This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
The causes of this complaint are not well understood, as it is not very common. A slight form of it is not unfrequently met with in pregnant women, who have a painful longing after particular articles of food, of which they eat large quantities.
In the third volume of the Medical and Physical Journal is reported an extraordinary and well-attested case of Bulimia in a French prisoner, who in one day consumed of raw cow's udder 4 pounds, raw beef 10 pounds, candles 2 pounds; total, 16 pounds; besides five bottles of porter.
It appears from Dr. Cochrane's report of this case, as Inspector and Surgeon of the prison in Liverpool, where this cannibal was confined, that the faeces were by no means in proportion to the ingesta, and indeed seldom exceeded those of the other men; and that with the ordinary allowance of drink, the quantity of urine was not more than a quart a day; but there was a constant propensity to exhalation from the surface of the body; and soon after getting into bed, he was usually attacked with such a profuse sweating as obliged him to throw off his shirt.
Another singular case of voracious appetite was reported to the National Institute by M. Percy, a Surgeon-in-chief to the French army. A young man from the neighbourhood of Lyons, who in early life belonged to a troup of strolling jugglers, accustomed himself to swallow flints, enormous quantities of broken victuals, basketsful of fruit, and even living animals. The most alarming symptoms endured in consequence were not sufficient to overcome this dangerous habit, which at last became an imperious necessity.
Enrolled at the commencement of the war in one of the battalions of the army of the Rhine, he sought for the necessary supply of food around the moveable hospital. The refuse of the kitchen, the remains of the messes, the rejected matters, or corrupted meals did not suffice him. He often disputed with the viles animals their filthy and disgusting meal. He was perpetually in search of cats, dogs, and even serpents, which he devoured alive. It was in vain attempted to cure his ravenous appetite by giving him fat, acids, Opium, and even pounded shells. The disappearance of a child of sixteen months old gave rise to horrible suspicions of him, and he fled. Five or six years afterwards, he was admitted into the infirmary of Versailles in a consumptive state, which succeeded to his enormous appetite. He soon after died.
This man was small in stature, flabby and weak. His countenance had nothing ferocious in it. When he had fasted for a time the skin of his belly could be almost wrapped round him; and when full, he appeared as if dropsical. Like all other voracious animals he slept during the time of digestion.
When a ravenous appetite is occasioned by acidity in the stomach, this may be removed by an emetic, followed by small doses of Magnesia, or Carbonate of Soda, or Solution of Potash, two or three times a day. In bad cases, like the above, alkalies, combined with Opiates, are most likely to be beneficial.
One case is recorded, which was cured by confining the patient to hard-boiled eggs: these he constantly carried about with him, to satisfy his appetite when it was craving.