Macfadden's Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise/CHAPTER VIII



In the cure of diseases by refrigeration, cold air is the readiest substitute for cold water. In the higher latitudes Nature supplies the remedy free of cost for six months of each year, and intermittently hundreds of times even in midsummer and at the threshold of the tropics, for the reduction of temperature in the early morning hours generally suffices to restore the functional vigor of the jaded organism.

The remedial effect of cold air equals that of cold water; air-cures, indeed, offer the advantage of superior facility of application for the cure of respiratory disorders. Expurgative currents of cold air can be made to reach the tissue of the lungs, and the significance of that circumstance is commensurate with the prevalence of a delusion more mischievous than the drug-superstition, viz.: the current theories concerning the cause of catarrh and consumption.

"Consumption," says an advocate of medical reform, "is a house-disease, and the plan of confining its victim in overheated, ill-ventilated sickrooms favors the development of its germs to a degree which the remedial powers of Nature strive in vain to counteract. . . . Not drugs or warmth, but cold, pure air is Nature's specific for the cure of consumption and 'colds.' "

That "colds," or catarrhal affections, are so very common—so much, indeed, as to be considerably more frequent than all other diseases taken together—is mainly due to the fact that the cause of no other disorder of the human organism is so generally misunderstood. Few persons have recognized the origin of yellow fever; about the primary cause of asthma we are yet all in the dark; but in regard to "colds" alone the prevailing misconception of the truth has reached the degree of mistaking the cause for a cure, and the most effective cure for the cause of the disease. If we inquire after that cause, ninety-nine patients out of a hundred, and at least nine out of ten physicians, would answer: "Cold weather," "raw March winds," or "cold draughts"—in other words, outdoor air of a low temperature. If we inquire after the best cure, the answer would be, "Warmth and protection against cold draughts"—i. e., warm, stagnant, indoor air.

And yet it can be proved with as absolute certainty as any physiological fact admits of being proved, that warm, vitiated indoor air is the cause, and cold outdoor air the best cure of lung-disorders. Many people "catch cold" every month in the year, and often two or three times a month. Very few get off with less than three colds a year; so that an annual average of five catarrhs would probably be an under-estimate. For the United States alone that would give us a yearly aggregate of three hundred and fifty-five million "colds."

That such facilities for investigation have failed to correct the errors of our exegetical theory is surely a striking proof how exclusively our dealings with disease have been limited to the endeavor of suppressing the symptoms, instead of ascertaining and removing the cause. For, as a test of our unbiased faculty of observation, the degree of that failure would lead to rather unpronounceable conclusions. What should we think of the scientific acumen of a traveler who, after a careful examination of the available evidence, should persist in maintaining that mosquitoes are engendered by frost and exterminated by sunshine?

Yet, if his attention had been chiefly devoted to the comparative study of mosquito ointments and mosquito bars, he might, for the rest, have been misled by such circumstances as the fact that gnats abound near the icy shores of Hudson Bay and are rarely seen on the sunny prairies of Southern Texas.

In all the civilized countries of the colder latitudes, catarrhs are frequent in winter and early spring, and less frequent in midsummer: hence, the inference that catarrhs are caused by cold weather and can be cured by warm air.

Yet of the two fallacies, the mosquito theory would, on the whole, be the less preposterous mistake, for it is true that long droughts, by parching out the swamps, may sometimes reduce the mosquito plague; but no kind of warm weather will mitigate a catarrh, while the patient persists in doing what thousands never cease to do the year round, namely, to expose their lungs, night after night, to the vitiated, sickening atmosphere of an unventilated bedroom. "Colds" are, indeed, less frequent in midwinter than at the beginning of spring. Frost is such a powerful disinfectant that in very cold nights the lung-poisoning atmosphere of few houses can resist its purifying influence; in spite of padded doors, in spite of "weather-strips" and double windows, it reduces the indoor temperature enough to paralyze the floating disease-germs.

The penetrative force of a polar night-frost exercises that function with such resistless vigor that it defies the preventive measures of human skill; and all Arctic travelers agree that among the natives of Iceland, Greenland, and Labrador pulmonary diseases are actually unknown.

Protracted cold weather thus prevents epidemic catarrh; but during the first thaw Nature succumbs to art; smouldering stove fires add their fumes to the effluvia of the dormitory; tight-fitting doors and windows exclude the means of salvation; superstition triumphs, the lung-poison operates, and the next morning a suffering, coughing, and red-nosed family discuss the cause of their affliction. "Taken cold"—that much they premise, without a debate. But where and when? Last evening, probably, when the warm south wind tempted them to open the window for a moment. Or, "when those visitors kept chatting on the porch and a drop of water from the thawing roof fell on my neck." Or else, the boys caught it by playing in the garden and not changing their stockings when they came home. Resolved, that a person cannot be too careful as long as there is any snow on the ground. But even that explanation fails in spring, and when the incubatory influence of the first moist heat is brought to bear on the catarrh-germs of a large city, a whole district-school is often turned into a snuffling congress. The latter part of March is the season of epidemic catarrhs, and the evil is ascribed to "dampness," when the cold-theory becomes at last too evidently preposterous.

To an unprejudiced observer that theory, though, is equally untenable in the coldest months of the year. No man can freeze himself into a catarrh. Out-of-doors we cannot "catch cold."

"I have, upon the approach of cold weather, removed my undergarments," says Dr. Charles Page, "and have then attended to my outdoor affairs, minus the overcoat habitually worn; I have slept in winter in a current blowing directly about my head and shoulders; upon going to bed, I have sat in a strong current, entirely nude, for a quarter of an hour, on a very damp, cold night, in the fall of the year. These and similar experiments I have made repeatedly, and have never been able to catch cold. I became cold, sometimes quite cold, and became warm again, that is all. ("Natural Cure," p. 40.)

