Habits Which Give Rise To Constipation

In considering the habits of life common among civilized people which give rise to constipation, we shall not undertake to arrange the subject matter in the order of relative importance, but rather speak first of those which are most common.

Hasty Eating

Insufficient mastication is a fault peculiar to civilized men. The savage, as well as the monkey and all lower animals that are provided with teeth for grinding food, masticates his food with the greatest thoroughness. The accompanying cut made from the lower jaw of a skull in the writer's possession, shows the teeth of an ancient mound builder, a Malkelkos Indian. The well-worn appearance of the teeth affords sufficient evidence of the thoroughness with which they were used in grinding the nuts and cereal food which formed the dietary of these aborigines.

Hasty eating leads to constipation in a variety of ways, but most directly, perhaps, by the rapid introduction into the intestine of a large amount of imperfectly masticated food material, which being slowly digested, undergoes putrefaction and other changes, by which the functions of every part of the digestive canal to the colon are more or less disturbed. As has been mentioned, the food is normally held back for three or four hours at the ileocecal valve, to permit the completion of intestinal digestion and absorption. When the food has been imperfectly chewed, it may be too long delayed at this point.

As the result of the long delay in the small intestine, the food mass contains too little water when finally passed through into the colon, and is moved along with great difficulty, and by delay tends to dilatation of the colon. Under normal conditions the food does not remain in the body more than twenty-four hours, but under the conditions just described it may be retained for forty-eight hours or more, in the meantime undergoing putrefactive changes, which not only render the normal contents of the bowel alkaline, and thus deprive the bowel of a normal stimulus, but in time produce infection of the mucous membrane, which manifests itself ultimately as chronic colitis, or chronic appendicitis.

Hasty eating is a fault almost universal with the American people. The fifteen minutes' stop for refreshments at the lunch counter or eating house, and the general spirit of hurry which is everywhere manifest in our bustling communities, constantly encourage, almost enforce, wrong habits in eating. If time is limited, it would be far better to eat a smaller quantity and chew it well, than to swallow the whole amount half masticated.

Excessive Mastication

Excessive chewing of the food, to which the term "bradyphagia" has been applied, has been charged with being a cause of constipation, and the charge may be true. A person who follows the recommendation made by some writers, to swallow nothing which cannot be reduced to liquid in the mouth, is sure to suffer from constipation as a consequence of insufficient bulk. Some have not only carried the practice of chewing to a great extreme, but have reduced the quantity and bulk of food to so low a limit that chronic constipation has been the natural result. Constipation is indeed so common a result that it has been by some commended as one of the advantages of thorough mastication, a "food economy" that should be cultivated. This is certainly an error, and a most dangerous one. We have been consulted by a number of persons who have found themselves suffering from severe constipation and resulting autointoxication, in consequence of so greatly reducing the amount of food eaten, and especially of the amount of insoluble residue, that there was too little left to evoke the necessary intestinal movements. The human alimentary canal is adapted to somewhat bulky and moderately coarse foodstuffs, and does not work well when such food materials are excluded from the bill of fare. Bulk is almost as necessary as nutriment.

Food should be chewed sufficiently, that is, until the tongue no longer discovers coarse particles.

Insufficient Bulk

The alimentary canal of man, while not so long in proportion to his size as that of the herbivorous animals, is much larger and longer than in animals which are intended to feed upon a flesh diet. The human intestine is approximately ten times the length of the body, that is, of the trunk, which is approximately half the height. The colon is sacculated like the colon of herbivorous animals, and like that of the higher ape, indicating the adaptation of the intestines to bulky food. Fresh vegetables of all wholesome sorts are highly essential to give the food the necessary bulk required to stimulate the intestines to activity. A diet of bread and meat leaves almost no residue at all in the intestine.

Fruits and fresh uncooked vegetables are used far less than they should be by the majority of people, especially by the poor. The Russian peasant keeps his bowels regular by the use of sauer-kraut, which serves him the same purpose as the products of the "silo" do the farmer's cattle.

Vegetables, especially such vegetables as carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, lettuce, cabbage and spinach, contain a large amount of cellulose, which is not readily digestible by the human digestive organs. This cellulose is highly important to make the nutritive elements of the food less concentrated and to furnish to the intestines the necessary stimulus to cause them to move the food and food residues along at a proper rate.

Nearly all fruits and most vegetables, especially that curious vegetable-fruit, the tomato, contain organic acids, - citric, malic and tartaric. The free use of foods containing these acids is as wholesome for man as for other frugivorous animals. Their laxative effect is essential to maintain a healthy colon.