Alcohol: Its Effect on the Human Body
By Dr. W. B. Parkinson, Sen.
A lecture before the parents' classes of Logan, Utah.
Improvement Era,
vol. 18, no. 1 (Jan. 1915), pp. 22130

I am thoroughly convinced that the only way to deal with the evils existing through the use of these poisonous drugs, alcohol, morphine, cocaine, and the like, is to remove the cause and the ignorance concerning the harmful effects on the bodies and the souls of men. As a physician of thirty-two years' experience in the field of medical practice, I hope to convince you that alcohol is not fit to be used, to any degree, or in any of the many drinks in which it is contained. The United States Dispensatory, and the best chemical authorities, state that alcohol is a solvent, an irritant, and a poison, and is the product of vinous fermentation, necessarily existing in all vinous liquors obtained from them by distillation. On being analyzed it is found to contain two parts of carbon, six parts of hydrogen, and one of oxygen (C2 H6 O1), by measure.

Now where do we find alcohol? Nowhere is it the product of nature, but it is an artifical product of man, prepared by him through the destructive process of fermentation.

What is fermentation? Simply decomposition, decay, a breaking up of the original product. Alcohol is, then, produced from decayed vegetable or animal matter, and is the intoxicating ingredient in all spirituous liquors, including whisky, brandy, wines, ale, beer, cider, and every other liquid which has undergone vinous fermentation or decay.

Now, what is vinous fermentation? When anything "sours" or "works" it is said to ferment; take any sweet liquid, put yeast into it, and let it work or sour and you have fermentation. When it is kept cool at a temperature under seventy-five degrees it is called vinous fermentation. If it is kept warm, over seventy-five degrees, it is then called acetic fermentation, or vinegar. Before it ferments, the sweet liquid has no alcohol in it; none in apple or grape juice; they cannot make you drunk, they must "work" or "ferment," rot or decay, at a low temperature before the drunk-producing ferment is created. As we observed before, alcohol exists nowhere in all the products of nature, but can only be made by fermenting or souring any substance that contains the sweet principle, sugar. Now, can it be obtained from anything which does not contain sugar? Chemistry answers this question: "One part of diastase mingled with 2,000 parts of liquid starch at a temperature of one hundred sixty degrees will convert the starch into grape sugar." So you see any of the vegetables, beets, potatoes, grains, fruits of all kinds, the dead cow or horse, all decayed or rotted matter, can be converted into alcohol, because it is the quint-essence of decay, or decomposition.

It's a little more pleasant to make alcohol out of vegetable than animal matter, because of the odor. The vegetables, grains or fruits decaying do not produce such a horrible stench. Why? because the vegetables haven't so much nitrogen in their makeup. If you were in a brewery and threw nitrogen into the vats of malt, at once there would be thrown off a fearful stench, as of a dead animal. It would be the same if you were to throw nitrogen into a barrel of grape juice or cider. The nitrogen would change them at once to carrion.

Life builds up; fermentation, decomposition, putrefaction, tear down; life gathers strength, fermentation and putrefaction scatters and destroys that strength; life is opposed to decay, fermentation and putrefaction. Alcohol cannot be produced from sugars until after vinous fermentation, which is death or decomposition, has taken place. Alcohol, in fact, is the death principle of all decayed vegetable or animal matter, found nowhere in living, growing nature, but everywhere in dying and dead nature. So say the ablest chemists of the age. The U. S. Dispensatory says, "Alcohol being the product of vinous fermentation necessarily exists in all vinous liquors and may be obtained from them by distillation." From these vats of fermentation and the strength of this mass of rotten matter, alcohol is distilled.

