Books > The American Woman's Home (1869) > X. Healthful Drinks

The American Woman's Home

X. Healthful Drinks.

There is no direction in which a woman more needs both scientific knowledge and moral force than in using her influence to control her family in regard to stimulating beverages.

It is a point fully established by experience that the full development of the human body and the vigorous exercise of all its functions can be secured without the use of stimulating drinks. It is, therefore, perfectly safe to bring up children never to use them, no hazard being incurred by such a course.

It is also found by experience that there are two evils incurred by the use of stimulating drinks. The first is, their positive effect on the human system. Their peculiarity consists in so exciting the nervous system that all the functions of the body are accelerated, and the fluids are caused to move quicker than at their natural speed. This increased motion of the animal fluids always produces an agreeable effect on the mind. The intellect is invigorated, the imagination is excited, the spirits are enlivened; and these effects are so agreeable that all mankind, after having once experienced them, feel a great desire for their repetition.

But this temporary invigoration of the system is always followed by a diminution of the powers of the stimulated organs; so that, though in all cases this reaction may not be perceptible, it is invariably the result. It may be set down as the unchangeable rule of physiology, that stimulating drinks deduct from the powers of the constitution in exactly the proportion in which they operate to produce temporary invigoration.

The second evil is the temptation which always attends the use of stimulants. Their effect on the system is so agreeable, and the evils resulting are so imperceptible and distant, that there is a constant tendency to increase such excitement both in frequency and power. And the more the system is thus reduced in strength, the more craving is the desire for that which imparts a temporary invigoration. This process of increasing debility and increasing craving for the stimulus that removes it, often goes to such an extreme that the passion is perfectly uncontrollable, and mind and body perish under this baleful habit.

In this country there are three forms in which the use of such stimulants is common; namely, alcoholic drinks, opium mixtures, and tobacco. These are all alike in the main peculiarity of imparting that extra stimulus to the system which tends to exhaust its powers.

Multitudes in this nation are in the habitual use of some one of these stimulants; and each person defends the indulgence by certain arguments:

First, that the desire for stimulants is a natural propensity implanted in man's nature, as is manifest from the universal tendency to such indulgences in every nation. From this, it is inferred that it is an innocent desire, which ought to be gratified to some extent, and that the aim should be to keep it within the limits of temperance, instead of attempting to exterminate a natural propensity.

This is an argument which, if true, makes it equally proper for not only men, but women and children, to use opium, brandy, or tobacco as stimulating principles, provided they are used temperately. But if it be granted that perfect health and strength can be gained and secured without these stimulants, and that their peculiar effect is to diminish the power of the system in exactly the same proportion as they stimulate it, then there is no such thing as a temperate use, unless they are so diluted as to destroy any stimulating power; and in this form they are seldom desired.

The other argument for their use is, that they are among the good things provided by the Creator for our gratification; that, like all other blessings, they are exposed to abuse and excess; and that we should rather seek to regulate their use than to banish them entirely.

This argument is based on the assumption that they are, like healthful foods and drinks, necessary to life and health, and injurious only by excess. But this is not true; for whenever they are used in any such strength as to be a gratification, they operate to a greater or less extent as stimulants; and to just such extent they wear out the powers of the constitution; and it is abundantly proved that they are not, like food and drink, necessary to health. Such articles are designed for medicine and not for common use. There can be no argument framed to defend the use of one of them which will not justify women and children in most dangerous indulgences.

There are some facts recently revealed by the microscope in regard to alcoholic drinks, which every woman should understand and regard. It has been shown in a previous chapter that every act of mind, either by thought, feeling, or choice, causes the destruction of certain cells in the brain and nerves. It now is proved by microscopic science [Footnote: For those statements the writer is indebted to Maudsley, a recent writer on Microscopic Physiology.] that the kind of nutrition furnished to the brain by the blood to a certain extent decides future feelings, thoughts, and volitions. The cells of the brain not only abstract from the blood the healthful nutrition, but also are affected in shape, size, color, and action by unsuitable elements in the blood. This is especially the case when alcohol is taken into the stomach, from whence it is always carried to the brain. The consequence is, that it affects the nature and action of the brain-cells, until a habit is formed which is automatic; that is, the mind loses the power of controlling the brain, in its development of thoughts, feelings, and choices as it would in the natural state, and is itself controlled by the brain. In this condition a real disease of the brain is created, called oino-mania, (see Glossary,) and the only remedy is total abstinence, and that for a long period, from the alcoholic poison. And what makes the danger more fearful is, that the brain-cells never are so renewed but that this pernicious stimulus will bring back the disease in full force, so that a man once subject to it is never safe except by maintaining perpetual and total abstinence from every kind of alcoholic drink. Dr. Day, who for many years has had charge of an inebriate asylum, states that he witnessed the dissection of the brain of a man once an inebriate, but for many years in practice of total abstinence, and found its cells still in the weak and unnatural state produced by earlier indulgences.

