BEFORE proceeding further I wish to be clear about terms. Medical terms are often confusing to non-medical readers, who attach differences of meaning to different terms when they are simply two names for the same thing. A familiar instance of this is the case of the terms “scarlatina” and “scarlet fever.” The first is supposed to represent a mild form of the second. But they are used absolutely indifferently by medical men, the most malignant cases being called scarlatina, just as the mildest cases are called scarlet fever, and vice versa. There is the same distinction made by some people between “indigestion” and “dyspepsia.” It is a distinction without a difference; both are names (indigestion, Latin; and dyspepsia, Greek) for identically the same condition, and I use them indifferently. I am sorry if I must rob some poor sufferer of the little consolation he has been able to obtain from the supposition that his complaint is not vulgar “indigestion,” but a more refined something named “dyspepsia,” but it must be done, for they are merely different names for the same thing.
A great deal might be profitably written on the art of eating. Hurrying over meals, paradoxical as it may sound to say so, is the most extravagant waste of time. The teeth cannot do their proper share of mastication unless they have sufficient time to do it in; the food is passed into the stomach in an unprepared state, and the lack of mental quiet prevents the stomach from expending a proper amount of energy on its duties. A meal-time should be a time of mental and bodily rest to all but the digestive faculties. Another point in the art of eating is the avoidance of drinking much during a meal. The practice of washing down every mouthful with a drink, whether of water, wine, lemonade, or what not, is exceedingly bad. It dilutes and weakens the action of the digestive juices, and almost certainly leads to dyspepsia. A good drink, if thirsty, shortly before a meal, or a little time after it, is the best arrangement; though a draught in the pauses between the courses need not to be objected to. But food should never be “washed down.”
A healthy stomach is able to digest anything in an ordinary way that is called food. Its power is not strictly limited to the digesting of “wholesome” food, but it has a margin of over- power, which allows it to undertake luxuries like mince-pies, roast pork, and confectionery. The happy possessor of such an organ should enjoy what he eats and be thankful, and think little or nothing about his stomach. Only he must not transgress his margin. For the strongest stomach may be ruined if it is tried beyond its powers, and if its possessor uses it as a receptacle for things that please his palate, rather than for those which sustain his body. But if he makes the latter his main object, and only indulges his palate now and then, his stomach will take it all very good-naturedly, and no harm will be done.
The three grand requirements of every stomach are– proper food, proper quantity of food, and proper rest.
It does not matter how wholesome the food may be if there is not enough of it, or if there is too much, the stomach will resent it. Or, if the quantity as well the quality be right, and if it be given irregularly, at improper intervals, allowing no time for the stomach to recover itself after all its last digestive effort, indigestion will result.
A large number of the cases of indigestion we meet with arise from violation of these three cardinal rules. But not all. The stomach may be disordered when there is no complaint to be made whatever as to the treatment of the stomach itself. For instance, in all fevers and acute inflammations the digestion is more or less interfered with, though the stomach may not be originally at fault. Whatever damages the vitality of the blood, either in the way of blood-poisoning, or by its becoming watery and thin, impairs the power of digestion. Working in ill- ventilated offices with gas, or at poisonous trades, as in the case of cardboard boxmakers, paper-hangers and stainers, and artificial florists, who inhale arsenic, and plumbers who work with lead any of these conditions may set up indigestion. Improper habits of body, as neglect of open-air exercise, and excesses of every kind, will bring on a very inveterate form of indigestion. Inherited delicacy of any kind, whether consumptive, rheumatic, or gouty, will sometimes manifest itself in indigestion apart from any want of care on the patient’s part. Finally, mental causes must not be omitted from the list. “Laugh and grow fat” is a very old adage and a very true one. When the mind is ill at ease the stomach cannot work as it ought, and the face grows haggard and lean and the muscles lax. Worry is one great cause of indigestion.