Beer: A cure for what ails you
Every couple of months, another medical journal publishes groundbreaking research into the benefits of drinking beer. It's good for your heart, it prevents cancer, it prolongs your life; the latest study says it may prevent the onset of Parkinson's disease.
Nothing new here. Beer and medicine go way back, and I'm not just talking about those hair of the dog remedies for curing Saturday morning hangovers.
It's a scientific fact that beer cures pneumonia.
At least, that's what Dr. Charlton R. Gulick reported in an 1886 edition of the New York Medical Journal. Describing the illness that had a patient on his deathbed, Gulick wrote:
"Electricity was first used, then quinine and then digitalis. The use of the drugs was pushed to the fullest extent, and finally Duquesnel's Digitalin was used hypodermically, but this proved exceedingly objectionable to the patient and lager beer was ordered. Within 72 hours, marked improvement was observed.
"Dr. Gulick commends the use of lager beer in rebellious cases of functional derangement of the heart."
Never mind that the stunning case study was published just above another journal report promoting the use of cocaine to reduce labor pains. This was just more evidence of the therapeutic value of beer.
In 1881, the Philadelphia County Medical Society accepted it as a given when it reviewed a paper entitled, "When Should Malt Liquors be Preferred to Wines and Spirits in the Treatment of Disease?"
In 1906, Dr. Paul Bartholow, professor emeritus at Philadelphia's Jefferson Medical College, reported that "beer, ale and porter are much and justly esteemed as stomachic tonics and restoratives in chronic wasting diseases." Even patients suffering D.T.'s (delirium tremens), the good doctor proclaimed, benefited from a glass of ale.
In 1918, one of New York's leading physicians, Dr. Abraham Jacobi, proclaimed in the Medical Economist journal, "There is hardly a human organism which is not favorably influenced" by beer.
Beer was so commonly accepted as an agent of good health that breweries frequently advertised their products in medical journals.
An ad in a 1900 edition of The Interstate Medical Journal of St. Louis touts the nutritional benefits of Burton Stock Ale and asks physicians to share their medical opinions. Meanwhile, the makers of malt extract advertised their dubious (but potent) product like snake oil, promising to cure a litany of maladies, including consumption, dyspepsia, defective nutrition, bronchitis and "chronic catarrh."
Beer wasn't just for adults, either. The Medical Standard, published in Chicago, advised in 1909 that "Hot milk poured into an equal quantity of good ale or beer makes an excellent going-to-bed drink, and for puny, restless and scrofulous children."
When one temperate writer complained in 1881 to the British Medical Journal that a school for orphans spent more on beer for its students than milk, the editors replied, "Much obliged, but hardly of sufficient medical interest."
As science progressed, the use of alcohol as prescriptive medicine began to die. But not without one last gasp during Prohibition.
Following passage of the Volstead Act, many drinkers exploited a loophole that permitted them obtain prescriptions for alcohol for nearly any physical malady. The American Medical Association had determined alcohol was good for everything from asthma to snakebite, so naturally there was a veritable epidemic of allegedly wheezing rattlesnake victims.
Anti-saloon forces objected, and — in an episode that echoes today's controversy over the medical benefits of marijuana — doctors grumbled that politics was standing in the way of good medicine.
Congress sided with the Drys. In 1922, it enacted a bill limiting the prescription of wine and liquor to just a half pint every 10 days.
Beer, that wonderful cure-all, was banned completely.