The Symptoms of Depraved Appetite

Unnatural craving for either wholesome or unwholesome foods and drinks; general decline in health, conditions varying according to the particular phase of the disease.

Polyphagia or Voracious Eating

Polyphagia, or voracious eating, is a symptom which not infrequently accompanies diseases of the digestive organs. It is also frequently observed in various nervous diseases, as epilepsy and various mental disorders. In the form of gluttony it is merely a bad habit which is increased by cultivation. Persons affected by this disorder, for it must be considered a diseased condition, sometimes eat almost incredible quantities of food, raw meat, tallow candles, and in fact almost everything susceptible of mastication, being greedily devoured as long as the passage to the stomach will admit. In the majority of cases, voracious eating soon gives rise to serious indigestion, which protects the patient from the injuries which occur' when excessive quantities of food are digested and absorbed into the system, such as fatty degeneration of the blood-vessels and various organic changes. The proper treatment for this condition is a rigid restriction of the dietary, the patient being placed, if necessary, upon a regular allowance, and carefully watched to prevent his taking too large a quantity. Not infrequently this morbid tendency constitutes one of the most serious obstacles to recovery, particularly if the pa tient is suffering with some other serious disease. We have frequently had patients who were evidently very desirous of recovering health, yet who appeared to be totally unable to control their appetites. If allowed to sit at the table with others they would commit gross breaches of propriety in appropriating to themselves the whole of some favorite article of food without regard to the wants of others, eating with a rapidity and voracity more consistent with the character of a hungry beast than of a human being. In these cases the morbid tendency rarely disappears without a removal of the disease of which it is a symptom.

Malacia and Pica

Malacia and Pica are terms applied to a perversion of appetite consisting in a morbid craving after particular substances; the first, for substances of a nutritious character; the second, for substances which are wholly innutritious. Patients of the first class are frequently seen in what are commonly known as the "longings" of pregnancy, and frequently similar peculiarities are observed in cases of hysteria. Examples of pica are seen in the "dirt eaters" among the negroes of the Southern States, and the clay-eating tribes which inhabit the valley of the Amazon.

The treatment for malacia and pica must vary according to the individual case. When occasioned by pregnancy, the morbid condition will not disappear until the removal of the special cause. The form of the disease often seen in young ladies who manifest a great fondness for such unwholesome and innutritious substances as clay, chalk, slate, charcoal, etc., can be treated successfully only by ascertaining the morbid condition upon which the disease is really dependent.


Polydipsia is a disease characterized by a craving for particular liquids. If water is the liquid craved, it will frequently be drank in quantities of several gallons in twenty-four hours. A patient who came under our care not long since asserted that he habitually took one gallon of water before breakfast. When such great quantities of fluid are taken, the urine is very clear, appearing almost like water, and the quantities passed are very great, which may lead to the suspicion that the patient is suffering with diabetes. A chemical examination, however, shows that this is not correct, by demonstrating the absence of sugar. The cause of this peculiar difficulty is not understood, and nothing can be done except to improve the general health and restrict the amount of water taken as much as possible. Fortunately, the large amount of water taken does not seem to interfere in very great degree with the general health. This morbid condition accompanies both forms of diabetes.


Inebriety is a condition in which there is an insatiable desire for alcoholic drinks. It is generally produced by long-continued habitual use of spirituous liquors, a diseased condition finally being established which renders the will almost powerless to control the appetite.