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.