Bacteria are so constantly present everywhere the wonder is, not that the intestine becomes infected, but that the body is not more quickly and more often overwhelmed by these parasitic enemies of life. The air we breathe, often the water we drink and the food we eat, swarm with bacteria or their spores.
Through the medium of unwholesome food and various errors and accidents the alimentary canal becomes infected with putrefactive organisms and other poison-forming and disease-producing microbes. The most virulent and active of these are naturally introduced in connection with animal protein. Stale eggs, oysters, and especially smoked or salted fish, “prime beef,” game, certain varieties of cheese, commercial cow’s milk and butter are common sources through which the so-called “wild bacteria” are introduced into the body. Many per-sons can distinctly trace the beginning of years of suffering from conditions dependent upon intestinal toxemia to an acute poisoning from canned fish, “over ripe” game, cold storage eggs, or sausage.
It will probably be news to some people that all butcher’s meat contains bacteria, putrefactive germs in vast numbers. Tissier, of the Pasteur Institute, found that “meat taken from the slaughter house as fresh as possible contains all the germs necessary for putrefaction.”
Meat is, in fact, even under most favorable conditions, the most unclean thing that comes upon our tables. This naturally results from the fact that a dead animal, like a dead person, is a corpse. A dead body rapidly undergoes putrefactive changes.
In papers read before the 1913 meeting of the American Public Health Association, Weinzirl and Newton presented an improved method of making bacteriological examinations of meat, and showed that butchers’ meat is swarming with putrefactive bacteria long before its odor or appearance shows any evidence of decay. As many as 2,640,000,000 bacteria to the ounce were found in hamburger steak that “would pass muster” under ordinary sanitary inspection. In only four out of forty-four samples was the number of bacteria less than 30,000,000 to the ounce, the average being more than 460,000,000 to the ounce.
Some years ago, Marxer, a recognized authority, found that market meats that easily passed the ordinary inspection tests often contained more than 30,000,000 bacteria to the ounce. In the case of hamburger steak it was found that more than half the samples offered in the market contained 30,000,000 bacteria to the ounce or more.
Marxer took the ground that meats containing as many as 30,000,000 bacteria to the ounce should be condemned as unfit for food. This would, of course, rule out such meats as ham-burger steak, prime meats and most game. It was argued most consistently that it is unreason-able to condemn milk that contains 6,000,000 bacteria to the ounce and not condemn meats that contain five times as many bacteria. Such action appears still more inconsistent and in-defensible when the fact is considered that “meat bacteria” are for the most part putrefactive organisms, poison producers, capable of producing infection and disease, whereas the bacteria of milk are almost altogether harmless, lactic acid-forming, or so-called “buttermilk germs.”
Nothing could be more absurd from a scientific standpoint than to take great pains to secure a clean milk supply, such as certified milk with a maximum bacteria count of 300,000 butter-milk bacteria per ounce, and then swallow along with it meat containing from a hundred to a thousand times as many germs and bacteria of a most pernicious and loathsome kind.
Before another half century has passed, we shall have become sufficiently civilized to reject from our tables things that are only proper food for hyenas and turkey buzzards.
According to Ostertag, School found in a steak that had been lying for two days so many putrefactive toxins that a watery extract made at a temperature of 104° F. killed a guinea pig by paralysis in two hours. Such extracts will often kill guinea pigs, in doses of one or two c. c. (one-fourth to one-half dram).
A second series of samples collected by the authors showed an average of 3,000,000,000 bacteria to the ounce. Nine samples collected in summer averaged 6,000,000,000 to the ounce. All the samples of this series had the familiar haut gout characteristic of “prime beef” and wild game, the true “gamey” flavor so much relished by gourmands.
Meats contain a small amount of sugar. In the decomposition of meats the sugar is at-tacked first. The acids formed delay the development of putrefaction, but when the sugar is consumed putrefaction begins, ammonia neutralizing the acids present. The alkalinity now encourages putrefaction, which progresses with great rapidity. Meats offered in the market have already passed through the first stage of decomposition and are well advanced in the process of decay. Dried and salted meats and bologna sausage are always teeming with putrefactive bacteria.
Some years ago, at the request of the writer, Nelson, bacteriologist, made an examination of various meats obtained from the market and found that such meat contained from 500,-000,000 to 20,000,000,000 bacteria to each ounce.
According to Ostertag*, in meat which had been preserved in ice for two weeks, Forster found, millions of bacteria in a single milligram of the surface substance. This would mean scores of billions in an ounce of such meat. According to the same authority, Presuhn found colon bacilli deep in the substance of the liver after twenty-four hours. Mice inoculated with the cultures died in twenty-four hours.
Smoked or salted fish, certain varieties of cheese, commercial cow’s milk and butter are common sources through which the so-called wild bacteria (Herter) are introduced into the body.