There has unfortunately been a difference of opinion among medical men as to the use of alcohol. Liebig, the celebrated writer on animal chemistry, having found that both sugar and alcohol were heat-producing articles of food, framed a theory that alcohol is burnt in the lungs, giving off carbonic acid and water, and thus serving to warm the body. But modern science has proved that it is in the capillaries that animal heat is generated, and it is believed that alcohol lessens instead of increasing the power of the body to bear the cold. Sir John Koss, in his Arctic voyage, proved by his own experience and that of his men that cold-water drinkers could bear cold longer and were stronger than any who used alcohol.

Carpenter, a standard writer on physiology, says the objection to a habitual use of even small quantities of alcoholic drinks is, that "they are universally admitted to possess a poisonous character," and "tend to produce a morbid condition of body;" while "the capacity for enduring extremes of heat and cold, or of mental or bodily labor, is diminished rather than increased by their habitual employment."

Prof. J. Bigelow, of Harvard University, says, "Alcohol is highly stimulating, heating, and intoxicating, and its effects are so fascinating that when once experienced there is danger that the desire for them may be perpetuated."

Dr. Bell and Dr. Churchill, both high medical authorities, especially in lung disease, for which whisky is often recommended, come to the conclusion that "the opinion that alcoholic liquors have influence in preventing the deposition of tubercle is destitute of any foundation; on the contrary, their use predisposes to tubercular deposition." And "where tubercle exists, alcohol has no effect in modifying the usual course, neither does it modify the morbid effects on the system."

Prof. Youmans, of New-York, says: "It has been demonstrated that alcoholic drinks prevent the natural changes in the blood, and obstruct the nutritive and reparative functions." He adds, "Chemical experiments have demonstrated that the action of alcohol on the digestive fluid is to destroy its active principle, the pepsin, thus confirming the observations of physiologists, that its use gives rise to serious disorders of the stomach and malignant aberration of the whole economy."

We are now prepared to consider the great principles of science, common sense, and religion, which should guide every woman who has any kind of influence or responsibility on this subject. It is allowed by all medical men that pure water is perfectly healthful and supplies all the liquid needed by the body; and also that by proper means, which ordinarily are in the reach of all, water can be made sufficiently pure.

It is allowed by all that milk, and the juices of fruits, when taken into the stomach, furnish water that is always pure, and that our bread and vegetable food also supply it in large quantities. There are besides a great variety of agreeable and healthful beverages, made from the juices of fruit, containing no alcohol, and agreeable drinks, such as milk, cocoa, and chocolate, that contain no stimulating principles, and which are nourishing and healthful.

As one course, then, is perfectly safe and another involves great danger, it is wrong and sinful to choose the path of danger. There is no peril in drinking pure water, milk, the juices of fruits, and infusions that are nourishing and harmless. But there is great danger to the young, and to the commonwealth, in patronizing the sale and use of alcoholic drinks. The religion of Christ, in its distinctive feature, involves generous self-denial for the good of others, especially for the weaker members of society. It is on this principle that St. Paul sets forth his own example, "If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." And again he teaches, "We, then, that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves."

This Christian principle also applies to the common drinks of the family, tea and coffee.

It has been shown that the great end for which Jesus Christ came, and for which he instituted the family state, is the training of our whole race to virtue and happiness, with chief reference to an immortal existence. In this mission, of which woman is chief minister, as before stated, the distinctive feature is self-sacrifice of the wiser and stronger members to save and to elevate the weaker ones. The children and the servants are these weaker members, who by ignorance and want of habits of self-control are in most danger. It is in this aspect that we are to consider the expediency of using tea and coffee in a family.

