Sources: Papers On Health
(See also Digestion; Assimilation.) This subject leads
naturally to a consideration of food in relation to it. The trouble
usually is that food easily enough digested by others causes distress
to the patient. Here we at once see that cooking plays a most
important part. Potatoes, for example, when steeped for half-an-hour in
hot water, which is changed before they are boiled, are much more easy
of digestion. The water in which they have been steeped is found
green with unripe sap, which is all removed. Where unripe juice is
present in any root, this method of cookery is a good one. Eggs placed
in boiling water, and allowed to remain so till the water is getting
cool--say half-an-hour--are often found to be much more easily
digested than as usually prepared. What we aim at in these
illustrations is to show that digestion depends on the relation of the
food taken to the juices of the stomach which are to dissolve it. It
must be brought into a digestible state if weak stomachs are to deal
Greasy, heavy dishes must always be avoided. Also unripe fruit. The
diet should be spare, as very often indigestion proceeds simply from
the stomach having had too much to do.
A very easily digested food is fine jelly of oatmeal made in the
following way:--Take a good handful of the meal and put it in a basin
with hot water, sufficient to make the mixture rather thin. Let it
steep for half-an-hour. Strain out all the rough particles, and boil
the milky substance till it is a jelly, with a very little salt. To an
exceedingly weak patient you give only a dessertspoonful, and no more
for half-an-hour. If the patient is not so weak you may give a
tablespoonful, but nothing more for half-an-hour. In that time the very
small amount of gastric juice which the stomach provides has done its
work with the very small amount of food given. Really good blood,
though only very little, has been formed. The step you have taken is a
small one, but it is real. You proceed in this way throughout the whole
day. The patient should not swallow it at once, but retain it in the
mouth for a considerable time, so that it may mix with the saliva.
By this, or by porridge made from wheaten meal, you may secure good
digestion when the gastric juice is scanty and poor; but we should not
like to be restricted to that. We want a stomach that will not fight
shy of any wholesome thing. We must treat it so that when suitable food
is offered it may be comfortably digested.
Now, there is an exceedingly simple means for putting the glands in
order when they are not so. About half-an-hour before taking any food,
take half a teacupful of water as hot as you can sip it comfortably.
This has a truly wonderful effect. Before food is taken, the mucous
membrane is pale and nearly dry, on account of the contracted state of
the arteries. In many cases the glands that secrete the gastric juice
are feeble; in others they seem cramped, and far from ready to act when
food is presented. The hot water has the same effect on them as it has
everywhere else on the body--that of stimulating the circulation and
bringing about natural action. It looks a very frail remedy; but when
we can, as it were, see these glands opening and filling with arterial
blood the instant they are bathed in this same water, and see how ready
they become to supply gastric juice for digestion, the remedy does not
look so insignificant.
We have, in scores of cases, seen its effects in the most delightful
way. Persons who have to our knowledge been ill and miserable with
their stomachs for years have become perfectly well from doing nothing
but taking half a teacupful of hot water regularly before taking any
food. It is true that great good is effected in cases of this kind by
giving the weakened organ light work to do for a time. Wonders are done
by feeding with wheaten-meal biscuits and water for some time,
beginning with a very small allowance, and seeing that every mouthful
is thoroughly chewed. Great things, too, are accomplished with such
wheaten-meal porridge as we have already mentioned. But we feel
disposed to regard the half-teacupful of hot water regularly before
eating as the chief means of cure. It is wonderfully cheap: it goes
hard with the druggist if his customers need nothing but a little hot
water. Still, from what we have seen, and from what some of the very
highest authorities have told us, we come more and more to look to this
simple remedy as about all that is required inwardly to cure the worst
cases of indigestion.
A little pepsin added to the hot water may be of use; also in cases of
acidity a few drops of white vinegar mixed with the water will be found
Soda, iron, lime, charcoal, even tar pills are used as remedies for
indigestion; but none of them do much good, and some are highly
injurious. If used at all, their use should be temporary, and under
good medical advice.
If pain is felt, the stomach may be greatly soothed by soft fine lather
(see Lather and Soap). It acts in such cases like a charm. Spread it
gently over the stomach, and wipe it off with a soft cloth. Cover again
with fresh lather. Do this five or six times, and cover up the last
coat with a soft cloth.
All indulgences which tend to weaken the stomach are to be avoided.
Alcohol and tobacco must be given up. Over-excitement must be avoided,
and abundance of fresh air breathed, if a cure is to be expected.
Where sudden and violent pain comes on after meals, a poultice or hot
fomentation applied directly over the stomach is the best remedy at the
time. See Flatulence.