Relationship Of Food To Old Age And Longevity
( Originally Published 1913 )
ALREADY over one hundred years ago, Villenet made the statement, before the Academy of Sciences in Paris, that, while among well-nourished rich people there occurred I. death in 50, among the very poor classes the deaths were i in 4. Although the sanitary conditions are now greatly improved, it is undoubtedly the case that among the poor—and particularly as regards tuberculosis—the number of deaths is much greater, and it is probably not to be disputed that this mortality is due to insufficient nutrition. As we have already stated, this affects the formation of the blood and the resistance against infection, to which badly and inadequately nourished persons fall prey more readily and which frequently leads them, to their graves. In this, as in so many other respects, there is no difference between mankind and animals. On the other hand, we observe that persons who take good food but do not overeat may live to an advanced age. Brillat-Savarin cites the case of Monsignor Belloy, Archbishop of Paris, who was greatly esteemed by Napoleon. He had always been a high liver and nevertheless lived for nearly a century. Napoleon himself, whose table was always spread and who ate whenever he felt so inclined, was not very particular in regard to his food; he ate poorly and, above all, most irregularly. He died at a comparatively early age, and who can say whether his tragic fall may not have been due to this irrational mode of living and faulty diet, which was the cause of his gastric trouble and, later on, cancer of the stomach. How important a proper diet is for mankind ! If Napoleon had done himself as was advised by one of his old generals who said : "Hâtons-nous de faire battre nos soldats pendant qu'ils ont encore le morceau de boeuf dans l'estomac" (let us make haste to have our soldiers fight while they still have a piece of beef in their stomachs), perhaps the history of the world would have taken a different turn. That our conclusions are correct is shown by the evidence submitted in the previous chapters.
Not only may life itself be shortened by a sparing or otherwise faulty and insufficient diet, but the condition of old age—senility—is brought on long before its time. Moderation in diet is a great virtue, but when carried to excess, like all other virtues, it becomes a vice. I certainly do not consider dieting indicated for a healthy, strong man, and I believe that I am correct in stating that persons who do follow such a diet often look old in comparison with those who are well nourished (though not overfed). Anyone who keeps cats or dogs knows that they look much better and more healthy, and are also much more lively, when plenty of food is given them. Sensible animals, as a rule, do not eat more than they require. I have been impressed by the fact that true vegetarians frequently present a pale, unhealthy, and prematurely aged appearance. This is not surprising in view of what we have already written concerning undernutrition, since the latter affects the formation of the blood and its distribution to the various organs. The nutritive salts are also furnished in insufficient quantities. This is especially the case with phosphorus, for when marked undernutrition is continued for some time phosphorus may even be eliminated. As Albu and Neuberg have so correctly stated, and as has also been shown through the labors of Roese and several other authors already quoted, mineral substances such as lime and phosphorus are very necessary for man; the results of deficiency of phosphorus in the food have already been fully treated. It is certainly evident that serious injury must be occasioned when the necessary quantity of nutritive salts is not daily ingested with the food, and in this connection it should be remembered that in a one-sided, strictly vegetarian diet the assimilation of the salts which have been ingested is very poor. When insufficient lime and phosphorus is taken and assimilated, or when these substances are withdrawn from the food by overcooking or prolonged boiling, the condition of the teeth will suffer, just as the blood-supply and nutrition of the gums will be affected when the albumin content of the food is inadequate, thus giving rise to retraction and atrophy in them. This, of course, occurs principally in persons over the age of 50, but sometimes begins earlier. It rarely occurs in persons living upon a rational diet. When there is overnutrition, especially when the results of the latter—gout and the earlier symptoms of arteriosclerosis—appear, the nutrition of the gums often suffers. This may give rise to a loosening of the teeth, which may even fall out. Atrophy of the jaws may then follow, and the bony structure of the face sink in; this shortening may cause the jaws to be displaced inward, thus forming a pointed chin. The face then presents a very aged appearance. Similar changes take place in the case of the hair, which likewise suffers from the insufficient blood-supply; this is probably the principal cause of loss of hair when old age is approaching. Our various organs and tissues can only be nourished by the blood, and if the supply is inadequate they are bound to deteriorate.
The quantity and composition of the blood can be influenced by food and drink. The latter also affect other important organs, viz., the ductless glands, which in turn exert an influence on the formation of the blood and the blood-pressure. When the food is limited in quantity, or especially when it is not suitable and adequate in its constituents, these organs are poorly supplied with blood and their activity is impaired; when, on the other hand, the food contains too large an amount of certain stimulating substances, such as the extractives of meat, long-continued overactivity, giving rise to exhaustion, inactivity, and degeneration of these very important organs, upon which depend the entire aggregate metabolic and nutritive processes of all organs and tissues, is the result. In this manner, as I have set forth in my work on "Old Age Deferred," age comes on and the span of life is shortened. This is brought about by undernutrition on the one hand and over-nutrition on the other. Undernutrition prevents young people from attaining a ripe old age, and overnutrition carries those of advanced age prematurely to their grave. Consequently the requirements are: (I) more nourishing food for the young, growing organism, and (2) moderation in the succeeding periods of life. In childhood and in old age the diet is very similar. The aged person can manage well with few calories; if, however, he absorbs too many, especially in such substances as will, like meat, impose more work upon his already some-what impaired ductless glands, the diminished activity of these protective organs will cause the retention of injurious sub-stances, and, hence, autointoxication. The milk-egg-vegetable diet is consequently not only that best adapted for an old person, but also for one of middle age, since by it the ductless glands are well protected and kept in good condition until an advanced age, thus deferring old age for a considerable time. Indeed, we consider this diet as the most rational one for the attainment of the longest possible period of life in man, as well as for the preservation of the freshness of youth for the longest possible time. In the work already named I have cited several instances in which men lived to be over 100 years old on such a diet. These long-lived persons were, with very- few exceptions, very temperate in their eating and drinking. Sir George Humphrey, basing himself upon the inquiry instituted by the British Medical Association with regard to centenarians, similarly stated that they were very moderate in regard to eating; the majority took very little meat. Of 38 persons, there was only 1 who ate much meat. Very few indulged in alcohol. Anyone who is the offspring of healthy parents has it in his power to live to the age of 100, if he is temperate in eating and especially in drinking. He will have the best prospects for this result if he is careful that all food which he eats is perfectly fresh, and contains the greatest possible amount of unaltered curative substances which have been allotted to it by provident Mother Nature for our welfare. The food must also taste good. Old Father Cats was more or less right when he said in his old Dutch dialect :
"Zy bitter of zoet,