This section is from the book "Practical Dietetics With Special Reference To Diet In Disease", by William Gilman Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Practical Dietetics with Special Reference to Diet in Disease.
The physiological effect of alcohol upon the body temperature may also be regarded as proceeding primarily from its stimulating influence, acting through the vasomotor nerves. In moderate doses, alcohol, by quickening the rapidity of the circulation and by dilating the peripheral blood vessels, enables more blood to reach the surface of the body and to pass through the superficial capillaries in a given time, and hence there is a tendency to lower the body temperature. On the other hand, the combustion of the alcohol itself within the body results in the production of a large number of heat units. The total balance of these processes is usually on the side of an absolute reduction of the temperature. It is in part for this reason that alcohol is of benefit in fevers.
As a result of an elaborate series of experiments made by Reichert to determine the action of alcohol on animal heat functions, he concludes "that alcohol does not affect the total quantity of heat produced; that more heat is dissipated than produced; that the fall of temperature is due to the excess of dissipation, and is in direct proportion; and that in all likelihood alcohol, by undergoing oxidation, yields energy in the form of heat, thus conserving the tissues and acting as a food".
Alcohol in some persons, although not in all, is a very strong diuretic, and its effect depends largely upon the variety of the beverage used. For some persons gin has a much more decided diuretic action than other strong liquors, such as rum or brandy, and in many beer possesses a diuretic action which indicates a special stimulating effect upon the total quantity of urine excreted beyond that produced by a similar bulk of water, but the total of urea, sulphates, and phosphates eliminated is diminished. Chittenden found that uric-acid excretion is doubled. As a general rule, alcohol which is moderately diluted, and which is taken upon an empty stomach, is much more promptly absorbed and possesses a stronger diuretic action than when taken with food or when given in a concentrated form.
Strong alcohol is astringent to mucous surfaces, and it is sometimes used diluted with equal parts of water as a gargle for sore throat. Claret, which also contains tannin, may be employed in this way.
If taken in too large quantity or too strong, the astringent effect upon the stomach is highly irritating, causing local congestion, and even inflammation upon the mucous coat, which becomes covered with tenacious mucus. The tongue soon becomes coated, and the appetite is destroyed as well as the secreting power of the gastric glands.
Taken with food in the stomach, alcohol in small quantities, not exceeding the equivalent of half an ounce of the pure substance, given in the form of any alcoholic beverage, does not materially affect the action of the gastric juice. In larger quantities, or if the gastric juice itself is feeble, alcohol precipitates pepsin, coagulates the albuminous materials of the food, and greatly retards if it does not altogether destroy gastric digestion. On the other hand, while not interfering with the action of the gastric juice, alcohol may stimulate its secretion so that, as Moleschott says, "a glass or two of good old wine increases the quantity of gastric juice, which performs mainly the digestion of albuminous foods".
Some interesting experiments are reported by Roberts (Lectures on Dietetics and Dyspepsia) upon the effect of malt liquors on gastric digestion. They were conducted as follows: By adding together 2 grammes of dried beef-fibre, 0.15 c. c. of hydrochloric acid, 1 c. c. of glycerin extract of pepsin, and varying quantities of malt liquors, with water up to 100 c. c. The result is tabulated:
Proportion of Malt Liquors contained in the Digesting Mixture.
time in which digestion was completed, (normal, 100 minutes).
Light English table beer.
10 per cent
20 " " .................
40 " " ..................
60 " " ...........
In considering the relation of alcohol to other foods, the fact should be emphasised that monotony of diet with bad cooking of coarse, tasteless food, especially when associated with overwork, may be a potent factor in establishing a liking for liquors among the poor. In the United States, among the poorer classes the art of varying the diet and of serving food in an agreeable and properly seasoned manner is but imperfectly understood, and the statement is confidently made by Williams, who has given years of personal attention to the matter, that "the raw material of the dietary of the French and Italians is more inferior than that of the English, but a far better result is obtained by better cookery, and the same unfavourable comparison can undoubtedly be made with the poorer classes in America." The Italians have the art of making comparatively tasteless food, such as macaroni, into very savoury and nutritious dishes. Osier expresses the opinion that more ill arises from abuses of eating than of drinking, especially in America.