality of our dietary protein.
B vitamins are other missing essentials. They play an important role in metabolism and nervous system health. They are also directly involved in the synthesis of many neurotransmitters. Besides, vitamin B6 is known to reduce risk and even treat premenstrual depression, and vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to dementia .
Omega-3 fatty acids deficiency is linked to depression and dementia, and omega-3 supplements are shown to prevent aggression and hostility, control anger and improve social behavior.
Essential minerals, especially zinc, manganese, chromium, copper and iron also contribute their share. Chromium helps controlling BSL and iron is an important factor in neurotransmitters synthesis . Iron deficiency is linked to depression and depleted energy .
Other vitamins are involved in our complex behavioral adjustment. Vitamin C, E and A are essential for nerve cell health, vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression and neurodegenerative diseases and vitamin K plays its role in nervous tissue biochemistry.
What Should we Eat?
Research performed in British and US prisons showed that aggressive and anti-social behaviors even in criminals could be corrected, at least in part, through dietary intervention . And, needless to say, the natural and synergistic effects achieved by consuming whole natural food in a balanced diet is far better than administering individual nutrients in capsules and pills.
For an optimum performance and optimum state of mind, we need first and foremost to balance our BSL.
The safest and most effective way to do that is balancing our diet quality, quantity and timing.
Talbinah: Our Traditional Soothing Food
Traditional Books of Prophetic medicine talked about one of our best mood soothing foods: Talbinah. Talbinah is a thin barley soup made with barley flour and adjusted to a milky consistency (and hence its name Talbinah, from the Arabic word, laban– meaning milk). It could be sweetened with honey or served as savory soup with added spices. Aisha, The Prophet's wife, narrated, “If any of the Messenger’s family became ill, the Messenger would recommend Talbinah to be prepared. He says: ‘It soothes the grief and cleanses the ailing heart just as one of you cleans dirt off her face with water.’ “(Related by Ibn Maajah). Recent studies on the effect of Talbinah showed its significant effect in boosting mental health, relieving depression and anxiety and balancing the mood .
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Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have learned the benefits of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. The purpose wasn’t only nourishment or energy production, it was also for cure and healing. In our modern time, science has recognized the medicinal benefits of such plants. Active ingredients in natural plants were found capable of inhibiting, retarding and reversing acute and chronic human ailments. With the alarming increase of cancer cases despite our modern technological advancement, researchers are referring back to those natural cures in an attempt to find some answers.
Phytochemicals are a huge group of natural plant compounds that not only provide much of the flavor and color of our edible plants; but also provide amazing biological and medicinal activity. Many phytochemicals offer anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, anti-microbial activities, organ tonicity, detoxification, hormonal-like actions, and the list goes on.
“Cancer chemoprevention by phytochemicals may be one of the most feasible approaches for cancer control”. These nature miracles have an amazing power of healing the body, inside out. There are thousands of them; each has its specific mechanism of action. Some are anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing, or anti-hormonal; others execute their effect through modification of metabolism or enzymatic activity, influencing cellular action and cell differentiation, suppression of proliferation of cancerous cells, or interruption of blood supply to the tumor. Yet, others affect body detoxification, enhance excretion of carcinogens, suppress inflammation, and/or inhibit tumor growth.
“According to Harvard University School of public health, poor diet, lack of exercise, and unhealthy lifestyle elements are responsible for about 65% of cancer deaths”. Another good percentage is caused by external factors like environmental pollution from air, water, chemical, pesticides.
Experts believe that all those factors have one thing in common: They increase our exposure to damaging free radicals and/or increase our susceptibility to their damaging effects. This incoming oxidative harm compromises our immune system abilities to maintain health. Our bad eating and living habits like smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and chronic stress, add insult to injury.
Hence, controlling free radicals and oxidative damage to our cells and DNA is a primary goal in cancer prevention and treatment. And here comes the role of phytochemicals. According to Dr. Balch of Harvard University, School of Public Health, “7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables are found to reduce cancer risk by about 30%”. This amazing action is largely attributed to their valuable nutrients and phytochemicals content.
And, the list goes on and on…
It is important to note that those natural, God-given plants offer the perfect combination of balanced hundreds or may be thousands of phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals that work in perfect harmony and synergy to deliver the needed benefit for our body. They are naturally available, ready for our consumption and suitable for oral or topical usage. Yet, many challenges are still in the way. Much of the research on phytochemicals has been conducted in vitro or on laboratory and test animals. For effective application in medicinal field, full risk analysis that determines the appropriate dosage, mode of application/administration, bioavailability, metabolism and long-term biological effects are still highly required.
