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  The Ethics of Diet
Howard Williams


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CHAPTER 34.

JOHN ABERNETHY AND THE DIETETIC

TREATMENT OF CANCER.

1763-1831.

DISTINGUISHED as a practical surgeon and physiologist, Abernethy merits his high reputation as having been one of the first to attack the aid prejudice of the profession as to the origin of diseases, and as having sought for such origin, not in mere local and accidental but, in general causes in the constitution and habits of the body.

While Dr. Lambe was at Aldersgate Street Dispensary, Abernethy formed the acquaintance of that unostentatious reformer; an acquaintance that had no unimportant influence upon the medical theories of the great surgeon. Abernethy was at that time writing his Observations on Tumours, and he had entrusted to his friend one of his cancer-patients, to be treated by the non-flesh and distilled water-regimen. He carefully watched the effects, and he has thus given the results of his observations:

“There can be no subject which I think more likely to interest the mind of a surgeon than that of an endeavour to amend and alter the state of a cancerous constitution. The best-timed and best-conducted operation brings with it nothing but disgrace, if the diseased propensities of the constitution are active and powerful.  It is after an operation that, in my opinion, we are most particularly concerned to regulate the constitution, lest the disease should be revived or renewed by its disturbance. In addition to that attention, to tranquilise and invigorate the nervous system, and keep the digestive organs in as healthy a state as possible (which I have recommended in my first volume) I believe general experience sanctions the recommendation of a more vegetable because less stimulating diet, with the addition of so much milk, broth, and eggs, as seems necessary to prevent any declension of the patient’s strength.

“Very recently Dr. Lambe has proposed a method of treating cancerous diseases, which is wholly dietetic. He recommends the adoption of a strict vegetable regimen, to avoid the use of fermented liquors, and to substitute water purified by distillation in the place of common water as a beverage, and in all parts of diet in which common water is used, as tea, soups, etc. The grounds upon which he founds his opinion of the propriety of this advice, and the prospects of benefit which it holds out, may be seen in his Reports on Cancer, to which I refer my readers.

“My own experience on the effects of this regimen is, of course, very limited, nor does it authorise me to speak decidedly on the subject. But I think it right to observe that, in one case of cancerous ulceration in which it was used, the symptoms of the disease were, in my opinion, rendered milder, the erysipelatous inflammation surrounding the ulcer was removed, and the life of the patient was, in my judgment, considerably prolonged. The more minute details of the fact constitute the sixth case of Dr. Lambe’s Reports. It seems to me very proper and desirable that the powers of the regimen recommended by Dr. Lambe should be fairly tried, for the following reasons:

“Because I know some persons who, whilst confined to such diet, have enjoyed very good health; and, farther, I have known several persons, who did try the effects of such a regimen, declare that it was productive of considerable benefit. They were not, indeed, afflicted with cancer, but they were induced to adopt a change of diet to allay a state of nervous irritation and correct disorder of the digestive organs, upon which medicine had but little influence.
“Because it appears certain, in general, that the body can be perfectly nourished by vegetables.

“Because all great changes of the constitution are more likely to be effected by alterations of diet and modes of life than by medicine.

“Because it holds out a source of hope and consolation to the patient in a disease in which medicine is known to be unavailing, and in which surgery affords no more than a temporary relief.”

“The above opinion of Abernethy/’ remarks an experienced authority on the subject, ” is most valuable, for he watched the case for three and a half years under Dr. Lambe’s regimen, which is directly opposed to the system of diet which he had advocated (before he met Dr. Lambe), in the first volume of his work on Constitutional Diseases: and, from his rough honesty, there is no doubt that, had Dr. Abernethy lived to publish a second edition, he would have corrected his mistake.”

The candour, by which so distinguished an authority was impelled to abandon or modify erroneous opinions already put forth to the world, claims respect in proportion as the general want of such merit has caused and causes incalculable mischief


Publisher: White Crow Books
Published January 2010
312 pages
Size: 5.5 x 8.5"
ISBN 978-1-907355-21-9
 
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