Posts filed under ‘Medicine’
With the cold and flu season bearing down on us like a cold wind from the north, it is time to take stock. Are you eating enough candy?
Today we think of sugar candy as good-tasting poison: not just tummy aches, but obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and an early grave are attributed to excessive candy indulgence. (Chocolate, with its mysterious and exotic flavonoids, appears exempt.) But well into the twentieth century, many cast enormous store in the medicinal properties of sugar candy.
Here’s a report from 1922 extolling sugar-candy as a potent remedy to cure heart weakness brought on by influenza. Dr. F. Thompson of Sunbury-on-Thames explains:
I was sent for on Sunday to see an old woman of over 80 with a pulse of 140 beats to the minute. I gave her sugar-candy at once, and next morning her pulse was down to 88.
Dr. Thompson’s success with this patient inspired him to prescribe sugar candy to all his patients. What medical results this produced we cannot know, but I suspect it led to a substantial increase in his professional popularity.
An unnamed physician at a London hospital explains the powerful effects of sugar candy on the ailing body:
Sugar-candy, and sugar generally, are wonderful heart foods, great heat producers, and easily utilized by the body. Cases in which strong heart stimulants have failed have been immensely improved by the consumption of sugar. It is a very valuable agent in post-influenza cases both for the heart and the lungs.
The miraculous curative powers of candy even inspired one man of medicine to discard his pharmacy in favor of confectionery:
A London doctor, who was cured in this way of extreme heart weakness, has given up medicine, and has taken to eating sugar.
Legal disclaimer in case you’re thinking about treating your next bout of flu with a Whitman’s Sampler: Would I advise the same? Dear me, of course not. I’m a candy professor, not a doctor! But if you’re stuck in bed anyway, a little candy might be nice…
Source: “Candy for Flu,” Confectioners Journal, April 1922, p. 100, quoting an article originally published in the London Daily Mail.
If you are a pharmacist in Edmonton, Oklahoma it seems your job is just a little more complicated.
Among the fair citizens of Edmonton, as alas in many cities throughout our fair land, there is a significant addict population. And big on the addict’s list of highs is hydrocodone, a powerful and legal pain killer commonly known as Vicodin.
If it’s hydrocodone you’re craving, there is a place where such compounds may be found quite easily. The pharmacy. Of course, you can’t just walk in and say “Excuse me, I’d like my hydrocodone, please.” Number one, it’s by prescription only. And number two, it’s a controlled substance.
So the best way is just to break in and steal the stuff. Which was happening in an particular Edmonton pharmacy. Again, and again, and again. This is where candy comes in.
Having lost more than he could bear to addict break-ins, the Edmonton pharmacist said ENOUGH! He took the hydrocodone out of the bottles. And instead, he put in M&Ms.
Now, M&Ms are unlikely to get anyone high. (Except the red ones, allegedly.) But they do make a nice sound in a pill bottle when you shake it. Evidently, that’s enough if you’re a burglarizing addict in search of a fix.
So when the burglar broke in, AGAIN, last Sunday night, all he got was chocolate.
On the other hand, between the euphoric effects of chocolate and the placebo effect, maybe the jonesing addict didn’t even notice…
Read the abc.com report, or better, watch it here:
Back before anti-bacterial soap and sanitizing hand gel and Lysol disinfecting cleaner, how was the average germophobe supposed to get rid of the darned germs? After all, you can’t see them, so it’s not like you can just pick them off your sweater like so much lint.
Bacteria were first identified under the microscope in the late 1600s, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that scientists began to associate these little buggers with disease, But even as scientists were fleshing out the “germ theory of disease” in the 1880s and 1890s, ordinary folks had their own ideas about what made you sick. A big contender was bad air. So one way of trying to help the sick get better was to fix the air in the sick room.
In some parts of Europe, people believed that burning sugar might do the trick. For a long time, doctors just watched their patients with their burning sugars and chuckled and shook their heads. It wasn’t really scientific, and it obviously wasn’t going to help, but at least it wasn’t hurting.
