Article #204 - Gastric Process


This consists of two lengthy fragments, describing the observations of Dr. Beaumont concerning the gastric processes.]


            It is as you are doubtless aware an utter impossibility for one who has devoted as little time to this interesting topic as myself to bring forward any new theory of digestion for instances or cases for actual observations are of very rare occurrence, or in fact, properly speaking, but one of this description has ever been known, and in order that you may clearly understand the theory of Dr. Beaumont I will relate it in as brief and as clear a manner as practical the summary of his

observations. This Celebrated proffessor [sic] while at a military fort in Michigan ter[r]itory in 1822 in the service of the United States was called to take charge of Alexis St. Martin a canadian soldier of about eighteen years of age who had been wounded by a musket ball on the 6th of June 1822. The charge was received in the left side, passed obliquely forward and inward, fractured and carried away the anterior half of the sixt[h] rib, fractured the fifth, carried away a portion of the left lobe of the lungs, passed through the diaphragm and perforated the stomach. On the fifth day sloughing or the throwing off of the injured part commenced, which left a perforation large enough to admit the whole length of the middle fingers into the orifice. This of course brought on

fever which continued for a number of days, but as this gradually died away the system gained in strength and tone yet the contents of the stomach would pass out through the aperture if unprevented by bandages. This orifice, however never closed or had not at the last time that St. Martin was heard from by Beaumont. This is the only opportunity that has ever been offered where the coats of the stomach could be satisfactorily examined in a living person. Several months after this unfortunate Canadian encountered this misfortune he suffered extreemly [sic] from the death and exfoliation of portions of the injured ribs, but by the unremitting care of his physician he at last recovered and in the spring of 1823 was going about and doing light work and gained strength rapidly.

            In one year from the time of the accident the injured parts were all sound except the perforation into the stomach which was now two and a half inches in circumference. The food could be retained only by compresses, but early in the winter a small fold or doubling of the villous coat began to appear which gradually incrased till it filled the aperture as a valve, so as to effectually prevent the egress of its contents, but at the same time would admit of being pushed in by the application of the finger from without. Of the many thousands and millions of human beings who have lived on this earth, this is the only one in which the process of digestion could be witnessed in a living stomach, here then was an admirable opportunity for experimenting

on this subject, in a system otherwise healthy and robust and perfect[ly] free from the sources of fallacy inseparable from experiments on animals. The worthy gentlemans hands in which this happened, failed not to make the most important experiments, which he commenced in May 1825 which continued for a period of four months. In the following autumn he was married, worked hard, engaged in the Fur business with the Hudson Bay Company where he remained four years, when he was engaged by Dr. B. at a great expense to come and riside [sic] near him on the Mississippi for the purpose of enabling him to compleet [sic] his experiments and investigations. He accordingly came in the autumn of 1829 and remained with the Doctor until March 1831, after which he again went to Canada but returned to Beaumont in November 1832 when the experiments were once more resumed and continued till the following spring when he left Beaumont.

            When his stomach was nearly empty he was able to examine its cavity to a considerable depth by artificial distention. When it was entirely empty it was contracted on its self and the valve which closed this orifice was forced out so that there was an excellent opportunity to

examine the mucous membrane which lines the gast[r]ic cavity. Such was the favourable subject upon which Beaumont experimented, and such were the numerous opportunities which he embraced for repeating them, that he certainly was not mistaken in the least. Having given the outlines of this case we now return to the consideration of the motions of the stomach and the gastric juice, though I shall often refer to the case of St. Martin before I finish. When food ar[r]ives in the stomach it commences a churning whirling or rotary motion by means of which

the different parts of the food are brought in contact with its mucous membrane and thoroughly admixed with the gastric juice.

            This fluid in its purity is described by Dr. Beaumont as being a clear transparent fluid without odor, slightly saltish, and quite perceptibly acid. Its taste, he says, resembles a solution of mucilagious water and muriatic acid.

            It will coagulate albumen and when pure will check the progress of putrefaction in animal food. It will also keep for a long time if obtained free from muucus and other substances. The chemical properties of the gastric juice according to Proffessor Dunglison’s analysis is muriatic and acetic acids – phosphates and muriates with bases of potass. soda, magnesic, and lime, though some other chemists differ on some trifling points. The power with which the gastric juice acts on all substances in dissolving them and reducing them to a   ??  thickish fluid mass is truly

wonderful, yet it has no perceptible influence on living bodies, for so far as yet ascertained nothing which is still alive can afford nutriment to the animal frame.

            This fluid like the saliva is secreted by the action of some stimula, and the moment this rotary motion commences in the stomach this fluid oozes out through myriads of small pours [sic] and resembles what is called sweat such as we see on the outside of a pitcher that contains cold water, on a warm day. The food as it passes round gradually becomes saturated with this fluid which dissolves it into a pulpy mass as already described, which is known by the name of chyme. It is now ready to pass on to theduodenum, but before describing the change that it undergoes in this organ I shall make a few remarks on the process of digestion or the manner in which food is metamorphosed into chyme.

            Numerous attempts have been made by the investigators of this subject to ascertain which of the elements of the gastric juice performed the most prominent part as a solvent on food, or the most powerful in facilitating chymification. The result of the experiment proves acetic acid, or common vinegar, muriatic acid, to have a wider range of influence and produce solvent effect more closely resembling those of the gastric juice than any other known substances. The entire abstinence from all food of an accetious nature produces scurvy and

some other diseases which can be cured by the use of food which contains large quantities of acids. This fact proves that we were not intended by our creator to live exclusively on animal foods. Yet this is not the point under consideration. The actual necessity of acid for the chymification of vegetable food account for the fondness of the Dutch and some of the inhabitants of the German States for Sour Krout, or cabbage in a state of fermentation. The time required for this chymification varies acording to the degree of fineness to which it is reduced

by mastication, the texture of the food, the time the stomach rested, general health of the system, and many other things, some of which I shall mention under the title of selection and adaptations of food to the different periods of life, and consti[tu]tions. It was the prevailing opinion for a long time among medical men that the gastric juice was identical with the saliva or spittal [sic] but one moments reasoning is all sufficient to show the absurdity of this theory. I have shown you that the gastric juice acted powerfully as a solvent, but such is not the case with the saliva for

they are almost as different in their chemical properties as vinegar and pure water. The strongest proof of the dissimilarity of these fluids is founded on the fact that in persons or animals who die or are killed shortly after a meal and permitted to lay for a few hours, the contents of the stomach are found to have made their way through its coats on the principal [sic] that this fluid acts on all inanimate matter precisely alike, for while digestion was in operation this fluid was freely exuded, but the instant the circulation ceases, and the fountains refuse to continue their supplies, this fluid acts on the coats of the stomach precisely the same as its contents and therefore dissolves or eats its way out, but on the other hand we do not find that the saliva produces any change whatever on the muscles of the mouth and teeth. The juices of the stomach are also powerful in coagulating milk and the white of eggs and almost every one has witnessed the wonderful change that is produced by the mixture of rennet water and new milk, when we wish to separate the albumen from the whey, which is absorbed to furnish fluid throughout the system while the curd is digested and produces blood. Mechanical irritants such as the bulb of a thermometer or other indigestible bodies will for a short time produce copious exuditions from the vascular papillae. It was thought at one time that chyme was produced by steeping food in saliva at the temperature

of one hundred degrees, but experiments soon proved this to be a groundless theory.


[Another four pages follow, concerning more of Dr. Beaumont’s theories and experiments.]