The case is clear, then - depressed vitality due to disease or to the nitrogen starvation of modern times is at the basis of the modern great white plague. In the exhaustions of tropical service soldiers simply melt away from tuberculosis if they once become infected, so that it is neecssary to send such patients away immediately to save their lives. It is evidence of the awful exhaustion induced by the climate - a matter to which we will later return. In view of all the facts in this chapter and throughout this book, what a dreadful mistake it is to advocate a reduction of our nitrogen food. I have no hesitation in saying that this pernicious doctrine in the tropics has enfeebled men and sent hundreds to their graves. It will be equally disastrous here. If 10,000,000 Americans are always underfed, and 10,000,000 doomed to die of tuberculosis, what a crime it is to talk of Americans being overfed! and what a dreadful thing it was for Prof. R. H. Chittenden, of Yale, to assert * that tuberculosis susceptibility may be due to an excess of nitrogen.
Nevertheless, a little coterie of chemists and physiologists here and abroad have taken up this delusion and are preaching the idea that we eat too much nitrogen. The principal scientist of this cult in America is Professor Chittenden, who has conducted numerous experiments extending over some years. He has shown so far only what has been known for ages - that we can exist on far less than what we habitually consume. Besieged garrisons, for instance, have lived for months on remarkably little. This new idea has its basis in the false hypothesis, that the waste products of the oxidation of proteid foods are difficult to excrete and cause some curious kind of a "load" on the liver and kidneys, though no one seems to know in what the "load" consists. It is also thought that these nitrogen wastes cause gout and rheumatism, whereas we now know that those two diseases are often the result of nitrogen starvation - appearing badly among the starving or underfed lower classes. The old idea that uric acid causes these conditions is no longer believed by advanced investigators. Hence, Chittenden and others have said that we should cut down our nitrogen diet over fifty per cent. - even fifty grammes being sufficient, in place of the old estimates of 113 for an average man at average work. Nitrogen is like money - we never have enough unless we have a little more than needed.
* New York Medical Record, October 28, 1905.
In his book describing the experiment made upon soldiers, Chittenden publishes pictures of them at the end of the tests, and they are most dreadful exhibitions of athletic poverty - the unnatural and unwholesome condition of training with muscular hypertrophy and absence of fat - the condition often results in nervous exhaustion, alcoholism, and tuberculosis, the three dangers of all athletes. It is astounding that these men should be considered normal. In order to prove that they are sufferers from starvation, I have followed them up. One said "that he felt badly throughout the test and that his health and strength improved immediately on stopping it, and that he did not return to the low diet." The second lost twelve pounds in the test, and was hungry always, and he regained his normal as soon as he returned to normal diet. The third thought he received some benefit, but he returned to normal diet and normal weight. The fourth said that his nervous system was permanently damaged. He continued the diet three months, but stopped it because he became weak, nervous, and dizzy, and had frontal headaches. He lost weight, but upon return to normal diet he gained weight and lost his abnormal symptoms. The fifth did not find the diet beneficia in any way, but was unsatisfying, though he was not damaged as far as he knew. The sixth and seventh merely stated that they did not continue the diet and were in excellent health. The eighth was so impressed with the harmfulness of the diet that he said that he believed he would have died had he continued it. The ninth continued the diet (so he said) and was in good condition. Surely this is a record to deter other experimenters in the line of starving human beings. Later investigations have revealed the fact that these soldiers clandestinely ate extra meals whenever they pleased, and one has stated that they would have starved if they had not occasionally taken a "good, square meal." Some even drank alcohol. It is also rumored that in the tests of eating and endurance the students play all sorts of tricks, and the results published have no scientific value whatever. In spite of extra foods not reported by Chittenden, the soldiers informed me that they were dreadfully weakened by the diet.
In some later experiments with Yale students by Prof. Irving Fisher, the Political Economist,* it was found that if they carried out the suggestions of Horace Fletcher and masticated their food well but not so over-well as to nauseate, they instinctively ate less and less, though they had a wide range of choice so as to take what was most pleasing to them. In six months their food fuel value was reduced twenty-five per cent., the proteid forty per cent., and the flesh foods about eighty per cent. But their average weights fell about' six pounds, and though their endurance was increased, their strength of muscle was unaltered and the mental quickness slightly increased. If these experiments prove anything at all, they indicate that the men were not in as good condition at the end as at the beginning. Loss of weight is unnatural. Such experiments have been made with cavalry horses repeatedly. They were allowed to eat what they wanted, and all they wanted, and though they made pigs of themselves the first few days or weeks, they eventually settled down to the usual ration.*
No better judge of dietetics need be mentioned than Dr. Alexander Haig, of London, England, and he stigmatizes this new fad of restriction of nitrogen as "erroneous teaching,"*¡ and he shows that it results in heart failure which may not come for months or years after the deficient diet was adopted. The heart and brain, he says, are fed from the disintegration of other organs, and do not show symptoms until late. Hence, neurasthenia is also a late symptom, and is the reason why the underfed lower classes become unable to work - unemployable paupers who have literally and figuratively "lost heart." It has even been found in France that underfeeding of telephone girls produces such a high degree of neurasthenia that they cannot do the work, but that proper service resulted from the establishment of restaurants where they obtained more meat.
* Science, November 16, 1906.
* Wood Hutchinson (McClure's for April, 1906), in speaking of the necessity for liberal diet says: "It is true that Professor Chittenden has recently published the results of experiments upon a 'starvation squad' of soldiers which lead him to the conclusion that weight, health, and vigor can be maintained upon about half the amount of food laid down in standard diet-tables. But this highly improbable conclusion, upon so slender a basis of fact can carry but little weight until it has been confirmed by tests upon a far wider scale by other observers. From the reports of colleagues who saw the soldiers at the close of their fast, anemic, nervous, so eager to get back to regular rations that they would say anything about their feelings which would tend to bring the experiment to a close, it strikes me simply as a test of human endurance like Doctor Tanner's famous fast".
*¡ New York Medical Record, May 26, 1906.
We have already mentioned the great "meat famine" of Europe, where the peasants now suffer from "nitrogen thirst," differing in no respects from the "blood thirst" of Filipinos. It remains to note that our Consul at Chemnitz officially reports that not only has horse flesh become a standard market meat, 75,000 or more carcasses being annually slaughtered in Germany, but that 5,500 dogs' carcasses are annually submitted to official inspection before sale to the working classes, and that the amount of this meat is constantly increasing. In Italy, particularly in Venice and Verona, cats are now being used for food, in spite of a law against the practice,* and in France snails have long been consumed. Paris yearly consumes thousands of horses,* and recently camel meat has been put on the market.