This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
Amongst other causes of disease may be mentioned excessive use of intoxicating liquors, and the consumption of adulterated and unwholesome food. The most disastrous consequences of intemperance are exhibited by the habitual drunkard, who, in proportion as he indulges in liquor, loses his appetite for food, and his power of digesting it. He then drinks and starves, and the disease which ensues comprises the exhaustion of inanition with the more direct effects of the alcholic poison. Thus, in delirium tremens, the drunkard's disease, together with the permanent restless excitement of the irritated nervous system, which adds more and more to the exhaustion, the weakness of body and mind is fearful, and in bad cases affects even the organic functions, so that the pulse is very weak and frequent, the excretions scanty and depraved, and the respiration is too imperfectly performed by the involuntary powers to permit sleep to ensue. This exhaustion must soon terminate in death, unless prevented by appropriate treatment; and this must comprise, besides Opium (the common remedy), Ammonia and other stimulants to the circulation and respiration; purgatives and diuretics to free the blood from the excrementitious matter that has accumulated in it; and fluid nourishment to repair its waste. Without these adjuncts, Opium will not only fail to procure sleep, but its narcotic influence may extinguish the flame of life.
Pernicious as fermented liquors are in their abuse, yet these and other adjuncts to food, when taken with careful moderation and discrimination, often prove beneficial by aiding the digestion when it is weak, and by counteracting various exhausting and depressing influences, which are frequently arising out of the artificial condition and employments of society, especially in large towns and cold climates. Total abstinence, therefore, is preferable to moderation, only because it is morally easier to practise, not because it is more salutary in its physical effects.
Alcohol may be obtained from any substance which contains sugar, all the different grains destined for the support of man; corn of every description; esculent roots, potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets; grass itself, as in Kamschatka; apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and other fruits; and even from milk. The Tartars and Calmucks obtain a vinous spirit from the distillation of mare's and cow's milk. Liquids do not intoxicate altogether in proportion to the quantity of spirit they contain, nor is the effect upon the constitution, for good or for ill, dependent always upon the quantity, provided it is not excessive; for instance, Champagne intoxicates very quickly. Now, Champagne contains but a small portion comparatively of Alcohol, but this escapes from the froth, or bubbles of Carbonic Acid gas, as it reaches the surface, carrying with it all the fine flavour of the wine. Wines containing the same quantity of alcohol, therefore, differ in their effects; indeed it is not only to the alcohol they contain that the injurious effects of some wines are to be attributed, as Dr. Paris clearly shows that when they contain an excess of certain acids, a suppressed fermentation takes place in the stomach itself, which will cause flatulency and a great variety of unpleasant symptoms.
Disease may be excited by unwholesome articles with which the food is adulterated. To this class of causes belong various poisons. There are some noxious matters ocasionally mixed with food, which gradually produce deleterious effects. Thus, salted provisions too long used will cause scurvy; ergotted corn has been known to produce dry gangrene. Lead gradually introduced causes constipation, colic, paralysis, and atrophy (wasting away). Impure water, used as drink, is a common cause of disease; containing decaying vegetable or animal matter, it may induce sickness, diarrhoea, cholera, and typhoid symptoms; hard waters, which are impregnated with some of the salts of lime, render the bowels costive, and are supposed to favour the production of calculous diseases and bronchocele; brackish waters, containing saline matter, may induce dyspepsia and diarrhoea; chalybeates, containing iron, are constipating, etc.
Many articles of domestic consumption are sadly adulterated. In making bread at home, we use nothing but flour, water, yeast, and salt. The bakers sometimes add potatoes, alum, magnesia and other substances, to give it a white appearance and impart lightness. Alum is largely used, not as an adulteration of itself, but for the purpose of enabling them to work up and whiten an inferior flour to mix with that of a better quality. Some of the adulterations of flour are made by the baker; others by the wholesale flour dealers. Some time ago a statement was published in the English papers, by a gentleman who, whenever he visited Newcastle-underline, Staffordshire, was invariably seized with severe pains in the stomach; he suspected it was caused by the bread he had eaten. This lead to an inquiry, and the bread, upon analysis, was found to contain Plaster of Paris. The baker declared his innocence; but, on searching the miller's premises from whence the flour was procured, a large quantity of this substance was found, which led to his being mulct of a considerable sum in the shape of a fine.
"A short time since," says a correspondent of a London periodical "a friend of mine, a chemist in Manchester, was applied to for a quantity of French Chalk, a species of talc, in fine powder; the party who purchased it used regularly several pounds a week; not being an article of usual sale in such quantity, our friend became curious to know to what use it could be applied; on asking the wholesale dealer who supplied him, he stated his belief that it was used in facing Tea, (the last process of converting black tea into green), and that within the last month or two he had sold in Manchester upwards of a thousand pounds of it. Our friend, the chemist, then institued a series of experiments, and the result proved that a great deal, if not all the common green tea used in this country is coloured artificially."The blue used in forming the green is usually Prussian Blue, which is highly poisonous.
Dr. Letheby stated,a few years ago, that within the previous three years, as many as seventy cases of poisoning had been traced, in England, to the colours used in fancy sweetmeats.