These drinks are a most extensive cause of much of the nervous debility and suffering endured by American women; and relinquishing them, would save an immense amount of such suffering. Moreover, all housekeepers will allow that they can not regulate these drinks in their kitchens, where the ignorant use them to excess. There is little probability that the present generation will make so decided a change in their habits as to give up these beverages; but the subject is presented rather in reference to forming the habits of children.

It is a fact that tea and coffee are at first seldom or never agreeable to children. It is the mixture of milk, sugar, and water, that reconciles them to a taste, which in this manner gradually becomes agreeable. Now suppose that those who provide for a family conclude that it is not their duty to give up entirely the use of stimulating drinks, may not the case appear different in regard to teaching their children to love such drinks? Let the matter be regarded thus: The experiments of physiologists all prove that stimulants are not needful to health, and that, as the general rule, they tend to debilitate the constitution. Is it right, then, for a parent to tempt a child to drink what is not needful, when there is a probability that it will prove, to some extent, an undermining drain on the constitution? Some constitutions can bear much less excitement than others; and in every family of children, there is usually one or more of delicate organization, and consequently peculiarly exposed to dangers from this source. It is this child who ordinarily becomes the victim to stimulating drinks. The tea and coffee which the parents and the healthier children can use without immediate injury, gradually sap the energies of the feebler child, who proves either an early victim or a living martyr to all the sufferings that debilitated nerves inflict. Can it be right to lead children where all allow that there is some danger, and where in many cases disease and death are met, when, another path is known to be perfectly safe?

The impression common in this country, that warm drinks, especially in winter, are more healthful than cold, is not warranted by any experience, nor by the laws of the physical system. At dinner, cold drinks are universal, and no one deems them injurious. It is only at the other two meals that they are supposed to be hurtful.

There is no doubt that warm drinks are healthful, and more agreeable than cold, at certain times and seasons; but it is equally true that drinks above blood-heat are not healthful. If a person should bathe in warm water every day, debility would inevitably follow; for the frequent application of the stimulus of heat, like all other stimulants, eventually causes relaxation and weakness. If, therefore, a person is in the habit of drinking hot drinks twice a day, the teeth, throat, and stomach are gradually debilitated. This, most probably, is one of the causes of an early decay of the teeth, which is observed to be much more common among American ladies, than among those in European countries.

It has been stated to the writer, by an intelligent traveler who had visited Mexico, that it was rare to meet an individual with even a tolerable set of teeth, and that almost every grown person he met in the street had merely remnants of teeth. On inquiry into the customs of the country, it was found that it was the universal practice to take their usual beverage at almost the boiling-point; and this doubtless was the chief cause of the almost entire want of teeth in that country. In the United States, it can not be doubted that much evil is done in this way by hot drinks. Most tea-drinkers consider tea as ruined if it stands until it reaches the healthful temperature for drink.

The following extract, from Dr. Andrew Combe, presents the opinion of most intelligent medical men on this subject. [Footnote: The writer would here remark, in reference to extracts made from various authors, that, for the sake of abridging, she has often left out parts of a paragraph, but never so as to modify the meaning of the author. Some ideas, not connected with the subject in hand, are omitted, but none are altered.]

"Water is a safe drink for all constitutions, provided it be resorted to in obedience to the dictates of natural thirst only, and not of habit. Unless the desire for it is felt, there is no occasion for its use during a meal."

"The primary effect of all distilled and fermented liquors is to stimulate the nervous system and quicken the circulation. In infancy and childhood, the circulation is rapid and easily excited; and the nervous system is strongly acted upon even by the slightest external impressions. Hence, slight causes of irritation readily excite febrile and convulsive disorders. In youth, the natural tendency of the constitution is still to excitement, and consequently, as a general rule, the stimulus of fermented liquors is injurious."

These remarks show that parents, who find that stimulating drinks are not injurious to themselves, may mistake in inferring from this that they will not be injurious to their children.

Dr. Combe continues thus: "In mature age, when digestion is good, and the system in full vigor, if the mode of life be not too exhausting, the nervous functions and general circulation are in their best condition, and require no stimulus for their support. The bodily energy is then easily sustained by nutritious food and a regular regimen, and consequently artificial excitement only increases the wasting of the natural strength."

