The condition known as intestinal autointoxication, intestinal toxemia, and more recently termed alimentary toxemia, is one of the natural and most far-reaching consequences of constipation and intestinal stasis. All foodstuffs are capable of undergoing destructive change as the result of the action of germs upon them. Starches, dextrines, and sugars (carbohydrates) ferment, while proteins putrify. The products of the fermentation of carbohydrates are acids which are harmless in the quantities in which they are produced in the body. The products of putrefaction are ptomaines, ammonia, and toxins, all poisonous substances. Some of the ptomaines, and toxins are closely akin to the venoms of poisonous serpents, and like them, are very active even in very small quantities.
When there is delay in the movement of foodstuffs along the digestive tract, fermentations or putrefactions quickly begin. The immediate result will be the formation of odorless gases in the intestines, with sour-smelling stools, if starch or sugar is present in sufficient amount to give rise to fermentation. If protein and fats are present in large amount, then the result of delay will be putrefaction and the formation of foul-smelling gases and putrid stools. The sour stools of a healthy infant may be put aside in a bottle, and will undergo no change for an indefinite time. An infusion of such stools may be injected into a small animal without injury. An infusion from a putrid stool, seething with the putrefaction of undigested remnants of protein foodstuffs such as beefsteak, mutton chops, pork, etc., will kill an animal very quickly. Such a stool is swarming with deadly bacteria, and is saturated with their poisons. Very often these putrid masses have remained in the body for many hours or even days, during which time the absorbents of the intestine are constantly sucking up the poisons and distributing them throughout the body, so that every cell and tissue is bathed with them.
At first the evil effects of this systematic poisoning do not appear. Indeed, many years may elapse before serious consequences make their appearance. The reason for this is that the body is provided with means of defence. The mucous membrane acts as a filter to exclude poisons. The liver destroys poisons. The thyroid gland, the suprarenal capsules, and probably the spleen and several organs, aid in the destruction of poisons. The suprarenal glands are believed to be especially active in destroying the poisonous pigments which are produced by putrefaction in the intestine. After a longer or shorter time these defences break down. The mucous membrane becomes the seat of infection, - colitis, - and allows a much larger quantity of poisons to pass into the blood stream. The liver, thyroid, and other poison-destroying organs become damaged by overwork, and fail to keep the blood clear of poisons. The kidneys are enormously overworked in their efforts to remove these deadly poisons from the blood, and so lose their efficiency. Now the effects of chronic poisoning begin to make their appearance. Every organ and every function of the body shows evidence of damage. The poisons circulating in the blood irritate the walls of the blood vessels and cause first contraction, then hardening and degeneration, or arteriosclerosis. The brain and nerves show evidences of depression or irritation, according to the nature of the dominating poisons. Headaches, neuralgia, neuritis, paralysis, mental dullness, neurasthenia, even insanity, are the results. Diseases of the liver, thyroid gland and spleen develop. Skin diseases of various kinds, and every sort of bodily derangement, are seen.
About two years ago the subject of alimentary toxemia was discussed in London before the Royal Society of Medicine, by fifty-seven of the leading physicians of Great Britain. Among the speakers were eminent surgeons, physicians, and specialists in the various branches of medicine.
The following is a list of the various poisons noted by the several speakers: Indol, skatol, phenol, cresol, indican, sulphuretted hydrogen, ammonia, histidine, urobilin, methylmercaptan, tetramethy-lendiamin, pentamethylendiamine, putrescin, cadav-erin, lecithin, neurin, cholin, muscarine, butyric acid, beta-imidazolethylamine, methylgadinine, ptomatropine, botulin, mytilotoxin, mytilo-conges-tine, oxybetaine, tyramine, agmatine, tryptophane, sepsin, indolethylamihe, sulphemoglobine.
Of the thirty-six poisons mentioned above, several are highly active, producing most profound effects, and in very small quantities. In cases of alimentary toxemia some one or several of these poisons is constantly bathing the delicate body cells, and setting up changes which finally result in grave disease.
It should be understood that these findings are not mere theories, but are the results of demonstration in actual practice by eminent physicians. Of course it is not claimed that alimentary toxemia is the only cause of all the symptoms and diseases named: Although of many it may be the sole or principal cause, some of them are due to other causes as well.
In the following summary the various symptoms and disorders mentioned in the discussion in London, to which reference has been made above, are grouped and classified.