Now what is distilling? If you take a kettle of water or any kind of juice or liquid, put it on the stove to boil, cover with a tight lid, leaving a small hole for the steam to escape, and then take any kind of a long, hollow tube or pipe, and fasten one end of it over the hole, or lid, so as to make the steam run clear through the long hollow tube before it can get out, and while it is going through it gets cooled off and condensed,-you have the process of distillation. Now put your fermented juice into kettles and boil it, alcohol being the lightest, will go over first, cooling as it goes, and is caught at the end of the pipe. If it's the steam of boiling grape juice that has been fermented and rotted, you have brandy. If fermented and rotted apple juice, in the same way, you have apple whisky. When they put it in and repeat the process, they call it redistilled spirits, or rectified spirits. When obtained from fermented malt barley, it is called whisky; when from fermented rye, it is called rye whisky. If from malted corn and distilled it is called Bourbon whisky. When from juniper berries or red cedar it is called Holland gin. The best authorities say, "alcohol is a solvent used to dissolve those things that water and boiling will not, out of the roots, barks, herbs, resins, balsams, and oils in medicines. It is capable of dissolving a great number of chemical and medicinal substances which will not give up their strength in any other way." And then you can distill off the alcohol and use again, and again. All the medical dispensatories of the world say alcohol is a poison. All the medical authorities and dictionaries say it is a poison. The U. S. Dispensatory says:

"Alcohol when taken habitually in excess, its local irritant influence often leads to gastritis, to that form of hepititis which is known in the advanced stage as cirrhosis of the liver. Very frequently, especially when the alcohol is taken well diluted and with an abundance of food, the organic changes produced by its use are rather those of fatty degeneration of the liver and kidneys, (and arteries) and it may be of the heart. The single large dose of alcohol will produce the condition known as drunkenness ending, if sufficient be taken, in absolute muscular relaxation, profound stupor, fall of bodily temperature, collapse, and it may be death. It also produces the most deplorable results, and is a very common cause of fatal maladies."

Some call it a narcotic poison, an "irritant" poison, and all alcohols contain fusel oil which is so deadly that it is not used by physicians for any purposes. Now what have we learned of the nature of alcohol? We have learned that it is the intoxicating ingredient in all liquors, whether whisky, brandy, gin, wine or beer. That it is nowhere found in nature's vineyard, but only in dead and decaying nature. We know that the sweet juices of fruits, before they are fermented, can do no harm, because they contain no alcohol, but are healthful and nutritious, and among the choice gifts of our Maker; that alcohol is the death principle of decaying nature when it contains sugar in the liquid state, and that the reason that the rotting vegetable matters do not smell as other carrion, is because they do not contain nitrogen; that everything containing starch may be converted into sugar by the addition of diastase, and then converted into alcohol by fermentation and putrefaction. Alcohol is useful in the preparation of medicine, as a solvent only. Now what effect does this poison alcohol have on the body, physiologically? The body needs and contains every kind of substance as food, consisting of sugar, starch, oil, and glutinous matters composed of fibrin, albumen, and casein. Alcohol contains none of these, and therefore cannot be food. Alcohol is evolved not from food but from decayed or decomposed food, and therefore cannot be food. All food taken into the body is digested, transformed into something that will renew and build up the body, but alcohol does nothing of the kind. Put a drop of alcohol into your eye and see how the eye will smart and burn, become bloodshot and swollen, and nature will send out the tears to wash out the offending matter; repeat the operation several times and you will destroy the sight of the eye; now why? Because the alcohol irritates and burns the tender coatings of the eye, and is an irritant, burning poison. Fill your mouth with alcohol and hold it there, and you will get the same effect, scorched, inflamed, and irritated, it soon becomes. It produces the same effect in the stomach and bowels, because all are lined with comparatively the same delicate membranes; whatever injures one will injure the other. If you fill your eyes with pure water, or your mouth, it doesn't act thus; swimmers, diving, open their eyes under water to no injury. But wherever alcohol touches the interior of the human body, it irritates, inflames and congests, arousing nature to action, to get rid of the intruder. The dispensatories say, "alcohol is a very powerful diffusible stimulant." It diffuses itself throughout the whole body and stimulates every part it touches, by its burning irritating effect. It goes into the body alcohol, and irritates, burns, and scalds all the way through, making a sore wherever it touches. It stimulates by irritation and not by building up, as does food; it sears and blisters, and irritates; the hand passes it into the mouth in the shape of whisky, brandy, wine or beer; the stomach and Dr. Rudolph Masing of Germany has prepared a test for alcohol; by putting a solution of bi-chromate of potash and sulphuric acid into a test tube, and the color is red, a very little alcohol will turn it to an emerald green. "Sober men breathe into it, and it has no effect, a drunken man breathes into it, and it instantly turns green. Young ladies should have a test tube filled with this solution to let their lovers breathe into; so, if the solution turns green, tell him you cannot appreciate his color, make him wait till he ripens. The test proves that alcohol goes out of the body just as it goes in, without changing or digesting, and is therefore not a food, nor can it aid in any way in building up or renewing any part, it is still alcohol."

