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A Handbook of Health by Woods Hutchinson

Together with the stronger narcotics


This

evaporated or distilled mixture of alcohol and water, if made from a mash of corn, wheat, rye, or potatoes, is called whiskey; if from fruit-juice, brandy. A similar liquor, made out of fermented rice, is known as _arrack_ in India, or _sake_ in Japan; and the liquor made from fermented molasses is called rum.

Alcohol not a True Food, but a Drug. The much disputed question as to whether alcohol is a food or not, is really of little or no practical importance. It is quite true, as might be expected, from its close relation to sugar and the readiness, for instance, with which it will burn in an alcohol lamp or stove, that alcohol, in small amounts, is capable of being burned in the body, thus giving it energy. This may give it a certain limited value in some forms of sickness, as, for instance, in certain fevers and infections, when the stomach does not seem to be able to digest food. But here it acts as a medicine rather than as a true food and, like all other medicines, should be used only under skilled medical advice and control. For practical purposes, any trifling food value it may have is more than offset by its later poisonous and disturbing effects and, secondly, by its enormous expensiveness.

The greatest amount of alcohol that could be consumed in the body at all safely would barely supply one-tenth of the total fuel value needed; and if any one were to attempt to supply the body with energy by the use

of alcohol, he would be blind drunk before he had taken one-third of the amount required. From the point of view of expense alone, to take alcohol for food is like killing buffalos for their tongues and letting the rest of the carcass go to waste, as the Indians and pioneer hunters of the plains used to do. It never has more than a fraction of the food value of the grain or fruit out of which it was made; and the amount of nutriment that it contains costs ten times as much as it would in any of the staple foods.

Moreover, when it is taken with an ordinary supply of food, it is found that, for every ounce of alcohol burned in the body, a similar amount of the other food is prevented from being consumed, and probably goes to waste, owing to the harmful effects of alcohol upon digestion. Therefore, to talk of alcohol as a food is really absurd.

The Effect of Alcohol on Digestion. It has been urged by some that alcohol increases the appetite, and enables one to digest larger amounts of food. The early experiments seemed to support this claim by showing that alcohol, well diluted, and in moderate amounts, increased appetite and the flow of the gastric juice. When the experiments were carried a little further, however, it was clearly shown that its presence in the stomach and intestines, in such amounts as would result from a glass of beer, or one or two glasses of claret-wine with a meal, interfered with the later stages of digestion, so that the later harmful effects overbalanced any earlier good effects.

Its Effect on the Temperature of the Body. Another claim urged in its favor was that it warmed the body and protected it against cold. It ought to have been easy for any one with a sense of humor to judge the value of this claim by the fact that it was equally highly commended by its users as a means of keeping them cool in hot weather. Its supposed effects in the case of both heat and cold were due to the same fact: it deadened the nerves for a time to whatever sense of discomfort one might then be suffering from, but made no change whatever in the condition of the body that caused the discomfort. Any drug which has this deadening effect on the nerves is called a narcotic; and it is in this class that alcohol belongs, together with the stronger narcotics, _opium_, _chloroform_, _ether_, and _chloral_.


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