I first wrote parts of this article several years ago, but the topic being well outside of my areas of expertise and of a rather controversial nature I did not publish it. Now that my array of published technical articles has grown to be jokingly referred to as "Mikepaedia", branching out into more difficult areas seems to make sense. The first and most important point is that this article is extremely limited in scope because my direct knowledge of the subject matter is both very limited and of a subjective nature. I don't ever experiment on other people. The only medical advice I have ever given to anyone is to try to eat a variety of good foods and drink plenty of clean water when exercising. That is good advice, and yields pretty good results over a wide range of conditions. It is however also extremely limited in adaptive power.
Performance Enhancing Substances
The Most Basic Chemistry
There are actually some pretty simple things about the way that the human body works that are important to be aware of. First and foremost is the regenerative ability of the complex biological product. All animals "heal" to a certain extent, but we humans are particularly good at it. Cuts and injuries that go only into the various layers of skin seal up and smooth over very rapidly (usually a few days or weeks). Deeper lacerations into fat deposits and muscular tissue are of course more problematic for a variety of reasons, but they also heal up and smooth over fairly well over a sometimes longer period of time. Extremely sever disruptions to the human body often also heal up, but the automatic "descrambling" processes for getting things back to good functionality are imperfect and rather slow. This is where scientific medicine is at its best. Severe physical injuries where internal organs become all mixed up can be made to heal amazingly well if the pieces are simply put back together strategically. This not only involves restoring original structural shapes and immediate functionality, but also putting the pieces back together so that natural regenerative processes can yield best possible results. This little point about natural regenerative processes continuing to be important cannot be overlooked. A reconstructed internal structure may appear to work acceptably when first glued back together, but if natural regenerative processes tend to disrupt the reconstruction then the whole thing gets screwed up. On the other side reconstruction of internal structures needs to be good enough that the amount of healing required to attain full or nearly full functionality is reasonable. How much natural healing can be expected depends on the individual and the conditions. This is where nutrition and drugs come into play.
The most important thing to know about nutrition is that a wide variety of different compounds are required for fueling and maintaining the human body. These compounds have traditionally been described by various groupings, and this traditional basis for nutrition science is useful even if it is overly simplistic.
These traditional groupings are essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. Some of the amino acids and many of the fatty acids are good calorie sources to fuel the body, but the essential amino acids and the essential fatty acids are also required for the function and regeneration of the human body. Carbohydrates are only a calorie source, and this is true also of saturated fat. Carbohydrates and saturated fat are good fuels to run on, but are otherwise not required. Hence the term "empty calories", compounds that can be metabolized for fuel but otherwise serve no purpose. Essential vitamins and essential minerals generally provide virtually no caloric value, but are required for the function and regeneration of the body. Dietary fiber does not do anything really, but it's importance cannot be overlooked. Too much dietary fiber gets in the way and reduces the capacity of the digestive system, this is why concentrated calorie sources such as animal fat and starches have been so important in human history. To run an endurance race a stomach full of grain is way better than a stomach full of leaves and twigs. And fat is even better for the longest endurance events because the caloric value of fat is generally about 180% of the caloric value of the same weight of carbohydrates.
The other important thing about dietary fiber is the fact that our human digestive system was originally "designed" for running on foods with huge amounts of dietary fiber. Removing a large part of this dietary fiber from a monkey diet dramatically improves functionality, but removing all dietary fiber is not desirable. With no dietary fiber the digestive system just does not reliably stay clean and healthy.
The easiest and universally successful means of assuring a diet with all the required compounds is to eat a rather wide variety of edible plant and animal based food products. More sophisticated systems of knowledge can however yield better results.
The big omission from traditional nutrition science is that all that is good is not always good and all that is bad is not always bad. More precisely some of the essential compounds are actually toxic if ingested in large quantities. That is a hard one to swallow, because it requires the use of quantitative analysis for any really successful diet. All is not bleak though. The human body already knows this and is constantly working to manage the intake of various foods. For the natural ability of the human body to manage food intake though the food products have to be free of other contaminants. The classic example of this is flavorings added to food products that fool the body into thinking it has eaten enough of some type of food. Many people have had very severe health problems over the years from eating a candy bar when what they are really craving is a salad. The reason they eat the candy bar is that it is designed to be tasty and satisfying regardless of nutritional content. The candy bar has lots of calories, and may contain some other important nutrients, but it only fools the body into thinking that a salad is not required. The salad is required, or some type of living plant material. And this brings up the next important point.
