( Originally Published 1923 )
THERE is no doubt that in the old Roman Empire, when wars were so frequent and no one was sure of his personal safety, many thousands must have perished by the sword or lost their lives by some unnatural means. In those times it was not in the natural order of things that people should die at home in their beds, and countless were those whose days were ended by violence. And yet, a sage of that period put the number of those who met an early death on account of overeating and to whom the pleasures of the table proved fatal still higher. For he said : "Plures gula quam gladius homines necat." (More people die through their palate than by the sword.)
Indeed, there can be no question but that over-eating, i.e., the introduction of excessive quantities of food into our bodies, is capable of seriously menacing our health and also often of shortening our lives. We may, perhaps, not incorrectly compare our body to an engine, the heating of which is done by food. In consequence of the heat applied to the engine, energy is developed, and through it work of various kinds can be performed.
We may also compare correctly, to my mind our body to a kind of a stove, the food then constituting the combustible material, the wood or coal, with which the fire in the stove is maintained. In-deed, combustion takes place in our body just as in a stove, and as in a stove, the fire varies in intensity according to the kind of fuel used. A hot fire or a low one will result, according to the manner in which we feed fuel to our stove.
There exist, as we know, three principal kinds of food material: The protein or albuminous, the fats, and the carbohydrates or starchy foods. Of these three varieties the last two burn the best. And this is only natural. We speak here of kindling a fire, and when we make a fire, we should recollect that we are bringing into life again the rays of sunshine that were beaming down upon the different kinds of inflammable material, e.g., the trees, in prehistoric times, millions of years ago. This is all related to a law of nature, that of the conservation of energy, discovered by Robert Mayer.
No energy is ever lost. It is changed into different forms, but can never be destroyed. Now, the rays of the sun contain large amounts of energy, for the sun is the greatest source of energy in this world; so that in the last analysis all kinds of work on this earth can be referred back to the sun as their origin, a truth enunciated by the great English astronomer, Herschell, already centuries ago. Indeed it can be shown that the fact that our heart beats is likewise due merely to the rays of the sun. The heart is a muscle, and its contractions are per-formed at the expense of a sugar-like substance, glycogen, manufactured in our bodies from the starchy food, which is converted into glycogen through the processes of digestion.
It has been shown that after the performance work the muscles contain less glycogen. In the last edition of my book "Old Age Deferred," I showed that sugar, and above all, honey, is an excellent remedy for a weak heart precisely on account of the above mentioned principles, the nectar of the flowers, which is the source of the honey, having stored up the energy of the sun's rays. We know that all starchy food and all sugar-like matter in nature can be created only through the help of the rays of the sun that greatest benefactor of the human race as well as of the animal and vegetable kingdoms.
No wonder, indeed, that this celestial body has been worshipped by the old Persians, the Phenicians, and the Aztecs, as one of their chief gods.
Now, as above mentioned, no form of energy is ever lost in this world, and thus, the energy , of the sun's rays, that have been beaming down upon the trees on hot summer days, can be brought to life again by touching a match to dry wood that has been put into a stove. And lo! Even the rays of the tropical sun that were beaming down millions of years ago upon the trees of the ancient, antediluvian periods, in the lapse of ages are called into existence again, transformed into coal, stones, trees and plants. So also is the kerosene oil which we are burning. All these give back their hidden sun-shine to us. It is natural that wood, kerosene, and coal should make excellent fuel, for they are merely a kind of stored up sunshine setting free again the light they received from the sun in prehistoric times.
Similar considerations apply to the fuel in the stove which is represented by our body. Those varieties of food will burn best which are produced through the direct action of the sun's rays, such as the starchy foods. Fat is also easily burned, for it is readily produced in our body upon introduction of large quantities of starchy food and sweets. These substances burn easily, undergo combustion in our bodies, and leave no wastes behind.
Protein food, however, is more complex chemically and will not burn easily, especially if some-thing is lacking, without which no stove will burn, i.e., oxygen. Furthermore, much residuum from the proteins remains, which makes the process of combustion still more difficult. An unfavorable result at the same time is that, if the material with which the fire is kept burning contains too much protein food, then the other materials such as the starchy food (sugar) and the fats will also burn incompletely. As a result our stove will burn poorly, and much residue will remain.
If too big a fire is made in it and an excessive quantity of food is ingested, a considerable part of it will consist of protein (albuminous food). In general, the protein introduced in our body in the form of meat burns far worse and leaves more residue than the albumin of plants. Among such residue in our stove is uric acid, which is manufactured mainly from meat food, especially from the glandular organs, such as sweetbread, liver, kidneys, etc. Certain kinds of vegetable food, however, are like-wise rich in proteins (e.g., peas, beans, lentils, and also coffee beans) .1
As is well known, uric acid is the source of many disturbances. Blood that contains much uric acid and other wastes does not flow readily and without friction through the vessels, especially the small, narrow capillaries. The viscosity of such blood is, as a rule, augmented and generally at the same time the blood-pressure is higher than normal.
This circumstance, as we know, plays an import-ant part in the production of arteriosclerosis, which arises very often from such a cause, and so it is only natural that in gout, which is mainly brought about, on the one hand, through abundant formation of uric acid, and on the other, through insufficiency of the kidneys and their inability to eliminate these noxious substances, high blood-pressure and arteriosclerosis are frequently, if not usually, met with. Gouty subjects often die from the effects of arteriosclerosis.
In judging of the effects of overeating there are two factors which must be considered : First, the quantity of food that is ingested, and, secondly, the composition of the food taken to excess.