Then in 1908, Professor Trilbert of the Pasteur Institute at Paris decided it was time to actually test the burning sugar idea. He discovered something interesting: burning sugar gave off a gas called formic acetylene-hydrogen, a gas claimed to have with powerful antiseptic properties.
Trilbert reported on his experiment: After he burned some sugar under a glass bell, he put open glass tubes of the bacilli of typhus, tuberculosis, cholera, and smallpox in with the gas. Within half an hour all the microbes were dead, according to his reports. He even suggested a try-at-home experiment: if you put some burning sugar in a closed vessel with rotten meat, the rotten meat smell would disappear. So the sugar gas definitely was doing something.
Was all of this real? Hard to say. We need a house chemist here at Candy Professor. The best yours truly is able to discern, Trilbert’s “formic acetylene-hydrogen” is supposed to be some kind of derivative of formic acid. Formic acid is a powerful preservative and antibacterial agent used today in livestock feed. It gets its name from the ants, from whose bodies this chemical can be distilled. However, I cannot find “formic acetylene-hydrogen” anywhere in the digisphere, except with reference to Trilbert’s work. Did he discover this amazing sugar by-product? If he did, no one ever after was able to reproduce the results.
Real or (as we now suspect) entirely imaginary, Trilbert’s discovery was widely reported in American journals and magazines in 1909 and 1910. Good Housekeeping Magazine reported on Trilbert’s work in 1910. Readers of that magazine expected to be informed of the very latest in domestic science, and now burning sugar was added to the arsenal of the scientific household. Good Housekeeping included a practical tip on how to create the burning sugar gas effect at home: just sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over a pan of hot coals, and wave it around the room. Here was a new way for mother to keep the family well, or rather an old superstition dressed up with a fancy scientific imprimatur.
Too bad it didn’t work. Imagine, instead of the hospital smells of Vicks and Lysol, if your sickroom was filled with the lovely aroma of caramel. Maybe just the happy thoughts of candy would be enough to fight off the nasty colds
Sources: “Sugar as a Disinfectant,” Confectioners Journal, Dec.1908 p. 81; Good Housekeeping Magazine, March 1910, p. 413.
“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”
Mary Poppins had the right idea, of course. Who wouldn’t rather take their medicine candy-style? As it turns out, the relation between candy and medicine has quite a history. Today, I have for you the story of what I believe to be the first medicine in the U.S. to be marketed nationally as a candy: Cascarets Candy Cathartic.
Cascara, the ingredient suggested by “Cascarets,” is derived from the bitter tasting bark of a species of buckthorn tree native to North America. Cascara had been prescribed by druggists and physicians as a remedy for constipation and related ills as early as 1877. But it was not until 1894 that the Sterling Remedy Company came up with a candy version which would turn out to be a huge blockbuster.
Cascarets were made as brown octagonal tablets reputed to have a “pleasant taste–almost as pleasant as chocolate.” They were put up in rectangular tin boxes of six tablets designed to nestle easily in a vest pocket or small handbag. Cascarets quickly captured the nation. Sterling had offices in Chicago, Minneapolis and New York, facilitating a national distribution of their product. They backed their roll-out with a $500,000 advertising push and incentives to retail druggists. By 1899, Cascarets were selling 5,000,000 boxes per year, and were poised to become the top-selling proprietary medicine in the U.S. (source)
Cascara is a powerful drug with unambiguous effects. As the science staff at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital explain, “Cascarosides increase intestinal motility and lead to propulsive contractions.” But around 1900, Americans didn’t just associate constipation with abdominal discomfort or gas or indigestion. Constipation for our great-grandparents was the root evil of just about every ailment and malaise you could think of. And for whatever was wrong with you, a laxative (or purgative or cathartic–the terms were used pretty interchangeably) would do the trick.