Some of the essential vitamins are fragile, and do not well survive being cooked, dried, caned or otherwise packaged. It is possible to survive for months on end with nothing but dried food and vitamin pills, but it is not a complete diet. The longer one goes without access to living plat material the more appealing anything alive starts to become. A good example of this from my own experience is the way that various vegetables disappeared onboard Eva. At the beginning of passages we always had tomatoes, oranges, celery and other fairly fragile fruits and vegetables. These lasted only a week or two, but other more durable fruits and vegetables were just as good. Potatoes, onions, carrots and apples lasted much longer. We usually could get potatoes to last for most of a passage, and just eating lightly boiled potatoes was pretty good. I don't like turnips at all, I never have really. I have eaten them sometimes sliced thin and heavily salted as an appetizer, but they are not very good. On long passages though turnips lasted forever in the refrigerator, and eventually they became desirable. It is not that turnips are particularly good to eat, it is just that they are alive and they last well. By the end of a long passage just anything alive and roughly edible was really great, at least in small quantities. Carrots also lasted really well in the refrigerator, and were always much better than turnips. Variety is best, but just eating something that is alive is absolutely necessary.
Aside from the inconvenient reality that some of what we have to eat is slightly toxic there are also some darker realities. Substitution is the darkest aspect of nutrition. In the absence of certain essential compounds the body is able to make use of other substitute compounds that may be rather undesirable for a variety of reasons. This is where the process of classifying compounds as desirable or undesirable gets really difficult.
Certain nutritional compounds may be observed to be life sustaining in some extreme circumstances, but would best be avoided in any healthy diet. This sounds like a description of a drug, but drugs are in fact totally different.
Drugs and medicine are compounds that change the way the body works, and some of them are of course toxic. Some drugs can dramatically change the way the body works without being really toxic at all, but that does not mean that they are free of danger either.
Drugs are like keys on a mechanical type writer. Push one and something happens. Push several of them and something more complex might happen. Push all of them at once and they are sure to jamb.
The biggest danger of the "safest" drugs is that if they are used over a long period of time the body's natural regulatory mechanisms will adjust to that drug. This is the basis of addiction and can cause a wide variety of severe problems depending on the nature of the drug.
Another big danger with some powerful drugs (even if they are not toxic) is that the dramatic and large shift in the way that the body works is difficult to manage. This might be a case of an individual just not being able to mentally handle the emotional and digestive roller coaster associated with a powerful drug, or it could also be a case of bodily functions being so severely disrupted that death could result.
A strong temptation over the years has been to use additional drugs to try to manage the effects of powerful drugs. This can be made to work in laboratory conditions, but is a horrible idea in most cases.
And of course the biggest danger of drug use remains the simple fact that most of them are in fact toxic. One powerful drug might be totally non toxic, but finding a drug to manage part of the effect of that powerful drug that is also non toxic is much more difficult. And this is where the traditional problems of drug interactions come up. Observed adverse drug interactions have normally been due to the simple fact that two toxic compounds added to the body tends to be more than twice as bad. Drug interactions also often have to do with side reactions. Two drugs might actually chemically react directly with each other, or more likely side reactions of the drugs with compounds in the body yield unexpected additional compounds.
The most controversial area of drugs and medicine has to do with the use of compounds synthesized by the body. If a compound is not found in a normal traditional diet but is synthesized by the body then the addition of more of that compound either orally or intravenously is in fact drug use. The reason that this is such a difficult gray area though is that adding a bit more of what was already present tends to be the easiest and safest starting point when looking for useful drugs. The danger here though is that not everything found in the body is desirable in larger quantities. There are many undesirable compounds that may be found in natural foods in small quantities, in larger quantities these compounds can be extremely harmful.
Ultimately there is no substitute for a complete catalogue of all nutritional compounds desirable and undesirable. Much work has of course already been done towards this goal, but a great deal of the knowledge base is muddled and confused by the use of names of compounds to describe classes of compounds and widespread misconceptions about classes of compounds being single compounds. Contamination of samples has also been a large problem. When samples of a certain nutritional compound stubbornly are delivered contaminated with some powerful unknown toxin then people begin to call that toxin by the name of the original compound they were trying to study in the first place.
Hard core scientists might say that any serious enquiry has to be rigorous enough to identify and remove contaminants, but this is a dead end line of reasoning. Chemistry gets really really slow in the absence of reliable suppliers. Pretty soon the guy who was supposed to be researching some fatty acids is out digging in his back yard looking for iron orr to build a Bunsen burner, and that is a huge waste of time and money as fun as it might be.
