Alan C. Logan, ND

Home Institution: Nova Institute for Health

Field: Integrative Health and Human Flourishing

Current Positions: 

My Driving Question

How can a greater understanding of human connections to the natural world help us exit the Anthropocene?

Fellow Project 

Dr. Logan’s work as a Nova Fellow explores the ways in which natural environments, and certain elements within those environments, from aromatic chemicals to unseen microbes, provide value to human health and quality of life. Central to this study is an emphasis on the psychological construct of nature relatedness—our individual connection to the natural world—and the ways in which it is connected to well-being, healthy lifestyles, and pro-environmental behaviors. 

Despite significant growth in the understanding of human connections to the natural world, the historical and emerging research remains scattered and siloed in various disciplines. The isolation of such research compromises its saliency and prevents the collective push required for translation and use by diverse professionals and policymakers. With an emphasis on integration, Dr. Logan seeks to break down discipline-based barriers and raise awareness of the human connection to the natural world as a personal health asset with public and planetary health implications. 

In particular, the examination of human connections to the natural world is viewed in a way that considers equity and marginalization. If nature relatedness is a basic psychological need, what can we do to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to develop a deep and meaningful connection to nature? How can we correct the marginalization that interferes with a potential health asset? Dr. Logan views the human connection to nature through the lens of justice—including, but not limited to, the realms of social, environmental, and criminal justice.

Biography 

Alan Logan, ND, is an award-winning author and historian of health sciences with nearly 100 publications in diverse scientific and medical journals. His work, which has more than 6,500 citations, explores the ways in which natural environments provide value to and impact human health and quality of life. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he was educated there through the peak of the Troubles. He obtained his undergraduate degree at the State University of New York at Purchase and his doctorate from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, where he graduated as valedictorian. From 2005-2015, he was invited faculty at Harvard Medical School’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine. There, he presented on nutrition, mental health, and natural environments. He contributed to the Natural Environments Initiative at Harvard School of Public Health and is a co-author within the Oxford Textbook of Nature and Public Health (2018, Oxford University Press). 

Dr. Logan has been published in more than two dozen diverse scientific and medical journals, ranging from Aquatic Biosystems and Biopsychosocial Medicine to Beneficial Microbes and Lancet Psychiatry. He has published extensively on the history of science and medicine, twice winning the Japanese Society of Physiological Anthropology’s Research Award for Excellence. He is the co-author of Your Brain on Nature (Harper Collins, 2012) and The Secret Life of Your Microbiome (New Society, 2017). 

Almost 20 years ago, in the pages of Medical Hypotheses, Dr. Logan and his colleagues drew on historical records and emerging research on systemic inflammation and vagus nerve-to-limbic communication to propose that targeting the human gut microbiome may improve mental health and cognitive function. Considered outlandish at the time, the idea of using probiotics and other microbial interventions to improve mental well-being is now widely considered to be one of the most exciting areas of neuropsychiatric research.

Education and Training
  • ND, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine
  • BA, State University of New York at Purchase
Selected Honors
  • Finalist, Feathered Quill Awards, Best Book in the Historical Category: Self-Styled: Chasing Dr. Robert Vernon Spears (Glass Spider, 2019)

  • First Place, Independent Books Publishers Award, Best Book in the Health Category: The Secret Life of Your Microbiome (New Society, 2017)

  • Japanese Society of Physiological Anthropology’s Research Award for Excellence, Presented June, 2018 

  • Japanese Society of Physiological Anthropology’s Research Award for Excellence, Presented May, 2015 

  • Valedictorian, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Class of 2001

Selected Publications
 

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.