The Bile

The bile is a normal stimulant to the colon, but for some curious reason does not act upon the small intestine. This seems unfortunate, for there is an increasing volume of evidence that in some of the most obstinate forms of constipation the chief cause of trouble is located in the small intestine. Possibly the biliary secretion of the degenerate modern civilized man has lost something of its original value as a laxative. The best proof of the laxative property of the bile is found in the remarkable colon-stimulating properties of "bilen," an extract prepared from the bile, which when introduced into the rectum often produces active peristalsis within a few minutes, with vigorous bowel movement.

A recent discovery has shown that the spleen also produces a substance which powerfully stimulates the intestinal peristalsis. This substance, however, acts upon both the small and the large intestine.

Another remarkable substance, pituita, produced by a small gland in the brain, the pituitary body, is a most powerful stimulant to the entire intestinal tract.

It seems hardly necessary to devote space to emphasizing the importance of so guarding the interests of the liver and spleen as to receive constantly the full benefit of the powerful aid these organs are capable of giving to the muscular movements of the alimentary canal.

The intestine has two special senses, the muscular sense, which it possesses in a very high degree, and a fine tactile sense located in its mucous lining. The muscular sense is excited by distension of the intestine, which causes tension of its muscular walls.

The Influence Of Bulk

In operations upon the stomach and intestines, the influence of mechanical stimulation is often seen. Slight pressure upon the wall of the stomach or of the intestine is sufficient to set up a contraction which follows in a few seconds. Contraction of the intestine, as shown by Bayliss and Starling, is accompanied by dilatation of the intestine lower down, so that room may be made for the material that is being pushed along. Contact of the food with the interior of the intestine produces like effects. The greater the bulk of the food, the greater the effect. As shown by Cannon, segmentation, a most effective means of food propulsion, becomes really active only when the bowel is distended.

All foods which are completely digested and absorbed by the intestine, leaving little or no residue, discourage peristalsis. This is the reason why rice, boiled milk, and fine flour bread have become generally known as constipating foods. These foods are not actively constipating; they simply do not leave sufficient indigestible residue to afford the necessary mechanical stimulation of the intestine.

In general, all animal foods encourage constipation, for the reason that they are completely soluble in the digestive fluids. Hair, feathers and bones are almost the only animal tissues not capable of complete solution in the digestive juices. It is in part for this reason that carnivorous animals usually eat bones with the flesh on which they feed; the bones are of course necessary also for the lime which they contain, and which is almost wholly lacking in the soft tissues of animals. Most carnivorous animals also eat more or less vegetable food.

Cats and dogs often nibble grass, and special weeds, of which they appear to be extremely fond. Fowls swallow feathers and sand. Horses sicken when fed on corn alone. They must have a liberal supply of coarser material. A Maine ship captain saved a cargo of mules, when the supply of hay was swept overboard, by feeding them shavings made by the ship carpenters. A number of horses in the cargo refused to eat the shavings and died. In England, when the price of grain is high, the farmers feed their stock on treacle, which is exceedingly cheap, combined with wood sawdust, and with good results. The animals readily fatten on this diet, and remain in good health.

Most primitive people recognize the need of bulk to maintain healthy action of the alimentary canal. The Japanese and Chinese make large use of various seaweeds. One of these under the name of agar-agar has come to be well known in this country.

Agar-agar is prepared from a sea-weed that grows on the coast of Japan and Ceylon. It is sometimes known in commerce as Ceylon moss. It is also known as Japanese isinglass or vegetable gelatine, It does not, however, have the composition of gelatine. Its composition is practically identical with cellulose. It is almost wholly indigestible in the human alimentary canal. The commercial product is prepared from a seaweed, by cooking the seaweed in large kettles, then cooling the concoction, and passing it through colanders by which it is formed into long strings. These are dried in the sun, and then bleached in the sun and dew for several weeks. This material is brought to the United States in large bales. In its commercial form, as it is obtainable at many drug stores, agar-agar is hardly fit to be placed in the stomach. It needs to be thoroughly washed and disinfected by peroxide of hydrogen or some other efficient means. It is also very tough and inedible.

Mr. George Kennan, the celebrated Siberian traveler, stated to the writer that the Eskimos eat half digested reindeer moss as a remedy for and preventive of constipation. The predigested moss is obtained by killing the reindeer at a certain time after feeding, removing the moss from the stomach, and submitting it to a very slight and simple preparation.

The natives of Japan and China eat quantities of dried raw turnip or similar vegetables with rice, which forms the staple food of these people.

The Alaska Indians gather and dry a seaweed, which they eat at all seasons as a laxative.

A missionary nurse working among the Alaska Indians, sent us a few years ago a sample of the seaweed which is used in its native state by these people to prevent the constipation which would naturally result from the nearly exclusive fish diet on which these Indians are compelled to subsist at certain seasons of the year. The sea-weed is simply gathered and dried in the sun and pressed into large flat cakes between flat stones. The material thus prepared is very black in color but is crisp and not unpleasant in flavor.

The Hopi Indian makes a good laxative food by grinding up in a stone mortar the whole nut of the pinon, including the shell.

The Highland Scotchman escapes the constipation which would otherwise result from his diet of buttermilk, oatmeal and potatoes, by eating his brose (oatmeal) in a half raw state.

The wild Arab supplements his diet of camel's milk and dates with wheat ground in a stone mill, which supplies all the cellulose of the bran, with the addition of a certain amount of pulverized stone.

The Orinoco Indians and the poor whites of the Tennessee Mountains combat constipation by eating considerable quantities of clay, as do horses and other animals when fed on a too concentrated diet.

The desire for bulky green things, which afford much bulk with little nourishment, that almost every one experiences in the early spring time, when the oncoming heat reduces the bulk of the food by lessening the appetite, is an instinctive prompting which cannot be disregarded without injury.

A western pioneer, who was shut up in the mountains of the Coast Range by an early fall of snow, and confined for three months with several companions and a number of mules with no food but corn meal, escaped without injury, although his associates all suffered extremely from scurvy, by following the example of the mules, who dug tunnels in the fifteen-foot snow drifts and ate the grass hidden underneath.

A diet consisting largely of meat, eggs, milk, cane sugar and fine flour bread, leaves little or no residue to act as a stimulus to the intestinal muscles. The free use of greens and salads of lettuce, cabbage and other uncooked foods fresh from the garden is essential to healthy intestinal activity.