They don't really exist, but that does not mean that they don't appear to exist sometimes. A human body does as well as it possibly can when all required nutrients are present in a diet and all of the undesirable contaminants are removed. That does not however necessarily mean that such a body is easy to operate, and this is where drugs and performance get mixed up. At certain stages of life people find it extremely useful to have some form of direct control over at least certain aspects of biological function. It is a learning experience, figuring out what does what. In the absence of some form of a switch to turn something off or on people tend to engage in destructive behavior as a form of escapism. That switch can be drug use, but drug use tends to lead to problems and adverse health effects. The switch to get something to change can however also be other things. Many people find that physical exercise is a good way to get something in the body to change in a predictable and controllable way. Jumping into cold water also works pretty well to get some noticeable changes in the body.
Ultimately it does not matter so much how this shift is attained, it is just a matter of having some direct control of what can otherwise seem to be random swings of moods and emotions. Learning how to operate one's body is so important that there is often an observed correlation between some recreational drug use and later success in life. This is even sometimes true when the drug used is toxic and harmful. It is ultimately all about learning to control the body though, at some stage in life most people find that they have a pretty good handle on what their body is going to be doing and feel no need to jump into cold water for any reason other than the sheer pleasure of it (or to get clean).
As far as real performance enhancing substances go it seems that they only appear to work on unhealthy people. If there is something severely wrong with the way that a person's body is working a pharmaceutical company can often come up with a chemical product that will (at least temporarily) cause better performance. Is that a real performance enhancing substance? No, not really. It is just a band aid (figuratively not literally).
A real performance enhancing substance would cause better performance in the strongest and healthiest individuals, and that just does not seem to exist. Of course stimulants can prevent boredom and loss of interest, but that is not the same thing as performance enhancement. When a healthy person is doing something that he feels is worth doing there is no need for any stimulant, he can push until he drops of exhaustion if he so chooses. The only thing that is going to increase the amount of time before exhaustion is good nutrition. That means all of the essential compounds for function and regeneration are present in sufficient quantities and a ready supply of concentrated calorie sources are available. For most people this means eating a healthy balanced diet all the time and ingesting huge quantities of water and simple carbohydrates while going for the endurance record. The simple carbohydrates are the tricky part though, they just are not available most of the time. Good bread, whole wheat or white, is the most likely candidate. Whole wheat bread usually has far too much wheat stalks in it though and the caloric value is just not there. White bread is usually contaminated with compounds passed off as "dough conditioners", "leaveners" or flavorings to the point that it is hardly edible. Cyclists for quite some time were into pasta as the best simple carbohydrate source, but pasta is really hard to chew while running and now is often just as contaminated as white bread. Likewise rice was in the past often a very good concentrated calorie source, but now often is contaminated to the point of being inedible.
There are a variety of explanations for this contamination of food sources, and one is obesity. Some people become way to fat when they have access to good concentrated calorie sources. There is more to this though than just lack of self control. When people get fat on white bread, pasta, white rice, corn starch and vegetable oil fingers get pointed at food industry companies. These concentrated calorie source foods do not exist in a traditional farming community, and it is just a bit harder to get fat on whole wheat bread, corn bread and potatoes. The difference is however not dramatic. Whole wheat bread, corn bread and potatoes are all concentrated enough calorie sources that both very high levels of physical performance and obesity are possible. Still though the fingers have been pointed, and food industry companies have responded. The response has been to design industrial food products that make people obese regardless of lack of self control. Food products with drugs that undermine physical health while also promoting higher levels of food consumption. Sounds paranoid right? It has been real for many decades that I have been aware of.
The performance enhancing substance then becomes any concentrated calorie source that is not chemically contaminated. And amazingly it does not take much. Just a few pounds of something edible eaten in the hours before athletic competition. Myself I was always fond of a big deli sandwich with the works. Just any old meat, usually roast beef or turkey, cheddar cheese, vegetable oil and all of the standard vegetables on the biggest, hardest, crunchiest, most difficult to eat white bread roll known to man. The roast beef and vegetables just got in the way for short duration competition, but it was still worth it. For a three hour endurance race the roast beef started to become actually very desirable. What I did was to use the deli stores to control the otherwise very dangerous white bread. I did not even like white bread, I much preferred good whole wheat bread. I almost never bought white bread to take home, and I also shunned most bakery products made with white flour. It all tasted horrible to me. Even though I liked white rice just fine I almost never ate that either, I always cooked whole grain rice which seemed even better to me. When I cooked for myself it was always whole wheat something, sometimes brown rice, sometimes pasta, lots and lots of vegetables and moderate amounts of fresh meat.