A dog was given whisky and in a few hours the perspiration from the skin turned the liquid green, and the same from all the organs of the body. Now can you wonder why the drunken sot has a red nose, eyes bleared and bloodshot, face bloated, and trembling hand. He is literally burned out and diseased. In London a number of physicians found a man who had fallen dead in the street, and was taken to the Westminster Hospital. On dissection, a quantity of fluid was found in the brain, they smelled it, and tasted it, lit a match to it, and it burned, proving it was alcohol. "Thus the dead record the history, character, habits of the soul, its follies and vices are stamped in his silent ashes."

Alcohol prevents the digestion of food, and thus brings disease, by irritating the stomach membranes, producing gastritis and ulceration. It preserves or hardens the food and prevents proper digestion. Some who think themselves very wise take a drink of liquor or beer just to assist digestion. When you eat, the process of digestion is started up and the pepsin and other enzymes of digestion are the solvents, so is alcohol and "when Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war;" one solvent is going to dissolve the other, one must perish and in this case alcohol dissolves pepsin and the other ingredients; hence, digestion cannot go on while alcohol remains in the stomach. This is a scientific fact, and cannot be refuted, because it is backed by the very best authorities. (Read the accounts of Alex St. Martin, the Canadian).

Drs. Beaumont and Sewell who made so many experiments with St. Martin's stomach, they say that "in the stomach of the habitual drinker or drunkard, the mucous or internal coating is in a continual state of irritation, with its blood vessels engorged, which are not found in the healthy state; in the drinker they are enlarged and distended with blood similar to the rum blossoms sometimes seen on the face of the drunkard, and very frequently corroded with small ulcers, covered with white crusts, with the margins of the ulcers elevated and rugged, showing a high degree of inflammation."

Now, does alcohol assist digestion? No, not at all, Drs. Beaumont and Sewell spent their whole lives in investigation along these lines of research, and they say no. The stomach is the general office, the fire box of the engine, and when it is sore and inflamed and irritated and ulcerated, the whole man must suffer. Following the afflicted stomach we learn, in the words of Dr. Austin Flint, of New York, "the digestive powers are weakened, the appetite is impaired, the muscular system is enfeebled, the generative functions decay, the blood is impoverished, and the effects of alcohol enter directly into the causation of many affections such as cirrhosis of the liver, fatty liver, muscular tremor, gastritis, pyrosis, and a host of affections too numerous to mention." Prof. Lehman, the great chemist says, "alcohol is incapable of contributing anything toward maintaining life."

