CASE STUDY: ALCOHOLISM AND FOOD ALLERGY

This theory was confirmed in the case of Ted Parsons, whom I first saw in 1948. Parsons had been a successful executive, on the way up, associated with a large company in Chicago. After a rapid rise he had become, over a period of years, an alcoholic. He was suspended from his job and actually became a “skid row” type of drunkard.

With his family’s help, he had managed to pull out of this nosedive and had become a founding member of the Alcoholics Anonymous group in his area. But after ten years “on the wagon,” he had begun to backslide. Another interval of alcoholism ensued, followed by a period of abstinence. This time, however, he recovered his sobriety but not his health. When he was not drinking, he suffered from extreme fatigue and almost constant headaches.

In preparing to perform food-ingestion tests with corn and wheat (which from an allergy point of view is virtually identical to barley and malt), he avoided these foods for four days. His fatigue was greatly accentuated for two days as a withdrawal reaction, following which he felt much better. During the test with wheat porridge, he developed progressive nasal obstruction and fatigue, as well as tautness of the nape of his neck and delayed dizziness. Reactions persisted for several days.

Some nasal symptoms and fatigue were still present prior to Parsons’ corn test four days later. The trial ingestion of corn porridge and com sugar was also followed by a progressive increase in fatigue and some staggering upon leaving the office. Fearing that he might head for the nearest bar on the way home, I placed him in a taxi, paid the driver to take him home directly, and called his wife to tell her what I had done. His fatigue increased during the night.

Parsons called me the next morning and commented, “It is funny to have a hangover twenty-one months after having stopped drinking. There is no difference between the fatigue this morning and a bad alcoholic hangover.” He went on to describe how he had to crawl to the bathroom because he was too weak and dizzy to walk, but that his lassitude, dizziness, and uneasiness could be relieved just like that (as if by a snap of the fingers) with a drink.

When he asked, “What is wrong with me?” I explained that he was having a true hangover—not from bourbon, but from corn, its principal ingredient. He had apparently been allergic to wheat (barley malt) and corn, as well as certain other foods, for years without realizing it. His addiction to bourbon had been an attempt to get a high level of cereal grains into his system as rapidly as possible and to maintain that level of stimulation. His more recent headache and fatigue could be explained by the perpetuation of his corn and wheat (barley malt) addictions, but at a much lower, unsatisfactory level, by the use of more slowly absorbed wheat- and corn-containing foods.

By the avoidance of wheat, com, and a few other incriminated foods, Parsons’ headache and fatigue not only subsided, but what is more, his craving for alcohol disappeared.

This craving is, of course, the bane of many ex-alcoholics’ existence. One can, with extraordinary willpower, stop drinking, but it is far harder to conquer the desire to drink. Parsons’ case suggested a possible reason for this. The consumption of other grain-containing foods would perpetuate the underlying problem—food addiction/allergy. Thus, in a sense, the alcoholic is never completely free of his “alcoholism” as long as he is consuming the foods which constitute his addictant.

Parsons, for instance, carried around with him a pocket full of candies containing corn sugar, which he sucked whenever he had the urge to drink. This was, in fact, the standard operating procedure of his Alcoholics Anonymous unit. Through practice, these individuals had found that they could relieve their craving for grain-containing alcoholic beverages by sucking on another rapidly absorbed form of grain. They had, in effect, transferred food addiction in its highest form—alcoholism—to food addiction in a less severe (and from the addict’s point of view, less satisfactory) form, corn sugar addiction. When Parsons realized that he was actually perpetuating his problem by eating this candy, he stopped immediately and avoided all contact with wheat, corn, and related foods which had been implicated.

It was through Parsons that I became acquainted with the members of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Chicago area. In the late 1940s, I carried out a study of forty-four members of this organization. I attended meetings, but instead of participating in discussions (which was forbidden to outsiders, under the organization’s rules), I stayed in the kitchen and interviewed members. Their histories, at least, suggested a strong correlation between alcoholism and susceptibility to the various food components of alcoholic beverages.

What are these food components? It soon became apparent that the study of alcoholism from the point of view of clinical ecology was hampered by the lack of information on the manufacture of liquor. Through much detective work, it was possible to track down the components of various drinks, though some of this information was guarded as trade secrets. Government regulation in this respect was lax, and alcohol was not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration but by the less food-conscious Treasury Department.

Gradually it was possible to put together a comprehensive theory of alcoholism as the apex of food allergy (the term “food addiction” did not come into use until 1952). According to this view, alcoholism is the acme of the food-allergy problem because alcohol is rapidly absorbed all along the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the stomach to the intestines. Food, on the other hand, is mainly absorbed in the intestines, and more slowly at that.