There are many ways, less often sought than found, for "becoming quite cold and warm again," but an experimenter, trying to contract a catarrh in that manner, would soon give it up as a futile enterprise; after two or three attempts he would find the attainment of his purpose more hopeless than before; he would find that instead of impairing, he had improved the functional vigor of his breathing-apparatus. Cold is a tonic that invigorates the respiratory organs when all other stimulants fail.

As soon as oppression of the chest, obstruction of the nasal ducts, and unusual lassitude indicate that a "cold has been taken"—in other words, that an air-poison has fastened upon the bronchi—its influence should at once be counteracted by the purest and coldest air available, and the patient should not stop to weigh the costs of a day's furlough against the danger of a chronic catarrh. In case imperative duties should interfere, the enemy must be met after dark, by devoting the first half of the night to an outdoor campaign and the second half to an encampment before a wide-open window.

There is no doubt that the proximate cause of a catarrh consists in the action of some microscopic parasite that develops its germs while the resistive power of the respiratory organs is diminished by the influence of impure air. Cold air arrests that development by direct paralysis; i.e., by lethargizing and eventually destroying the vitality of the disease-germs. Towards the end of the year a damp, sultry day—the catarrh-weather par excellence—is sometimes followed by a sudden frost, and at such times I have often found that a six-hours' inhalation of pure, cold night-air will free the obstructed air-passages so effectually that on the following morning hardly a slight huskiness of the voice remains to suggest the narrowness of the escape from a two-weeks' respiratory misery.

It would be a mistake to suppose that "colds" can be propagated only by direct transmission, or the breathing of recently vitiated air. Catarrh germs, floating in the atmosphere of an ill-ventilated bedroom, may preserve their vitality for weeks after the house has been abandoned, and the next renter should not move in till the whole building has been subjected to an air-bath, and till wide-open windows and a through-draught of several days has removed every trace of a "musty" smell.

About the comparative advantages of dry and moist ("marine") climates opinions are divided, with a preponderance of argument in favor of the former, but so much is certain that for the cure of lung-complaints a low temperature, with or without an excess of atmospheric moisture, is preferable to the perennial heat of the tropics. "I shall not attempt to explain," says Benjamin Franklin, "why damp clothes occasion colds, rather than wet ones, because I doubt the fact; I believe that neither the one nor the other contributes to this effect, and that the causes of catarrhs are totally independent of wet, and even of cold." ("Miscellaneous Works," p. 216.)

Nor can drugs compensate the lack of Nature's specific. In the language of our instincts every feeling of discomfort suggests its own remedy. If the proximity of a glowing stove begins to roast your shins, the alarmed nerves cry out—not for patent ointments, not for anti-caustic liniments and "pain-killers," but for a lower temperature. Nothing else will permanently appease them. Millions of prisoners, school-children and factory-slaves, pine for lung-food as a starving man yearns for bread, and that hunger cannot be stilled with cough-pills, but only with fresh air.

Pure cold air is also a sovereign remedy for digestive disorders. The assimilative capacity of the human organism increases with the distance from the equator. An Esquimaux can digest a quantum of food that would crapulate three Hottentots and six Hindus. Camping in the open air whets the appetite even without the aid of active exercise. A bracing temperature exacts a sort of automatic exercise: It accelerates the circulation, it promotes the oxidation of the blood, and stimulates the whole respiratory process. The generation of animal caloric has to be increased to balance the depression of the external temperature. Hence the invigorating effect of mountain air and of sea-voyages. The first dose of the tonic can be applied in-doors by gymnastics in the ancient sense of the word that implies exercise in a state of nudity ("gymnos," in Greek, meaning simply "naked")—a few minutes' pause between undress and bedtime.

People who have got rid of the night-air superstition can almost defy dyspepsia by sleeping in a cross-draught, or in cold weather at least near a half-open window. Cold, fresh air is an invaluable aid to the assimilation of non-nitrogenous articles of food (fat meat, butter, etc.). Stifling bedrooms neutralize the effects of outdoor exercise. Winter is, therefore, on the whole the most propitious time for beginning a dyspepsia cure. In summer a highland sanitarium is the best place to start with; or, for coast-dwellers, a breezy sea-shore.

The efficacy of an air-bath as a cure of insomnia is suggested by the hypnotic influence of refrigeration. At least a dozen different species of our North American mammals get drowsy enough in cold weather to go to sleep about the end of November and postpone their awakening till spring. We sleep sounder in winter than at any other time of the year, and Dr. Franklin, who, like Bacon and Goethe, had the gift of anticipative intuitions, recommends air sitz-baths as an excellent substitutes for opiates. "In summer-nights, when I court sleep in vain," he says, "I often get up and sit at the open window or at the foot of my bed, stark-naked for a quarter of an hour. That simple expedient removes the difficulty (whatever its cause), and upon returning to bed I can generally rely upon getting two or three hours of most refreshing sleep."

It can, however, do no harm to combine an air-bath with a few minutes of indoor exercise. Perfect freedom of motion is, indeed, incompatible with the restraint of artificial teguments, and the effect of Dr. Franklin's prescription could generally be improved by gymnastics tending to stimulate the action of the respiratory organs. During sleep the blood is only imperfectly oxidized, and an accumulated deficiency of that sort (indicated by choking fits) is one of the most common causes of interrupted slumber.

The solaria, or sunbath-rooms of the ancients, probably served a similar purpose. Stoves and chimney fires—though not unknown—were rare in Athens, and in Rome were considered a prerogative of wealth; the great plurality, even of well-to-do citizens, survived the winter under a load of cumbersome garments, and now and then retired to a solarium to give their skins a chance for direct contact with the circulation-stimulating atmosphere.