Volltext: Elements of Physiology

Of Digestion in General. 
The food of animals consists of animal and vegetable substances. 
Some animals live solely on the former class of substances, others on 
the latter; others, again, amongst which is man, have a mixed diet, 
consisting of both animal and vegetable matters. Man is supported 
as well by food constituted wholly of animal substances as by that 
which is formed entirely of vegetable matters; and the structure of 
his teeth, as well as experience, seems to point out that he is destined 
for a mixed kind of aliment. 
Both the vegetable and animal articles of diet contain the more 
common salts, which, being essential components of the animal sys¬ 
tem, may in a certain point of view be regarded as nutriment. But 
no animal can. subsist on mineral substances alone; though from 
necessity, or from prejudice, for the purpose of filling the stomach, 
earth, either alone or mixed with organic matters, is sometimes 
swallowed by human beings,—for instance, by the Ottomaks and 
Guamos in Oronoco, and by the inhabitants of New Caledonia. 
Vauquelin could detect no nutritious matter in the steatite which is 
eaten by the inhabitants of New Caledonia.* The earth, which, on 
account of famine, was, in the year 1832, in the parish of Degernä, 
on the borders of Lapland, mixed with flour and the bark of trees, 
and baked so as to form a kind of bread, consisted of siliceous earth 
mixed with organic particles. (Poggendorf’ s Jinn. B. xxix. p. 261.) 
This mineral flour was found by Retzius to consist of the fossil re¬ 
mains of nineteen different forms of infusoria. 
All substances from the animal and vegetable kingdoms appear to 
afford nutriment, provided that they are easily soluble in the animal 
fluids, contain no combination of elements too unlike that of the ani¬ 
mal matters of the being which they ought to nourish, possess no 
remarkable chemical properties, and have no tendency to enter into 
binary combinations at the expense of the organic components of 
the living body. Substances which have such a tendency, which 
are of heterogeneous composition, or have peculiar chemical proper¬ 
ties, are either medicinal substances, or, in a relative sense, poisons. 
I am much inclined to believe that even the peculiar effects of the 
narcotic poisons which produce no evident material change in the 
system, and do not essentially excite inflammation, arise from the 
* See Humboldt’s Reise in den Equinoct. Gegend, iv. p. 557. Travels in the 
Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, translated.—Rudolphi’s Physiol, ii. 18.


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