Cascarets Candy Cathartics were sold as the universal remedy:
When you have Heartburn, Colic, Coated Tongue, Suspected Breath, Acid-rising-in-throat, Gas-belching, or an incipient Cold, take a Cascaret. Remember, all these are not merely Discomforts, but indications of a serious Cause. …A coming Headache can be warded off in short order, by a single Cascaret, and the cause removed. Heartburn, Gas-belching, Acid-risings in the throat, and Colicky feeling are sure signs of bowel trouble from food poisons, and should be dealt with promptly. One Cascaret will stop the coming trouble, and move on the Bowel load, if taken at the first signs. ( 1905 ad)
Cascarets ads included every American as a potential customer: men and women, old and young. Even nursing infants would benefit it mama would take a Cascarets. But the real benefit in the new candy cathartic was the banishment of the old remedy: castor oil.
Doctors and mothers alike were desperate to find some way of avoiding the nightly struggle to force the nasty liquid down Junior’s screaming throat. Imagine the relief of American children when Cascarets took the place of the daily dose of castor oil. Here’s an ad for Cascarets from 1918 that pretty much tells the whole story:
We’ll let Jane and Michael Banks have the last word:
Never be cross or cruel, Never give us Castor oil, or gruel.
And with Cascarets, there would be Castor oil no more.
Bayer introduced the world’s first flavored, chewable children’s aspirin tablet in 1952. This was a major breakthrough in children’s medicine technology. One word said it all: “It tastes like your children’s favorite candy!”
This new formulation was candy tasting all the way through, unlike earlier “candy” aspirin tablets marketed for children that were bitter medicine surrounded by a sugar coating. So the Bayer tablet could be chewed or dissolve in your mouth, or mixed into a drink or even into food.
It seemed the answer to a mother’s prayer: “Here’s good news, mother! No more worrisome coaxing, fretting or fussing when your children need aspirin. For the best asprin money can buy now tastes so delicious, they take it with a smile.”
Of course, if asprin tastes like candy, there is a pretty big problem: kids eating asprin like it is candy. Within three years of the introduction of chewable aspirin, the U.S. FDA had convened a panel of experts to make recommendations to improve the safety of aspirin and reduce childhood deaths due to aspirin poisoning. The panel recommended that aspirin makers develop a “safety closure or container” to prevent children from gobbling down the pills. And so was sown the seed for the child-proof cap.
Some time ago, when I was poking around in the dusty archives looking for candy cookbooks with recipes for vegetable candy, I came across a curious item: Fruits and Candies, a recipe booklet from the early 1900s. It was published as a promotion for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, a popular women’s “medicinal tonic” in the early 1900s consisting of various herbs and alcohol (18-20 percent, stronger than a big California Cabernet but about half as strong as Bacardi white rum).
This booklet features two sorts of entries: recipes for candies and sweet fruit desserts, and testimonials from ladies whose “female complaints” have been cured by a regular dosing with the Vegetable Compound. So one page offers a recipe for Maple Fondant, followed by a testimonial on the sorrows of childlessness and their alleviation with Lydia Pinkham’s. Another page gives instructions for Buttercups and Molasses Candy, and then a discursus on Painful Monthly Periods and the use of Vegetable Compound to alleviate them.
What struck me when I first saw this booklet was the complete strangeness of this juxtaposition. I filed this away under “hmmm.” Surely this odd combination must mean something, but what it meant I couldn’t yet fathom.
Now I think I have a much better idea. I have been reading about the “pure food” reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and particularly the women’s groups that organized against alcohol, drug abuse, and tainted food. These are the grass roots activists whose efforts brought us both Prohibition (something of a catastrophe) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA–not perfect, but one of the better consumer protection success stories of our time).
One big worry of many reformers in that era was the “patent” medicines: tonics and concoctions made of who-knows-what, peddled in carts and storefronts and by mail, and often containing narcotics (morphine, laudenum, cocaine, alcohol) that led the unsuspecting user who was just looking for a little “pick-me-up” down the merry path of addiction and ruin. The abuse of what the reformers called “habit-forming poisons” was not the intentional and direct narcotic abuse of opium dens or seamy city streets. Customers for the patent formulas were fancy ladies looking for a boost after a night on the town, exhausted mothers just trying to cope, women considered “nervous” or “weak” who saw in the tonics a cure for the mysterious ailments of femininity.