It may be asked, in this connection, why the stimulus of animal food is not to be regarded in the same light as that of stimulating drinks. In reply, a very essential difference may he pointed out. Animal food furnishes nutriment to the organs which it stimulates, but stimulating drinks excite the organs to quickened action without affording any nourishment.

It has been supposed by some that tea and coffee have, at least, a degree of nourishing power. But it is proved that it is the milk and sugar, and not the main portion of the drink, which imparts the nourishment. Tea has not one particle of nourishing properties; and what little exists in the coffee-berry is lost by roasting it in the usual mode. All that these articles do, is simply to stimulate without nourishing.

Although there is little hope of banishing these drinks, there is still a chance that something may be gained in attempts to regulate their use by the rules of temperance. If, then, a housekeeper can not banish tea and coffee entirely, she may use her influence to prevent excess, both by her instructions, and by the power of control committed more or less to her hands.

It is important for every housekeeper to know that the health of a family very much depends on the purity of water used for cooking and drinking. There are three causes of impure and unhealthful water. One is, the existence in it of vegetable or animal matter, which can be remedied by filtering through sand and charcoal. Another cause is, the existence of mineral matter, especially in limestone countries, producing diseases of the bladder. This is remedied in a measure by boiling, which secures a deposit of the lime on the vessel used. The third cause is, the corroding of zinc and lead used in pipes and reservoirs, producing oxides that are slow poisons. The only remedy is prevention, by having supply-pipes made of iron, like gas-pipe, instead of zinc and lead; or the lately invented lead pipe lined with tin, which metal is not corrosive. The obstacle to this is, that the trade of the plumbers would be greatly diminished by the use of reliable pipes. When water must be used from supply-pipes of lead or zinc, it is well to let the water run some time before drinking it and to use as little as possible, taking milk instead; and being further satisfied for inner necessities by the water supplied by fruits and vegetables. The water in these is always pure. But in using milk as a drink, it must be remembered that it is also rich food, and that less of other food must be taken when milk is thus used, or bilious troubles will result from excess of food.

The use of opium, especially by women, is usually caused at first by medical prescriptions containing it. All that has been stated as to the effect of alcohol in the brain is true of opium; while, to break a habit thus induced is almost hopeless, Every woman who takes or who administers this drug, is dealing as with poisoned arrows, whose wounds are without cure.

The use of tobacco in this country, and especially among young boys, is increasing at a fearful rate. On this subject, we have the unanimous opinion of all medical men; the following being specimens.

A distinguished medical writer thus states the case: "Every physician knows that the agreeable sensations that tempt to the use of tobacco are caused by nicotine, which is a rank poison, as much so as prussic acid or arsenic. When smoked, the poison is absorbed by the blood of the mouth, and carried to the brain. When chewed, the nicotine passes to the blood through the mouth and stomach. In both cases, the whole nervous system is thrown, into abnormal excitement to expel the poison, and it is this excitement that causes agreeable sensations. The excitement thus caused is invariably followed by a diminution of nervous power, in exact proportion to the preceding excitement to expel the evil from the system."

Few will dispute the general truth and effect of the above statement, so that the question is one to be settled on the same principle as applies to the use of alcoholic drinks. Is it, then, according to the generous principles of Christ's religion, for those who are strong and able to bear this poison, to tempt the young, the ignorant, and the weak to a practice not needful to any healthful enjoyment, and which leads multitudes to disease, and often to vice? For the use of tobacco tends always to lessen nerve-power, and probably every one out of five that indulges in its use awakens a morbid craving for increased stimulus, lessens the power of self-control, diminishes the strength of the constitution, and sets an example that influences the weak to the path of danger and of frequent ruin.

The great danger of this age is an increasing, intense worldliness, and disbelief in the foundation principle of the religion of Christ, that we are to reap through everlasting ages the consequences of habits formed in this life. In the light of his word, they only who are truly wise "shall shine as the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars, forever and ever."

It is increased faith or belief in the teachings of Christ's religion, as to the influence of this life upon the life to come, which alone can save our country and the world from that inrushing tide of sensualism and worldliness, now seeming to threaten the best hopes and prospects of our race.

And woman, as the chief educator of our race, and the prime minister of the family state, is bound in the use of meats and drinks to employ the powerful and distinctive motives of the religion of Christ in forming habits of temperance and benevolent self-sacrifice for the good of others.