Eating To Prevent Or Cure Disease
( Originally Published 1921 )
DR. WILEY wrote some years ago that the medicine of the future would be foods, not drugs. This prediction has already been partly realized. Many works have been published of recent years on the subject of preventing and curing diseases by dietetic means. The medical profession is slow to give up the use—or perhaps I should say the over-use—of drugs, be-cause their reputed knowledge of the potency of pills is their chief hold on the mind of the fee-paying public. None the less, be it said to their credit, the medical fraternity is rapidly turning its attention to more rational and more natural means of healing, among which the proper diet ranks very high. Particularly is this true of publicly paid physicians employed in various health departments. These men, not dependent on fees and not required to give medicine to people not requiring it, are being rapidly weaned from the medical superstitions of the past, and are becoming advocates of rational health measures and disease prevention. The World War undoubtedly had an important influence in turning scientific and medical men toward food problems.
To speak of some of the particular cases, we have the investigations of deficiency diseases, which were discussed in Chapter IV. We find also tuberculosis is now considered to be very largely caused by improper nutrition. Diabetes, long known to be a nutritional disease, has recently been brought under more rational treatment. Formerly doctors were content merely to exclude sugar and starch from the diet of the diabetic, permitting him to eat freely of other foods. Since diabetes is caused by a leakage from the kidneys of sugar from the blood, and since the blood must always contain sugar, or life could not exist, it did little good to exclude sugar from the diet. The method now adopted is that of a fast, followed by a diet carefully restricted as to quantity as well as to quality.
Other illustrations could be cited of the adoption of dietetic methods in the treatment of specific diseases. The subject, however, is too large a one to be gone into in this chapter. I will, therefore, confine my further discussion here to the general relation of food to disease, and to the consideration of a few common ills or roots of ills, in the prevention and curing of which the general reader may apply the principles of food science, without specific and individual prescriptions.
First, let me say that while food and the condition of the body's nutrition can be shown to be the direct and sole cause of only a few diseases, yet any rational mind must realize that it is an indirect and contributing cause of all diseases. There are very few diseases that are truly epidemic and sweep through a population, afflicting all alike. Those who have the highest vitality and whose bodies are the best nourished, and free from either nutritional deficiencies or excesses, are the least likely to succumb to disease, whatever be its immediate cause. This question of the resistance to disease which varies so widely in individual cases must rest upon the matter of individual physical efficiency. As the general laws of health, including those of nutrition, become fully understood and universally applied, diseases will disappear and disease germs will die a natural death. Those who follow the general dietetic laws taught in this book will decrease their susceptibility to disease to well nigh the vanishing point.
The diseases which are both common and which are most directly connected with food problems, and are most certainly prevented or cured by correct eating, are as follows: First: Digestive disorders. Second: Diseases associated with under-weight and under-nutritiontuberculosis comes in this class as do many nervous afflictions. Third: Diseases associated with over-eating and obesity. This group includes diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver—and for that matter practically all diseases connected with the kidneys and liver. Apoplexy, gout and many forms of heart disease are also associated with obesity, and are presumably caused by the over-eating which causes the obesity.
Obviously the way to prevent diseases, or to, cure them if they already exist, when the diseases are caused by or associated with malnutrition or obesity, is to avoid or cure the malnutrition or obesity. In other words if the body weight is made right and kept right, the disease cannot appear, or if the correction is not made too late, will disappear.
In the more immediate matter of digestive disorders, the correction of the diet as the means of relief is too obvious to need argument. There are thousands of tons of drugs taken to cure stomach troubles, while the cause which is the use of indigestible foods or excessive food quantities, fails to be corrected. The one sure cure for indigestion is to quit eating. This may sound like a humorous statement; nevertheless it should be taken seriously. When a man breaks down from over-work, he obviously needs a rest. The same is true of the over-worked stomach. If a man is dependent on his livelihood, he cannot rest too long without being in danger of starvation, and so also, the stomach cannot take an indefinite rest without the same effect upon its owner. But the overworked stomach can be given a brief rest (from one to seven days) and this is frequently all that is needed to effect a cure.