There were four facts about alcohol which did not seem to fit into the theory. Their existence threw doubt on the entire concept. Wanting to obtain pure samples of corn mash whiskey, and other pure items for testing, I called a meeting with the research and technical directors of a major Illinois distillery. 1 presented my theory to them and pointed out the four existing discrepancies:

Why did corn-sensitive patients react to Scotch whiskey? Scotch comes from the British Isles but no corn (maize) grows there.

Why did grape-sensitive patients react to Puerto Rican and Cuban rum but not to Jamaican rum?

Why did corn-sensitive patients also react to apple brandy? The public relations officer of the producer of the brand in question had assured me that no corn went into the manufacture of their product.

Why did corn-sensitive patients react adversely to a popular American brandy but not to French brandy?

The research and technical directors of this distillery had been polite but somewhat skeptical, when I first presented this possible interpretation of alcoholism. But as I explained apparent exceptions to the theory, they became increasingly interested. They not only knew some of the answers but began to fill in some of the holes in the theory themselves.

First, all-malt Scotch whiskey is made of dried, roasted barley or malt, which, from the allergy standpoint, is closely related to wheat, if not virtually identical with it. But blended Scotch whiskey manufactured for export to the United States is blended with cereal-grain whiskey made from corn which is shipped from the United States or Argentina. Thus, persons sensitive to corn could be expected to react to it.

Second, Jamaican rum, like other rums, is made from cane. However, the laws of Jamaica demand that rum manufactured there be bottled on the island, whereas Cuban and Puerto Rican rums are shipped from their home ports to the United States in big hogshead barrels. Most of these were then blended with up to two-and-one-half percent grape brandy before bottling. Hence, grape-sensitive patients could be expected to react to the Cuban and Puerto Rican rums.

The distillery experts were not sure why the patients sensitive to corn reacted to apple brandy, however, and the whole theory was put in doubt when the manufacturer told me that the product did not contain corn. But after testing a few more patients highly sensitive to corn and confirming my earlier impression, I wrote the president of the company manufacturing this brand of apple brandy and suggested that the person answering my earlier inquiry had misled me. In the meantime, I had learned about trade practices in the liquor industry and asked specifically what the source of the caramel was which was used to maintain uniformity of color in the brandy. No one knew, off-hand. But upon corresponding with the manufacturer of this product, they learned that it was made from half corn sugar (dextrose) and half cane sugar.

Fourth, the possible corn content of the popular brand of grape brandy which precipitated reactions in corn-sensitive patients could not be confirmed through correspondence with the manufacturer of the product. But upon visiting their California plant in the early 1950s, I learned that corn sugar was used in its production.

This interpretation of alcoholism has not been widely accepted, either by those responsible for the policies of Alcoholics Anonymous or by those who teach courses on alcoholism. One apparent reason is that many alcoholics were quick to grasp an implication of this theory: namely, that some reformed alcoholics could drink compatible alcoholic beverages as long as they avoided both drinks and foods prepared from those substances to which they were allergic. In other words, a corn-sensitive patient who was a confirmed bourbon alcoholic could drink some wines and rums, provided these alcoholic beverages were free of cereal grains and he was not susceptible to grape, cane, or yeast. The effects of alcohol per se on the body did not seem to be an appreciable cause of alcoholism.

It should be emphasized, however, that the prospect of social drinking of compatible alcoholic beverages is not for all alcoholics. Although such a program may be possible for an alcoholic having a very limited food allergy problem, it cannot be considered if one is yeast-sensitive, because yeast is present in all alcoholic beverages. Also, the person who already has a wide base of food allergy usually also has a tendency to develop new food allergies readily, even though he indulges in a compatible alcoholic beverage in moderate amounts and only once, or at the most, twice, weekly. Not only the foods used in manufacturing an alcoholic beverage but also the foods eaten while drinking must be taken into account, due to the extremely rapid absorption of food-alcohol mixtures. In order to minimize the chance of sensitivity spreading to other items of the diet, all compatible foods—including those entering food-alcohol mixtures—should be used according to the principles of the Rotary Diversified Diet.

The only way to know whether one is actually sensitive to corn, wheat (rye, barley, malt), or other grains, yeast, grape, potato, or other ingredients of alcoholic beverages is to undergo extensive food testing. And only in the presence of a food allergy problem of limited extent (a distinct minority of cases) should social drinking of compatible alcoholic beverages by reformed alcoholics be considered.

In the great bulk of addicted drinkers of alcoholic beverages, abstinence from drinking, according to the Alcoholics Anonymous approach, is still the most highly successful rehabilitation program. However, there are obstacles in the application of this program, because this concept of alcoholism is not widely known.

My interpretation of alcoholism was first published in various medical journals starting in 1950.1,2 This view has also been confirmed by several clinical ecologists, including Richard Mackarness of England and Marshall Mandell of this country.3,4 My list of the food sources entering the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages has been published recently.

*63/110/2*

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