When too much food is taken, the stomach and the intestines become overloaded and are thus compelled to work harder, especially if the food has not been previously well masticated and has not been sufficiently exposed to the digestive action of the saliva, which plays an important rôle in the digestion of starchy food. Thus, affections of the stomach or intestines very easily arise which, in their after-effects, may sometimes induce more serious and life-shortening diseases.. Imperfectly nourished people, furthermore, are less resistant to the attacks of microbes, and may thus more readily contract infectious diseases.
The risks entailed become still greater if, in the excessive quantity of food ingested, meat is contained in large amounts, and much in the way of spices and condiments are taken into the body at the same time.
As a result, the poisonous substances formed in the intestine bring about disease of the liver and especially of the kidneys, which separate various substances from the blood like a fine sieve, and life may thus be materially shortened. This is further assisted in that these substances exert an injurious action upon the heart and the blood-vessels and greatly promote the development of arteriosclerosis, especially in the presence of other predisposing factors such as syphilis and abuse of tobacco and alcohol. Overeating is capable, in persons suffering from hardening of the vessels of the heart, of bringing about the greatly feared attacks of breast pang or angina pectoris, and thus not infrequently leading to sudden death.
Where meat enters in large amount into the excessive diet taken, serious disturbances of metabolism may result and gout set in; and if, in addition, much sweet or starchy food is contained in the diet, there may appear diabetes, which often ends fatally, or obesity, together with morbid changes in various vitally important organs, such as the heart.
All these disorders develop all the more readily when at the same time the person leads a sedentary mode of life and the combustion of the food substances is not facilitated by adequate bodily motion as well as a free intake of fresh air. The same is true likewise if the correct proportion between the size of the body and its weight and the required amount of food is not kept, e.g., if a short man of light weight insists upon introducing into his body as much food as would be required for a man of giant stature.
Much depends also upon the age of the person. A youth requires more food to build up his body than an old man or woman who is in process of senile involution. In the latter type of person, unduly rich food is attended with the drawback that in consequence of the largely degenerated and shrunken condition of the digestive glands it can-not be thoroughly elaborated, and from the same cause, also, the noxious and poisonous constituents of the different kinds of food cannot be transformed into innocuous compounds. Then, of course, there may occur in consequence serious changes in the heart and the blood-vessels, which may not infrequently contribute to a fatal issue through arteriosclerosis.
Many a man is quite happy if he can fill himself with large amounts of the choicest foods, but under these conditions punishment on the part of Mother Nature is to be expected. She inflicts such punishment merely in our own interest, in order to give us a salutary lesson and teach us to mend our ways. To this end she may visit upon such hearty eaters a catarrh of the stomach, with loss of appetite and sometimes vomiting, to get rid of the food that has been gluttonously ingested. Or, there may, in the long run, occur in consequence an attack of gout or podagra, marked by the most excruciating pains throughout the night, as a kind of just punishment for a lack of moderation in the pleasures of the table.
It is a frequent habit with us mortals in the moments of pleasure to quite forget the possible consequences. Some of us, when at a table laden with delicious food, fill our digestive tract to its utmost capacity, until, as the saying goes among the Hungarian gypsies when invited to a wedding dinner, "the food bulges out everywhere." (The gypsies of Hungary remind one in many respects of the colored people of America, e.g., in their easy-going ways and jolly disposition.) For such incorrigible gluttons it would perhaps be advisable to introduce again a certain salutary custom that prevailed in ancient Egypt.
At festival dinners of the highest aristocracy of the kingdom it was the custom for the majordomo to pass around among the guests and present to each a statuette representing a mummy in which form the Egyptians were preserved after death reminding them at the same time with solemn words that while they might profit of the pleasures of the moment, they must not forget that there would surely come a day when they would have to depart for the realm of eternal silence. Surely many of us, hearing such admonitions while sitting at a well-laden table, would be induced to postpone the day of departure as long as possible.
Perhaps an even greater restraining effect might be exercised upon many an incorrigible glutton if there lay upon his board such a weird symbol of evanescence as may be found at the dining table of some of the orders of monks living under the strictest regulations. Thus, while eating their frugal fare, consisting only of vegetables, the Carmelites face a skull of a dead person lying either in the middle or at the head of the table.
It would be against my principles to advocate the general use of such drastic measures, but we must certainly admit that there are some of our fellow men with whom none but such heroic means would avail as deterrents from the full dish and bottle. At any rate, all those who are fond of the pleasures of the table might at least carry out some of the customs of these pious fathers, viz., they might introduce among their numerous fat days at least one lean day in the week, say the Friday of each week.
Especially the great meat eaters would do very well, indeed, to abstain once a week from their habit, which is most harmful to all who are in some degree predisposed to arteriosclerosis, diabetes, gout, or kidney disease as I have repeatedly pointed out in my books on old age and diet and in a series of monographs on diabetes.
Before concluding this sermon on moderation in the pleasures of the table, I would like to point out that overeating, in addition to the harmful consequences above mentioned, has still another great disadvantage. It leads one into the temptation to drink and smoke after the meal, for there is nothing that a full stomach desires so much as alcohol and tobacco.
It may also be added that overeating often leads to early ageing, for it creates obesity, which also . makes people look older, especially when a large abdomen is developed.
Early ageing is also promoted through the fact that overeating exposes to arteriosclerosis. The red face with dilated blood-vessels which heavy eaters often present rather frequently suggests a much greater age than is really the case, particularly if a large abdominal development coexists.