Meat is not necessary in a human diet, it is just a whole lot easier than any other strategy. In the absence of meat a whole lot of carful planing is required to get all of the essential amino acids and fatty acids from plant materials. It is possible, but difficult. Eating meat streamlines the process considerably because the animal you eat has already done a bunch of the leg work so to speak. The important point though is that the amount of meat required is surprisingly small. Growing children benefit from somewhat larger quantities of meat, but once fully grown an adult body only needs relatively small quantities of many of the essential amino acids for repair and regeneration.
Not all meat is created equal either. Beef is best of course, both from a nutritional perspective and from a purity perspective. Cows do a good job with all those stomachs. Not only does the bovine digestive system involve multiple stages of batch processing, but there is also a symbiotic relationship between cattle and microbiological organisms in their digestive tracks. These beneficial bacteria actually break down the cellulose in grass so that it can be metabolized. Not an exact analogy, but you might say cows each have their own brewery built right in.
The problem with cattle really is only that they are so darn big. Just really hard to chew up in a single bite. Hence the beef industry, and that brings it's own problems. Cattle fatten up nicely on corn, but a heavy corn diet is hard on the bovine digestive system. Ideally this slight problem would be managed by feeding only moderate amounts of corn to grass fed steers in the months before slaughter. People who raise beef cattle as a business are always stating competition as an excuse for heavy corn diets at feed lots with the use of growth hormones and antibiotics to manage the growth and health of the cattle. The heavy corn diet is not a good idea, but it does make for a bigger and more tender carcass in a shorter amount of time. If the competition is using growth hormones and antibiotics to make more beef in a shorter amount of time then there is no alternative than to join them and also use the heaviest corn diet possible. This is changing a bit, but it is a tough cycle to break.
Lamb and goat are also pretty good red meats, but they are more expensive to produce and nutritionally slightly inferior. As a measure of variety though lamb and goat meat are highly desirable. It is said that there are actually some essential fatty acids deficient in beef that are found in larger amounts in lamb and goat, so variety is the key.
The other key to variety is sea food. Oysters specifically, but most anything edible from the ocean plays an important role in complete nutrition from a whole foods diet. We are of the sea, as is all life on earth, and much of animal biology still rather closely mirrors the ocean environment. That sounds like a good story, but the reason that sea food is important is said to be because of a few fatty acids that just tend to be rather difficult to get enough of in a purely terrestrial diet. In any case swallowing a marine creature from time to time is just really great. The trick with sea food is minimizing contamination, and here it is often natural contamination. Marine organisms just are not that good at keeping the toxins out of their bodies, so eating them is tricky. The classic example of this is methyl mercury concentrated in many large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and marlin. Tuna has traditionally been safer, hence the long and widespread popularity of canned tuna fish. Unfortunately the most desirable species of tuna have been fished to the brink of extinction.
Oysters and clams live short lives and don't eat fish, they don't concentrate methyl mercury. How good oysters and clams are to eat depends on the water they are in. They are usually quite edible in moderate quantities, but this is not always the case. Oysters from commercial aqua culture operations are often very good nutritional supplements, and darn tasty to boot. Some unknown form of contamination has however occasionally been a problem, this has been going on for many years.
Pigs, chickens and turkeys are all pretty good to eat as well but are significantly nutritionally inferior to beef. In the absence of beef the best strategy is to eat a variety of types of meat including some red meat and some sea food.
As with drugs reacting with each other and reacting in complex and difficult to predict ways with compounds in the body food interactions cannot be overlooked. Amazingly the human body is pretty good at automatically managing food interactions. Stuff the stomach full of just about any edible plant and animal material and it will eventually work out somehow. Despite this high level of automatic processing ability it is useful to know a bit about what is actually going on.
For most people managing the chemistry of the stomach is limited to pH balancing. Too acidic and parts of the digestive system start dissolving. Not acidic enough and foods don't readily digest and metabolize. The human body does automatically work to maintain the proper acidity of the stomach for all dietary conditions, but there certainly are times when a bit of additional manual assistance can go a long way. The classic example of this is eating a calcium carbonate tablet (a few hundred milligrams of CaCO3 I think) when overly acidic stomach juices won't stay put in the more acid resistant rubbery lined stomach. Going the other way manual control can be useful as well. Particularly after a large dinner of boiled red meat and boiled potatoes it can take quite a long time for the acidity of the stomach to come up to the point where digestion and metabolism can begin. The solution is to eat or drink something that is slightly acidic. Most fruit juices work, as do most whole fruits. Citrus particularly contributes considerably to increased acidity. Tomatoes of course can also serve this purpose, and vinegar has been popular for a very long time.
