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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/241

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INDIGESTION AND NERVOUS DEPRESSION.

dition to do so. The man, and very likely his friends also, wonders at his condition, and when he goes to his medical attendant to describe his case he says, "I take all sorts of strengthening things, and yet I feel so weak." If, instead of using these words, he were to say "Because I take all sorts of strengthening things I feel so weak," he would express a part at least of the truth. He and his friends who wonder with him forget that all the functions of life are more or less processes of combustion, and that they are subject to laws similar to those which regulate the burning of the coal in our fireplaces. Two things are necessary for the combustion, fuel and oxygen; sometimes it is the fuel that fails, but not unfrequently it is the oxygen. Sometimes, no doubt, our fires go out because the fuel is quite exhausted, but this is very rarely the case. It is only under very exceptional circumstances that we find a fire burned away so completely as to leave nothing but ash. Almost invariably some fuel still remains—often, indeed, enough to make up a good fire when properly put together. If we sift the ashes from the grate we generally find a quantity of cinders, sufficient to make a fire, and these have ceased to burn because they were unprovided with oxygen, which was prevented from reaching them by the ashes with which they were covered.

The reason why our fires burn low, or go out altogether, either is that we put on too much coal, or that we allow them to be smothered in ashes. It is the child who pokes the fire from the top to break the coal and make it burn faster; the wise man pokes it from below so as to rake out the ashes and allow free access of oxygen. And so it is with the functions of life, only that, these being less understood, many a man acts in regard to them as the child does to the fire. The man thinks that his brain is not acting because he has not supplied it with sufficient food. He takes meat three times a day, and beef-tea, to supply its wants, as he thinks, and he puts in a poker to stir it up in the shape of a glass of sherry or a nip from the brandy-bottle. And yet, all the time, what his brain is suffering from is not lack of fuel, but accumulation of ash; and the more he continues to cram himself with food, and to supply himself with stimulants, although they may help him for the moment, the worse does he ultimately become, just as the child's breaking the coal may cause a temporary blaze, but allows the fire all the more quickly to become smothered in ashes. It would seem that vital processes are much more readily arrested by the accumulation of waste products within the organs of the body than by the want of nutriment to the organs themselves. In all cases of fasting, whether voluntary or compulsory, life is prolonged to a much greater extent if water be freely supplied. Without water the individual quickly dies, however much other nourishment he may get, but with abundance of water he may live for a considerable time, even if he take no solid nutriment at all. Here it is not that the water acts as a food; it supplies no new energy to the body, for, unlike starch, or