Dr. J. Higginbottom, of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, says, "Alcohol has no specific effect on any organ of the body for the cure of disease, and I consider it impious in any medical man saying that any constitution requires alcoholic stimulants." From our investigations, we learn the tremendous lessons that the effect of alcohol upon the human body is that of an irritant, and a poison, and when a physician is called to a patient with pneumonia or any serious disease, we immediately inquire, "is the patient an habitual drinker?" If so, we have but little faith that he will recover. Why? because the drunkard rarely ever escapes; his whole system suffers from the effects of the alcohol burning, irritating every organ of the body; besides, the drinking man is exposed to all kinds of excesses, and irregularities, he misses his regular food, sleep, and when he does sleep with frightful dreams, and horrid visions from which he wakes without being refreshed, injures his health and hastens the day of his death. When we think: how wonderful is the structure of the human body and the brain, with its fine network of little telegraph wires in the shape of very fine nerves, keeping us posted on the condition of the body, telling us when the fiery alcohol is taken into the stomach, how it irritates and makes us feel and think imperfectly, how it makes us stagger when we walk, deprives us of all the intelligence our Maker has endowed us with! Can a brain supplied with such blood sent from an irritated and inflamed stomach do good work? The blood, being impure, brings disease to the brain, causing it to be engorged, stretching the little arteries too full, and distending them beyond their natural size, strains them, and causing pressure against the nerves injures and destroys the ability to feel, move and think. When a man feels, moves, and thinks imperfectly, we say he is certainly drunk. And when he can't think, feel, or move at all, we say he is dead drunk. If he is a moderate drinker and keeps his whole arterial system irritated and inflamed for years with alcohol, in time fatty degeneration of the whole arterial system is induced, and the inner coatings of the finer arteries of the brain become ulcerated and break through under this pressure at a time when he thinks he needs an extra glass to do his work, and he drops dead, his physician when called in, gives as the cause of death, heart failure. Then, on dissection of the brain, we find a clot of blood, which was the direct cause, from a broken artery, as has been demonstrated thousands of times on the dissecting table. Do you suppose that a substance that is so poisonous as to burn a stomach until it is fiery red, purple, ulcerated, engorged and sore-a substance that is not modified by digestion, but remains the same, a poison, as long as it remains in the system,-a substance thinner than blood, will readily pass into the little arteries of the brain, propelled there by the heart while it is making herculean efforts to get rid of the poison itself,-do you suppose Now comes the question, what part does it stimulate the most, or irritate the worst? Like a tree the smallest twigs are at the top. In the lower part of the head the arteries are quite large. It follows, therefore, that the lower part of the brain will be stimulated or irritated the most, and as the brain is the organ of the mind or soul, the lower organs will be stimulated or irritated to the greatest activity, and the desire to drink more, and more, until it becomes a mania; and then to attack, and that, too, perhaps his nearest and dearest friend; or he may want to break, burn, destroy, or fight and quarrel with his neighbors, beat or abuse the wife of his bosom, or the the children of his loins. Have we not known of these horrible instances which are too cruel and brutal to be repeated. When one man who had murdered his son was on the scaffold and about to be hung, he said:

"Fellow men, before God, in whose presence I shall stand in a few minutes, I would as soon have taken my own life, as that of my dear boy, for I loved my wife and children as dearly as any man could do, but I was maddened by drink and knew not what I was doing."

The organ of acquisition or desire to get, possess, and accumulate, is also one of the lower organs of the brain, we all know how common it is for drinkers to be found with a mania to steal, or rob, gamble or lie; hence the enormous, outrageous lies the tipsy man will tell, and then gloat over the enormity of their falsehoods.

Again, the organ of amativeness or sexual love is one of the lower organs, through which pass some of the larger arteries, and when filled with poisoned blood, the person will be possessed with a mania for lust. Young men go from the saloon to the house of prostitution. Husbands drinking this poison are apt to prove faithless to their marriage vows. Wives who drink to intoxication want only opportunity to commit adultery.

I have been in the active practice of medicine for the past thirty-two years, and can testify that ninety per cent of all the cases of venereal diseases I have treated became infected while under the influence of this poison alcohol. On account of the lower organs being so unduly excited and the higher organs of reason, judgment, conscience, and will, not being equally excited, so as to control them, the man ceases to be himself, and is directed and impelled by his lower organs and passions, and becomes obedient only to the powers and forces of evil. Is not this depravity? All are forms of mania, insanity, madness, foolishness, at first only temporary, but frequently become wild, raging, and incurable. Let me say to you, there comes a time in the history of the drunkard when he no longer sings, is witty, desires to be lustful, lie, steal, or beat his wife or children. The organ of caution becomes inflamed, and he becomes cautious, and fearful; he sees strange things, and trembles with terror. The nerves of the eyes become inflamed, and he sees awful sights, wild animals, fierce beasts, slimy serpents, huge, terrible and hideous. The nerves of the ear become inflamed and he hears strange and awful noises, the growling of monsters and the laughter of fiends. The nerves of the nose become inflamed and he smells terrible stenches. The nerves of feeling become inflamed and he feels the points of sharp daggers, hot coals, and blazes of burning ruins. The nerves of his imagination being inflamed, he sees sights and hears sounds more terrible than he could ever have dreamed of, and he quakes and gasps with terror. The nerves of memory being inflamed, he recalls the image of a praying mother, a loving, beseeching wife, and the smiles of innocent children. Anguish and hopeless remorse take possession of his soul, and while he is raving and calling for protection against these evils, the vital organs, scorched and burned with the alcohol, cease to perform their duties, and in many cases the victim dies a horrible death (delirium tremens).

