I. From Indigestible Food.
WHEN a small boy strays into an orchard before the fruit is quite ripe, and indulges his appetite without staying to reflect, he is apt to experience an attack of indigestion of the simplest kind. The food he has eaten is not digested, but remains in his stomach like an irritating foreign body. If he is discovered in time, the simplest process is to give him an emetic of salt-and- water or mustard-and-water, and so get rid of it in this way. But if it has already had time to pass into the bowels, other measures will be needed. The symptoms he experiences are sharp pains in the upper part of the body or about the navel, and even cramp and spasms which may go on to general convulsions. Stone fruit before it is ripe will cause the same symptoms.
Those who have reached mature years are generally more discriminating in their diet, but every little while they may forget themselves. Perhaps it is some favourite dish which they know does not agree with them, but which they cannot resist, and then they know what to expect. The symptoms very according to the food that has caused the indigestion. Nuts cause pains in the stomach 1 and chest. Fat food, especially fat pork, causes nausea and vomiting, with moist white tongue. This is frequently accompanied by pains in the body and diarrhoea.
Food may be indigestible under some conditions, and digestible under others. If a person in a state of exhaustion sits down to a hearty meal, even though the food is nothing but what he is used to, he will not be able to digest it. In all such states the very lightest food should be taken until the bodily powers are restored, which usually happens after a sleep. Some people can eat hot meat very well, but not cold meat, and to them cold meat is an indigestible food. The explanation of this is that in cold meat the albuminous and gelatinous parts are set, whereas in hot meat they are fluid, and these are more easily acted on by the digestive juices; moreover, cold meat must become warm in the stomach before it can be digested, and Pains in the chest and intestines, flatulence, and great distress, are the penalty of want of due care of these points.
1 *Throughout this treatise I use the word “stomach” in the anatomical sense, meaning the organ which receives the food as soon as it is swallowed. The stomach lies in the upper part of the abdominal cavity, more on the left side than on the right, which is occupied by the liver. The stomach is protected by the lowest ribs on the left side, and many of the pains arising in the stomach are felt in the chest. In common speech, the “stomach” means the whole of the abdomen, but I do not use it in this sense.* 1
Under the same heading of indigestion from indigestible food must come those cases due to defective teeth. When the teeth are faulty and cannot masticate the food properly before it is swallowed, it reaches the stomach ill-prepared, and sets up indigestion which is apt to become chronic. The remedy in this case is to consult a dentist, and if he cannot put matters right, the food–that is, the solid part of it–will have to be passed through a mincing-machine and so be chewed artificially.
2. From Excessive Indulgence in good Food.
It is just as possible to injure the digestion with good food as with bad, if too much of it is taken. By a process of training, the stomach can become developed out of proportion to the rest of the body, and then large quantities of food can be taken without any active symptoms of indigestion. The stomach becomes to the gourmand what the athlete’s limbs are to him- capable of an amount of exertion beyond the powers of other men. But over-development is not good in any part of the body, be it muscle or be it stomach; and the gourmand pays the penalty before long. His powerful digestion lays up more pabulum than he requires; he grows in bulk without growing in strength, and is one day seized with a fit of gout–he is fortunate if it attacks his toe and not some vital organ, or the stomach itself. Gouty dyspepsia is one of the most troublesome kinds to treat. Gout may be inherited as well as acquired, so it is not always the sufferer’s own fault. There is in cases of gouty dyspepsia much acidity, flatulence, pain, and constipation. 3. From Alcohol.