All stomachs do not get out of order from the same causes; the excessive use of certain foods, or certain badly prepared foods or bad food combinations may be the cause of the particular trouble. It is up to the intelligence of the individual, with or without professional advice, to find the trouble and eliminate the cause. No general rules can be given here that will apply in all cases, other than the general rules for proper eating as are given elsewhere in this book. These general rules, however, will eliminate nine-tenths of digestive disorders, because nine-tenths, yes, ninety-nine per cent are caused by dietetic errors. These errors are associated with over eating and the use of over seasoned, over complicated and over cooked foods. Hence the general remedy is to return to a natural diet. In case of digestive disorder such a natural diet is rarely more imperative than for those whose digestive apparatus has stood up under the strain and can handle anything offered, passing the trouble on to the liver, kidneys, heart and nerves.
The use of very simple diets often work wonders with chronic cases of indigestion. The milk diet is one such simple procedure, and it is well worth trying for those who suffer from stomach trouble, especially when this trouble is associated with under-weight, loss of sleep and a general case of "nerves." Another form of diet, often of high curative value, is one consisting almost wholly of uncooked foods. This does not mean that one should eat raw meat, or raw pie-dough, but that one should omit all such foods as seem to need cooking, and con-fine the diet to the milk group, nuts, fruits and tender vegetables, that may be and should be eaten uncooked.
Another disease, and one that has been called the mother of diseases, is constipation. This disorder, with which the majority of civilized people are afflicted, is usually caused by wrong eating. Taking drugs for this, while continuing the eating habits that cause it, is a stupid and a dangerous procedure which offers no permanent relief. The proper regulation of the bowel action is a matter which every individual should attend to as he does to the matter of external bodily cleanliness, and of these two affairs of personal hygiene the former is of the greater importance. Dirt upon the skin is unsightly but it is rarely poisonous; a congested intestine is a constant source of body poisoning.
The rate of the passage of the food and food residues through the alimentary canal depends on the bulk or quantity of indigestible fibre. Each species of animal has a digestive tract of a size fitted to deal with the natural food of the species. The herbivorous animals have voluminous digestive organs; the carnivorous animals have relatively small intestines. Man ranks midway between these two groups, as his natural diet is of less bulk and contains less fibre than does that of the cow, but more than that of the lion. When the food quantity is restricted, because of man's lessened activity through civilization, and all fibre is eliminated from the diet, the result is that the intestines have not a sufficient bulk of material to deal with, and the food waste does not pass from the body with sufficient promptness. The result is that the waste, together with poisonous products of decay and fermentation, is reabsorbed.
Various artificial means have been resorted to to overcome this difficulty. The worst and the most commonly used is the purgative or laxative drug. Such drugs, no matter how much they are camouflaged with "candy" or advertised as harmless, are poisons which irritate the intestines, thus bringing about an artificial diarrhea in a natural effort to eliminate them. The remedy may be quite as bad as the disease, and never effects a real cure.
The natural laxative is, of course, the celluIose fibre of natural foods; two other substances are now used as substitutes which depend upon their mechanical and not their chemical action. One of these is Agar, which is a gelatinous form of cellulose made from seaweed; the other is mineral oil which is wholly insoluble and has no chemical action but merely acts as a mechanical lubricant. These materials, though bought in drug stores, are not "drugs," but merely artificial substitutes for the natural cellulose of food and therefore do little or no harm, and often much good may come from their use, though one should strive at all times to follow a diet that will insure regular bowel activity.
Another remedy for constipation is the internal bath or injection of water into the colon; this is an immediately effective remedy and should be used when there is need of immediate relief. It should not be necessary, however, as a permanent habit, but may be used in emergencies and while one is bringing about a permanent relief and restoring normal intestinal action by the proper diet.
A sufficient quantity of bulky fibre in the food is the ideal and only permanent method of establishing and maintaining proper intestinal action; the proportion of such fibre needed will vary somewhat with the individual, and his past eating habits, as well as with his general muscular vigor and physical activity. The substitution of "live" vital food, such as whole wheat bread instead of white-flour bread is frequently all that is needed to obtain permanent relief. The use of leafy or fibrous vegetable and pulpy or fibrous fruits is equally valuable if they are used in sufficient quantities; prunes and raisins are both excellent. Oranges with the yellow covering rubbed or peeled off, leaving the white substances, can often be used to great advantage. Eat white part of peeling with the pulp of the oranges be-fore breakfast in the morning.