So one thing the Fruits and Candies booklet tells us is that the “target market” for Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was just those middle class women with the leisure and inclination to dabble in home confections. Somehow, these same women were the ones with numerous and sundry female complaints. And this is the interesting part, to me at least: the connection between middle class leisure, feminine complaint, and confectionery.
The reformers looked at Lidia Pinkham and the rest and saw addictive potions that would only make things worse. What these women needed was fresh air, good food, and exercise, not 20 percent alcohol “tonics.” One reformer in particular stands out: Ella Kellogg (1853-1920). Ella was the wife of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (he who brought us corn flakes breakfast cereal), and like her husband she took a strong interest in the importance of good nutrition. Ella believed that it was just those dainty confections that were causing all that nervous female illness. For Ella Kellogg, it was poor nutrition that led to the complaints that caused women to seek relief in the tonics.
Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound and candy-making: to Ella Kellogg, the connection would have been quite clear. All that candy eating was making women sick, and sick women were turning to Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. To the innocent eye, Fruits and Candies is just advertising packaged to appeal to women by including women’s recipes. To Ella Kellogg and her sisters-in-arms, Fruits and Candies was everything that was wrong with American women.
More: You can browse a full digitized version of Fruits and Candies at Duke University Special Collections. For more on Ella Kellogg’s views of the relation between nutrition and the “patent” medicines so popular in the late nineteenth century, see Lorine Swainston Goodwin, The Pure Food, Drink, and Drug Crusaders, 1879-1914 (1999) (Sorry, this one is a paper book only, no link. Aren’t you glad we still have actual libraries? I am).
Image source: Vanderbilt Medical Center, via Wikipedia.
First off, Twizzlers aren’t really licorice. In fact, many of the candy we think of as “licorice flavor” is in fact flavored with anise. But real licorice, from the root of the licorice plant, is quite amazing stuff. In a recent post, I described the multitudes of licorice candies that were popular in the early 1900s. And licorice itself played an important part in many American industries in the first half of the twentieth century.
A little science: glycyrrhizin is the name of the sweet substance in licorice root. This chemical, found in significant levels only in the root of the licorice plant, is fifty times as sweet as sugar. That’s a lot of sweet!
But the virtues of licorice are not just in the sweetness. Licorice root is a favorite with herbalists today, and boasts a medicinal history going back thousands of years. Licorice root has been used for eons as a health tonic, as a blood purifier, as a means of relief from sore throat and internal inflammations. And it isn’t just good for your insides. Mixed with honey, licorice has been used as a healer of sores and wounds.
Don’t think it’s just the health-foody types who believe in the healing power of licorice. Modern medical researchers are documenting its effects on the body. Did you know licorice (the real stuff) can raise your blood pressure? Of course, you should consult your doctor if you have questions about the medical effects of licorice. But you can safely consult Candy Professor for information about the history of uses of licorice in confectionery and elsewhere.
By the 1930s, U.S. industry was importing some 35,000 tons of licorice root per year, for use in a wide variety of industries. Attempts to grow licorice domestically were unsuccessful, so most licorice root was imported from Spain and Italy where it was cultivated commercially.
The first step in processing the licorice was to shred the roots. Then a process of grinding and sifting and grinding would yield the first product: powdered licorice root, to be used in pharmaceutical prepartions. The coarse remainder would be bathed in a solution, which produced a liquid extract. This second extraction would be reduced to a syrup or paste to form the base needed for candy making, and also for flavoring tobacco.
But they weren’t finished yet. After candy, cigars, and drugs had taken what they needed, the brewers had a turn. Yes, in the olden days, beer makers would add licorice to their brew to give it a foamy head. And the foaming properties of licorice extract suggested yet another use: fire extinguishers. Licorice extinguishers, which formed an oxygen-free foam, became important in fighting oil fires in the days before chemical extinguishers.
At last, there was nothing left of the licorice root but stringy fibers. These were not wasted either. The fiber was dried and made into insulating wall and box board. So the box your licorice candy was packaged in might also be made of licorice!
References: Percy A. Housemna and H. T. Lacey, “The Licorice Root in Industry,” Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, 1929, 21 (10), pp 915–917; “Licorice Industry Reaches Sixtieth Year in America,” New York Times 26 January 1930.