Untoward Consequences Of Overnutrition
( Originally Published 1913 )
When our food tastes good we are easily led to eat more than is necessary to satisfy our hunger, which is undoubtedly the chief object in eating. The enjoyment of our food is, however, an actual necessity, for when we enjoy what we eat we generally digest it much better than we would otherwise. It is apt to follow, however, that we eat too much, and that this is injurious, especially in the case of meat, is shown by the distaste for work of any kind which comes over us after an unduly hearty meal. The lower the plane of intelligence of a man, the less, like the animals, will he be able to control his rapacity when good food is placed before him. Among many negro tribes in Central Africa meat is a rarity. Consequently their inordinate craving for this class of food may be due to the very low albumin content of their usual diet. When they are, at some time or other, placed in a position to eat meat, it can readily be seen what an injurious action is exerted by excessive amounts of this food. I have already mentioned that in an expedition made by the Commissary-general of the Congo army, De Meulemeester, his column of 40 men fed themselves during two and one-half days upon the meat and skin of an elephant weighing 5000 kilos. These negroes ate so much that their bellies stood out like balls. As a result of eating such quantities of meat the men became poisoned, as it were ; they were stupefied and so tired that De Meulemeester was obliged, notwithstanding the haste with which the expedition was expected to advance, to rest for an entire day, until the men should recover and be able to resume the march. Overfeeding is always injurious, but this is particularly the case with meat, as illustrated by the example given. Not only negroes, but white men as well, will act in the manner just mentioned when they have partaken of too much meat. The dangers attending such a condition will be fully described in the chapter on meat diet. Other foods, however, than those which are really useful for us may also have a most harmful action when taken in too large amount. In the first place the organs of digestion are thereby subjected to an excess of work, and when, in addition, the food has been taken very rapidly, as is usually the case with heavy eaters, digestive disturbances will easily result, both in the stomach and intestines and the liver as well. In man somewhat the same thing occurs as in geese when they are fattened : he is likely to acquire an enlarged and fatty liver, especially when, in addition to over-eating, alcoholic beverages are taken as well. Cirrhosis of the liver is the result of such excesses. That the daily transportation of large amounts of blood, consequent upon too great an intake of food and drink, will finally prove harmful to the arteries is certain, since the elasticity of their walls is thereby lost and arteriosclerosis favored. This condition also frequently occurs when, together with heavy eating, including plenty of meat, there are other predisposing factors such as syphilis, tobacco, and alcohol.
The overloading of metabolism with the wastes resulting from the combustion of such quantities of food, especially of meat, can undoubtedly result only in harm, for even the organs which regulate the metabolic processes, the ductless glands,—thyroid, sexual glands, and adrenals,—become injured by such excessive feeding. Obesity, gout, and diabetes are the result. To the detoxicating organs, which are thus so seriously impaired, belong also the kidneys, and by such a faulty method of feeding a loss of important secretory portions of the kidneys is incurred and degeneration in their tissue takes place. Thus, we observe that a whole series of our most important organs is injured by overnutrition and, indeed, life is probably shortened. While malnutrition in early childhood is responsible for the many deaths caused by infectious diseases, the attainment of an advanced age is also often prevented by the pernicious habit of overeating. Galen justly said, at a time when many men fell by the sword : "Plures gula quam gladius occidit"—More are killed by gluttony than by the sword.