Friday, April 29, 2011

Beer and dehydration

In a recent article by Slate, the discussion of beer is raised. This article describes the risks of surviving by drinking only beer and water. Earlier in class, we discussed the role of beer in early societies and the risk of dehydration. This interesting article describes what happened to an individual in Iowa who took on a strict beer diet. Beer has long been touted as healthy source of nutrition, until it was discovered to contribute to scurvy. I hope this article provides some interesting reading on the importance of beer.

During the 46-day feat, J. Wilson consumed only beer and water, emulating a centuries-old tradition once practiced by the Paulaner monks of Munich, Germany. How long could a man survive on beer and water? Not more than a few months, probably. That's when the worst effects of scurvy and protein deficiency would kick in. (Liver disease is a serious risk of chronic alcohol use, but it takes longer to arrive.) If you kept to a strict beer diet—and swore off plain water altogether—you'd likely die of dehydration in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the strength and volume of beer consumed. There's plenty of water in beer, of course, but the alcohol's diuretic effect makes it a net negative in terms of hydration under most conditions.
Scurvy would be an ironic cause of death for a beer-dieter, since the drink was long considered a prophylactic against the disease. For much of the 1700s, doctors administered beer, wort, and malt to prevent the lethargy, wounds, gum disease, fever, and eventual death caused by scurvy. Legendary British explorer Captain James Cook touted the anti-scorbutic effects of beer; his sailors' rations typically included a gallon per day. (The low-alcohol, made-from-concentrate brew would be unrecognizable today.) Beer's failure to quell major outbreaks of scurvy, like those at the siege of Gibraltar in 1780 and aboard the HMS Jupiter in 1781, helped disprove the theory. In 1795, the British admiralty adopted lemon juice as the official cure.

1 comment:

  1. Consider this too. Except for expensive beer, most is aged chemically, which produces many side compounds. It can be harmful, as if drinking any type of alcoholic beverage was ever beneficial.