Book Review: Your Brain on Nature

Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and VitalityYour Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality by Eva M. Selhub

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From beginning to end, this book was an exercise in cognitive dissonance for me.

I’m a major proponent of the back-to-nature mentality, which I refer to as my “unga bunga bullshit” and inflict on my friends at every opportunity. So are this book’s authors, and they provided chapter after chapter of studies confirming my every bias. Even biases I didn’t know I had!

Shinrin-yoku, Japanese for “btfo in the woods”, improves your mental health on every conceivable level, including what aspects of it extend to the physical. Being around dogs, cats, fish, and hamsters do, too. Eating fewer Tastykakes and more fish reduces brain inflammation, linked to improvement in mood, lower depression symptom presentation, and increased cognitive functioning.

Wow! Turns out I was right about everything forever. To ameliorate any potential flagging in well-being, I self-prescribe a friendship dog and a big ol’ joint of roasted meat like in Conan. Join me in the shrub, my brethren.

“That’s not what cognitive dissonance means,” you may be saying. “Everything is great for you rn! Why you so stingy with those stars?”

Let me tell you, beloved reader. Although I’m functionally paleo, and I do consider hitting a tire with a sledgehammer to be cardio, I’m also a practician clinician who reads this shit recreationally and spent the last decade arguing with people on the internet. I know a thing or two about sourcing references.

Red Flag #1:
The writing wasn’t very good. This is excusable, but must be considered. Writing is hard, academic writing is agony, and you can’t expect a dry, scientific tome of this length to be an emotional roller-coaster the whole way through. What stuck out for me were word repetitions, slips in grammar, and clunky sentence construction. A good solid edit could have fixed all of this, but didn’t. Disconcerting.

Red Flag #2:
“For a chapter-by-chapter list of references used in this book, go to yourbrainonnature.com”.
What? Why?
I get that you used a lot of references, but removing your scientific backing and proof from your argument by additional degrees is incredibly suspicious.

I did track the references down, and they seem to be a pretty even divide between respectable sounding psych or anthropology(???) journals, and ambiguous horticultural journals no one’s ever heard of. Considering the authors, that makes sense, which brings us to our next red flag.

Red Flag #3:
Eva Selhub, MD, and Alan Logan, ND. What the hell is an ND, you may ask? I certainly did. It means “naturopathic doctor”, which is to say, not any kind of actual doctor. I tried to find more information on naturopathy thereafter and there were only two sources of information:
a) Naturopathic.org, which paints all NDs as physicians who became frustrated with the pharmaceutical industry and injecting children with autism vaccines so they went rogue, quit “conventional medicine”, and started prescribing essential oils
b) Wikipedia.org, which was essentially a 3000-word rendition of holding up a foghorn and yelling “QUAAAAAAAAAAACKS”

Red Flag #4:
Eva Selhub is very well-credentialed. She’s a for-real doctor of internal medicine, taught at Harvard Medical School for around 20 years, and served as Medical Director at Benson Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital for 6 years. She publishes often in medical journals and shows up on Dr. Oz. Despite being nearly 50, she still lookin’ kinda fresh doe. Nowadays she identifies as a “resiliency expert and executive coach” and is her own LLC, which is probably much more lucrative. The issue with lucrative is, most pyramid schemes tend to be, for the executive coach.

Red Flag #5:
An alarming number of medical quotes and excerpts throughout the book come from the 1700s to the early 1900s. This is intended to instill the “forgotten wisdom” motif, but we just stopped leeching people in the early 1900s.

None of these attempts to poison my own well necessarily detract from the suggestions made by the research, which boil down to “hanging out in the woods is better for your mental and physical health than playing Candy Crush 15 hours a day”. That’s a reasonable supposition. I’ve gotten through some more recent and less suspect books recently with data that points the same way — Digital Minimalism is a good one.

It’s an “I want to believe” situation. Everything seems to check out, but there’s a fishy smell under all this patchouli.

View all my reviews

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