It has been demonstrated beyond all controversy that the children of parents begotten while under the influence of liquor are below par, intellectually.

In the words of Dr. T. Alex. MacNicholl, ex-surgeon of the New York Red Cross Hospital, sent abroad by former President Roosevelt to investigate alcoholism and narcotics, says:

"A wave of degeneracy is sweeping the land, and its development threatens the physical vitality of the nation. Within fifty years the population of the United States increased three hundred thirty per cent, while the number of insane and feeble minded, increased nine hundred fifty per cent, practically all of which is due to the chronic and excessive use of alcohol and narcotics. Degeneracy is shown in the lessened fertility of the nation. In fifty years the birth rate in this country fell off thirty-three and one-half per cent." (This is an address before the American Medical Association).

Dr. Howard A. Kelly, professor of diseases of women at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, says:

"With regard to my own work, I speak as a physician of thirty-two years experience, which has taught me that the effect of alcohol is evanescent, that the drug (for such it is) does no real good, and that a dangerous habit is thus easily engendered which may be most difficult to eradicate, a habit which may utterly ruin a patient, body and soul, and spirit, making it far better if she had died at once. It is clear in the light of experience and of recent research work that alcohol ought to be classed in the list of dangerous drugs, along with morphine, cocaine, and chloral, a drug which may so affect the will power as to gain the complete mastery over a person and in the end destroy him. The fittest uses a doctor can make of alcohol are to preserve dead tissues, cancers, and the like. As a citizen I observe with alarm an increase in its use by women of society. I have seen sweet, modest girls flushed with wine, become loud and boisterous, and at last ruined morally and physically. I note it is alcohol which fills our prisons, whether taken in the form of a stronger beverage or as whisky or beer. It is at the bottom of most all crime."

Our own Prof. John A. Widtsoe, President of the Agricultural College of Utah, one of our ablest western chemists, states:

"Alcohol is a solvent, an irritant, and a poison, a drug which should always be classed with morphine, cocaine, and chloral, because of its ruinous effects upon the health and morals of all who persist in the use of any of the beverages in which it is contained."

Having given this subject a somewhat through investigation, we find the physiological, pathological, and psychological effects of alcohol upon the human body are in every way frightfully detrimental to health, and our well being here and hereafter. As parents and teachers we should use every endeavor to thoroughly educate our children, and those with whom we come in contact, concerning the evils following in the wake of this fearfully irritant, poisonous drug, that it should never be used only as every other poisonous drug. We should warn them of the folly of the arguments of many who say, "Why a glass of beer will do you good, it will give you an appetite, and brace you up, right off the ice, it's fine," etc., etc. The beer drinker is only deceiving himself; and, besides, if he is a married man with a family and has beer for dinner or supper; or the English fashion of bread, cheese and beer, just before retiring, it's only a longer way around; he has to take more of it to get the required stimulation, and irritation. Every glass only says more, and before he is aware of it, he has cultivated a habit, besides the evil example he sets before his children. One of the cardinals of the Catholic church remarked some time ago, "You let us teach a child the Faith until he is ten years of age, and come what may, he will never depart from it."

I have watched early teaching and early impressions upon children, while their minds were like a sheet of clean paper, easily impressionable. Don't forget the importance of this, parents, and teachers, because it is our duty to impress these important facts upon their minds now, that as an article of daily use, alcoholic liquors produce the most deplorable consequences; as to their evil effects on health and the moral degredation caused by their use, I cannot find words of condemnation strong enough.