Chemical Digestion in the 17th Century

Following Paracelsus, iatrochemists described the human body as a chemical laboratory. Digestion of food was no longer regarded as coction (cooking) - as Galenists maintained- but as the outcome of acid ferments located in the stomach. Jan Baptista Van Helmont articulated a new view of digestion and sanguification, along chemical lines. He maintained that by means of a ferment operating in the stomach, food was transformed into what he called cremor, namely a highly volatile acid; this was in turn transformed into chyle, and in the liver chyle into cruor (i.e., blood without spirit). After van Helmont, a number of iatrochemists investigated the composition of food, digestion and sanguification by means of chemistry. Chemical analysis was adopted in the study of matters of food, as well as in the understanding of the physiology of digestion.

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