Oysters and shell fish of all kinds are swarming with bacteria. A bacteriological examination of oyster juice shows it to be crowded with bacteria. Not infrequently typhoid bacilli are found in the stomach and intestines of the oyster, as well as in the juice. Oyster juice has the composition of urine, which is natural, since the kidneys and intestine of the animal remain active so long as it is alive.
A so-called “bilious” attack or typhoid infection may likewise be the starting point of chronic toxemia. In the majority of cases, however, infection of the intestine by “wild” bacteria develops slowly, and in most if not all human beings begins at an early age.
The facts known concerning bacterial action in the colon are thus briefly summarized by Schmidt :
“Fermentation of carbohydrates takes place normally, both in the lower part of the small intestine and in the colon. Putrefaction of protein, on the other hand, occurs exclusively in the large intestine. The ileocecal valve forms a sharp line of demarcation, above which putrefaction of protein never occurs, except under pathological conditions. In the cecum and ascending colon, which are the sites of the most active decomposition, both fermentation and putrefaction take place together; the latter after-wards outruns the former, to decrease again in the last portion of the colon, where the feces become inspissated.”
The development of toxemia is especially favored by habitual constipation. When delay occurs in the movement of the intestinal con-tents carbohydrates are entirely absorbed; as a result the acid-forming bacteria which normally protect the intestine against the wild or poison-forming bacteria are starved and soon die.
Cooked food yields much more readily to bacterial action than does uncooked food.
Putrefaction is very greatly facilitated in the large intestine by the presence of great numbers of putrefactive organisms as well as by the warmth of the body. An uncooked beefsteak placed in an incubator at the temperature of the body, becomes in a few hours far advanced in decomposition. The same thing happens to particles of beefsteak or other meats that, incompletely digested and hence unabsorbed, reach the colon from the small intestine. Ordinary cooking does not destroy putrefactive bacteria. Many of these organisms produce spores which require a temperature of at least 240° F. for half an hour for their destruction.
We may recall the fact that the diet of primitive man, like that of the chimpanzee, orang-utan and other higher apes at the present time, consisted of the natural products of the earth. Cookery is an artificial process, and in the light of modern discoveries can not be regarded as an unqualified blessing. It has recently been shown that cooking destroys vitamines, highly subtle substances that have been shown to be essential to perfect nutrition, and the absence of which gives rise to such well-known disorders as scurvy, rickets, beri-beri and perhaps pellagra and other disorders.
Intestinal stasis, or constipation, causes intestinal toxemia, not only by giving an opportunity for absorption of the toxins that have been formed, but also by retaining decomposable material in the colon, which, through the complete absorption of the protective carbohydrates, gives the putrefactive organisms an opportunity for prompt and luxuriant growth.
The fact that in many cases of extreme constipation the fecal matters have very little odor is not evidence of the absence of putrefaction, but rather is evidence that the putrescible material has been exhausted and the putrefaction products absorbed. It is only necessary in such cases to give the patient a laxative to find in the loathsome smelling stools that result abundant evidence of the active putrefaction taking place in the upper portion of the colon.
The introduction of “wild” bacteria into the intestinal tract alone will not give rise to chronic intestinal toxemia. The protective forces of the body are capable of dealing with infections of this kind so long as the bodily functions remain normal. In a person with normal secretions and with a colon that empties itself with the normal intestinal rhythm, evacuating its contents three times a day, wild bacteria would not be able to obtain a foothold. The few bacteria introduced, if not destroyed in the stomach or captured by the myriads of leukocytes that they would meet during transit of the alimentary tract, would be dismissed from the body before they had an opportunity to develop in any considerable numbers by colonizing in the folds or pouches of the colon.
The poison-forming organisms always find in the colon an abundance of protein in the form of mucus. In the residues of internal secretions, as well as unabsorbed food proteins, these organisms grow luxuriantly, so that in the course of years a considerable variety of putrefactive and other mischief-making organisms are accumulated. Every new infection makes a new contribution of injurious organisms that become domiciled in the intestine and continually flood the tissues with their virulent products, some of which are highly active in most minute quantities.
According to Spence, urobilin (formed by the putrefaction of bile) must be included with skatol, indol, phenol, cresol and other poisonous products of intestinal putrefaction. Says Magnus-Levy, “The classic research of Jaffe and Nencki has shown that these bodies are not present in the small intestine, confirmed by A. Schmidt and others. They originate, therefore, in the large intestine, in which the micro-organisms have the necessary time to produce abnormal decompositions. This fact has become of importance for the recognition of many intestinal troubles.”
“As a rule, the formation of urobilin in health takes place exclusively in the upper part of the large intestine (Macfadyen, Nencki and Sieber, A. Schmidt, Schlorlemmer). Here the conditions do not appear to be especially favor-able for its absorption.” (Weintrand) Urobilin seems thus to do little harm so long as it is con-fined to the large intestine where it is produced. But when the ileocecal valve is incompetent, the urobilin is forced back into the small intestine and is there quickly absorbed along with other poisons.