Meanwhile, integrating fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grain, legumes, herbs and spices in our everyday diet holds tremendous health benefits. The word vegetable comes from the Latin word ‘vegetare’ which means to invigorate or impart energy. And this is exactly what vegetations do to us.
With your everyday food choice you design your own state of health, not only your physical health, but also your emotional, psychological and mental wellbeing. The amazing and varied range of nutrients you choose to put on your plate in every meal gives your body the chance to heal, boost its immunity, detoxify and strengthen.
The Thunder, Chapter 13 of the Quran, describes how the thunder with its scary roar, in its essence, it glorifies and praises God. Could this be a parallel for our pains and sufferings? The roaring pain that brings within its folds a blessing and a gift from the Divine?
In its essence, suffering, like the roaring thunder, praises and glorifies God. Initially, our pain brings with it fear that might throw us into a chaotic narrative… the chaos of a life-threatening diagnosis or a life-altering illness, the chaos of cancer, depression, autoimmunity, fibromyalgia, or chronic pain… a chaos that forces us to press a pause or even a stop button on our lives…
But, what if we pause and listen? What if we try to decipher the message our body is sending us? If we listen carefully, we will hear our suffering opening the door for spiritual insight, a door that will take us closer to God. We will hear our suffering praising our Lord.
The Thunder chapter (Surat Ar-Ra’d) challenges our belief about the dichotomy of good and evil. To discern the wisdom in our trials, we need to challenge this modern cognitive frame. We need to stop judging evil solely on the basis of it not serving an immediate interest or pleasure. Likewise, healing should not be reduced to curing the illness. Healing means becoming whole again, becoming at peace with oneself, the world, and the Divine.
Healing entails finding meaning and purpose that is bigger than ourselves and bigger than our suffering. It entails bringing all who we are, body, mind, heart, and soul into a relationship with the Divine. As physical suffering is drawing us towards a bigger life meaning and purpose, to a vocation and a calling, in reality, it is drawing us towards God. To find our calling, we need to know ourselves; and to know ourselves, we need to know God. Such knowledge allows us to understand the interconnectedness of all things around us and within us and the relationship to and ultimate dependence of this amazing web on its One and Only Creator.
Listen to the inspiring story of Ali Banat: Gifted with Cancer, May God bless his soul.
In our modern day life, we are over-working our brains. We spend our resting time before the TV screen or our PC monitor. Our brains are constantly analyzing, calculating, worrying, and searching. And, at the end of the day, we wonder why we find it hard to sleep despite our exhaustion. Popping a sleeping pill or a calming sedative won’t do the trick. Studies show that these sleep-inducing medications interfere with your natural sleeping cycle. In other words, they may improve the quantity, but not the quality of your sleep.
Why do you need to sleep?
Besides relieving fatigue and restoring alertness, sleep has been proven to improve memory by consolidating, organizing and re-structuring the information you learn during your waking hours. It replenishes your brain performance and regenerates neurons. Sleep also lowers inflammation, boosts cells regeneration, and curbs oxidative damage. It improves your stamina, helps you better manage your daily stresses, calms down the fight and flight response, and increases your emotional stability. So much for such a ‘relaxing’ activity… isn’t it?
Essential fatty acids
Recent research has been studying the role of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in improving sleep. Essential fatty acids are pretty safe and well tolerated by most people. They are linked to many health benefits like reducing systemic inflammation, improving heart performance, relieving asthma symptoms, and helping in autoimmune conditions like psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, Crohn’s and colitis. They are linked to improving immune function, skin integrity, mood and hormonal balance.
EFAs have also been shown to mediate pain response by controlling the pro-inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines. They have been proven effective in conditions like chronic pains, joints aches, carpal tunnel and fibromyalgia. They lower the risk of Alzheimer, dementia, cognitive degenerative diseases and even help with depression. Low levels of EFAs are linked to increased risk and symptoms of ADHD in children and adults.
Can essential fatty acids help you sleep?
EFAs improve our sleep through direct and indirect mechanisms of action.
EFAs are proven to stabilize and harmonize the complex mechanism by which our body initiates and maintains sleep. 
