ALCOHOLISM

We are so imbued with psychological explanations of alcoholism that it seems strange to consider this problem as related to food or chemical susceptibility. Frequently, however, an alcoholic is not a mentally sick person, in the conventional sense, but a very advanced food addict. In fact, alcoholism could well be called the acme, or pinnacle, of the food-addiction pyramid.

It is usually assumed that the alcoholic craves the ethyl alcohol in his drink. In most discussions of the problem, however, a significant fact is overlooked: few people would choose to drink pure ethyl alcohol, even if given the chance. Alcohol is almost invariably found mixed with other ingredients or fractions, many of them related to common foods. Starting in the mid-1940s, I began to accumulate evidence that it was principally these foods, rather than the alcohol itself, to which many alcoholics were addicted.

This insight was related to developments in food allergy. It was Herbert J. Rinkel, the same man who discovered “masking” and “unmasking” of food allergy, who first diagnosed allergies to corn, in the 1940s. I confirmed Rinkel’s observations in my patients, and together we published a series of lists of foods containing corn or corn products.

Allergy to corn turned out to be the most common food allergy in North America. Why, then, had its discovery waited until the 1940s, years after the other common allergies were described? The answer lay in the very fact of corn’s popularity. Because it was present in practically every meal in one form or another, obvious or disguised, it was extremely difficult to unmask. It was only when we had compiled a fairly complete list and ferreted out the corn in numerous products, in the form of corn syrup, corn starch, corn oil, and so forth, that we could perform adequate tests.

Soon after this, I began to notice that many of my alcoholic patients had corn allergies. Some patients, for example, told me that they became drunk on only one or two glasses of beer or a couple of shots of bourbon. Such patients were invariably highly susceptible to corn or to other ingredients in these beverages, such as wheat or yeast. It dawned on me that it might be these substances, rather than the alcohol per se, which perpetuated the craving for alcoholic beverages and which caused the bizarre behavioral changes associated with alcohol consumption. Since alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, it was likely that these food fractions were rapidly absorbed along with it, creating problems for the susceptible.

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THE BASIC CONCEPTS OF ALLERGIES: COMBUSTION PRODUCTS OF FUELS

Another serious problem is posed by the combustion products of home fuel systems. This source of danger is largely dependent on the type and location of the furnace, rather than on the type of fuel used.

The warm-air furnace is most frequently implicated as the source of chronic illness. When a chemically susceptible patient moves out of a home with such a furnace and into an ecologically sound environment, he often experiences an improvement in health. Returning to the home heated with warm air similarly may result in a decreased level of health.

The furnace of a warm-air system may pollute the air of the basement in which the furnace is located by releasing combustion products each time it is turned on. Leaks in such systems are common, and warm-air furnaces produce more dust and general agitation of the environment than some other types of systems. This is complicated by the fact that the warm-air system forces heated air throughout the whole house, thus naturally spreading dust and fumes.

Chemically susceptible people in homes with warm-air heat react with remarkable rapidity to the turning on of the heat. In fact, they begin to develop symptoms more quickly, sometimes, than the fumes could possibly spread from the basement. A psychological reaction? Not necessarily. Upon investigation, it was found that these patients were also susceptible to dust, a common source of allergic reactions; any dust which landed on the hot furnace was burned and then spewed in minute particles around the house. This “fried dust” was then stirred up every time the furnace was activated, and spread more quickly than the fumes.

The location of the furnace can be particularly important. A person who lives directly above a furnace is more likely to feel its effects than one who is sleeping in an area removed from the source of heat. The worst housing arrangement is probably the ranch-style house, with the furnace right in the center of the main floor. The next worse is to have an open utility room on the same floor as the living quarters. Either of these designs will subject the inhabitants to a daily dose of pollutants every time the furnace starts up.

Essentially, the only completely safe way to handle a furnace is to put it outside the house. It can be placed in a garage, in a separate room between the house and the garage, or in a separate area adjacent to the house which can only be entered from the outside. The only opening between this room and the house itself should be a well-insulated hole through which the hot water or steam pipes pass. Once the heating is thus arranged, it does not really matter if one uses coal, oil, or gas, as long as warm water or steam central heating is employed to convey the heat.

The gas range is the most common source of indoor pollution, but the most dangerous is probably the unvented gas-burning room wall-heater. Although this pernicious device is becoming less common, it is still found throughout the American Southwest. It is certainly ironic that people like Ellen Sanders should flee to the land of sunshine only to find a worse source of pollution in their new homes.

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DYSLEXIA IN CHILDREN

Dyslexia, also known as “developmental dyslexia” or “specific developmental dyslexia,” is a type of learning disability that affects a child’s ability to learn to read. It is more common in boys than in girls. It’s not known exactly what causes the problem. Dyslexia often runs in families, but no specific genetic defect has been found to account for it. Some children with dyslexia may have had an accident that caused an undetected brain injury, but others have no such history. It is known, however, that dyslexia is not a form of mental retardation. And dyslexia is not related to low intelligence, physical handicaps, cultural disadvantages, low social or economic status, or brain damage.

A child with dyslexia often has no difficulties until entering school. Then the child finds that he or she cannot do things that other children can do easily. This experience can be embarrassing and painful. The child often finds it impossible to explain the problem and may become so frustrated that he or she either disrupts classes or becomes overly quiet and withdrawn. Other children may brand the dyslexic child as “stupid”; teachers and parents may consider the child lazy or unmotivated. The dyslexic child may, in fact, be very intelligent and may be trying extremely hard to learn to read. Pressure from teachers and parents to “work harder” can be confusing and frustrating and can lead to anger and rebellion. Some children with dyslexia find other activities that they can do well, such as sports or music. This may help them to adjust and feel more comfortable.

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