Omega 3 levels, specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), have been linked to better quality of sleep, reduced severity of sleep apnea and improvement in melatonin (your sleep hormone) level. 
In a study conducted by University of Oxford in the UK, supplementing 600 mg of DHA significantly improved children sleeping habits.
Types and Sources of EFAs
We cannot synthesize EFAs, we need to get them from food. Our body needs a constant supply of two types of fats: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Our Standard American Diet is highly loaded with omega 6 at the expense of omega 3, which shifts the balance towards more inflammatory reactions, hormonal imbalances, mood and sleep disturbance. The balance between both types of fats is very critical for brain structure and function. Omega-3 deficiencies are widespread. We all seem to consume more omega-6 (mainly from common vegetable oils), than omega-3 (present in nuts, seeds and fatty fish and fish oil supplements).
So, do you have trouble sleeping at night? Try adding more cold-water fish to your diet and supplementing with some good quality EFAs.
Vegetarian sources of EFAs include seeds like flax and chia seeds; nuts especially walnuts; green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and vine leaves; seaweeds like spirulina; cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts; and other vegetables like winter squash and leeks.
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 Yehuda, Rabinovitz, & Mostofsky. (1998). Essential fatty acids and sleep: mini-review and hypothesis. Med Hypotheses;50(2):139-45.
 Montgomery et. Al. (2014), Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – a randomized controlled trial. J Sleep Res, 23: 364–388.
 Yehuda, Rabinovitz & Mostofsky. (2005). Mixture of essential fatty acids lowers test anxiety. Nutritional Neuroscience Vol. 8 , Iss. 4
Bella’s symptoms started 5 years ago. After the birth of her second child, Bella was always exhausted; she couldn’t shed off her pregnancy pounds and kept gaining weight as years went by. Her continuous fatigue threw her in such a bad mood that her doctor had to put her on antidepressant.
Bella tried many diets, went on various detoxes, joined a local gym and even enrolled in an evening meditation class. Yet, her symptoms kept getting worse. Her brain was foggy. Her weight was steadily creeping up along with her anxiety. Her period became irregular. She was now chronically constipated. Her skin was dry and her beautiful hair was falling with every morning shower.
Thyroid foundation of Canada estimated that 1 in 10 Canadians suffers from thyroid problems among which around 50%, like Bella, remain undiagnosed for years.
After 5 years of suffering in silence, Bella was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism and she was prescribed thyroid hormone. She immediately felt better, but, with time, her symptoms were creeping back… What was going on here?
Your thyroid gland sets the on and off switch for your metabolism. It plays a major role in controlling heart, digestive, brain and muscle functions as well as bone health.
What Bella, and many women I see, do not know is that their Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) level could be totally within the normal range, yet still suffer from all hypothyroid symptoms. TSH is an essential piece of the puzzle, but it is far from being the whole picture.
Other Players in the Field
Is your immune system angry?
Hashimoto thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that goes largely un-diagnosed. In Hashimoto, the immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid.
Lots of evidence pinpoint the link between gluten intolerance and autoimmunity. Gluten is the protein present mainly in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. The best way to know if gluten or other food sensitivities are factors, is to go on a well designed elimination diet removing gluten, dairy and other suspected food allergens, then strategically re-introducing them while tracking your symptoms.
In Bella’s case, her immune system was indeed on fire.
Where do you start?
Listen to your Body Whispers
Body Whispers® are those subtle warnings your body is sending you to tell you that something needs to change in your life. Bella’s fatigue, brain fog and random aches and pains were whispers that she brushed aside until they turned into screams. She had this subtle need to be nurtured and cared for as she was nurturing and caring for everyone around her. Her voice was trapped, as if she wanted to scream for attention but couldn’t. It was this feeling of un-ease and hunger for more out of life.
Along with supporting her body, Bella started to listen to her heart and soul. She pursued her passion for photography; she set some ‘Me’ time in her schedule and learned to ask for help around the house whenever she needed. Luckily, her husband was very supportive. Together, they managed to set their life back on track as Bella steadily but surely restored her health and vitality.
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About the Author
Hi, I'm Amira... I'm all for simple, natural, uncomplicated life... My core values are derived from my Islamic faith... My definition of wellness includes lots of smiles, human interactions, delicious food, music, joy, colorful paint, Mediterranean sunshine, blue sky and turquoise sea, care, love, compassion and deep heart-felt peace.