This is just the most basic management of stomach acidity, but there are a few other issues related to the acidity of foods as well. There are some natural plant foods that seem rather toxic because of certain fragile compounds that can only exist in high pH environments. If these foods are eaten alone or with other foods that are not acidic then they seem toxic and undesirable dietarily. If these foods are instead eaten with tomatoes, lemon juice or vinegar they often work just fine with little or no observed toxicity or adverse health effects.
And this brings up traditional food processing. A good example is the artichoke. They are usually edible just boiled, but not exactly great. Artichokes do much better if they are subjected to an acidic environment. Eating a boiled artichoke with vinegar or lots of mayonnaise works quite well, but lemon juice does not work with artichokes because of other undesirable side reactions with the citric acid (it could be the ascorbic acid but I think it is actually the citric acid). Artichokes are best when they are canned in oil and vinegar, but just eating some mayonnaise with a boiled artichoke really does work quite well.
There are a variety of examples of simple traditional food processing, but there is also considerable subterfuge on the subject. Food industry companies seem to love producing products that have to be consumed with other products. The classic example here is "Milk's Favorite Cookie". That was an advertising slogan by Nabisco for Oreos, but roughly applies to many industrial cookie products. Eaten alone many cookie products cause indigestion and contribute to overall poor health. Eaten with copious amounts of good cow’s milk though the same cookies seem fairly edible.
There are a couple of things going on here. One is that grain and milk always go together particularly well as a nutritional package. Alone cow's milk is a reasonable beverage, but not very good as a whole meal. Likewise grain can be eaten alone as a fuel source, but severely lacks many essential fatty acids and essential amino acids. Together though grain and milk forms a fairly complete nutritional package that can sustain life for long periods of time with only small amounts of additional foods. The industrial cookie and milk fiasco could be considered an educational tool to increase awareness of this universal good match between grain and milk. The problem though is that whatever is in those cookies that makes them inedible has actually been a significant health hazard.
Canned beans that can't be eaten without canned salsa is another example. Just plain beans are not a complete food, but they most certainly have been edible. Recently though the market has been flooded with canned bean products that are practically inedible, and only seem somewhat like food when they are heated with water and cheese and eaten with large quantities of canned or fresh tomato based salsa. Again this can be interpreted as some sort of an educational program, but the reality is that those inedible beans are a criminal attack on consumers.
The list goes on and on. Campbells canned soup is another example. The label used to recommend heating with a half can of milk, and the soup was noticeably better with milk than just with water. Now that recommendation of a half can of milk has been removed from the label and the soup is not edible when heated with either milk or water. For specific current advice try Campbells cream of chicken or Campbells cream of celery instead of Campbells cream of mushroom or Campbells tomato soup.
Traditionally problems with packaged foods could easily be interpreted simply as a coordinated program to encourage people to eat more fresh foods which are both healthier and also have the potential to be considerably cheaper from an environmental perspective. Fresh locally produced foods are a great idea from a lot of different perspectives. Transportation costs are lower, packaging waste is lower and a market for fresh locally produced foods also tends to lead to dynamic healthy communities less dependent on fossil fuels and large quantities of manufactured goods.
That was however only one of several possible interpretations. Regardless of any perceived or real advantage to a more localized food production system the fact remained that the food industry companies were producing food products that were severe health hazards. For many decades the worst industrial food products could be avoided with careful shopping, and there was a certain measure of consistency in food manufacturing. This was not a good situation, but it was one that many people were comfortable dealing with. The reality though was that consumers were beholden to the food industry companies and the consumers were managed as cash cows.
What has happened recently has been even worse. Just about all of the industrial food products got a whole lot worse, and farmers responded by producing worse agricultural products as well. Milk got worse, eggs got a whole lot worse, tomatoes, potatoes and apples became hard to purchase. The food just disappeared.
My perspective on this was different than most people because I was traveling at the time. I was used to encountering food products of highly variable characteristics and quality from one country to another, but there was always something edible. Finding the best food products was a simple matter of buying all of the fresh fruits and vegetables on offer and trying them to see if they were any good. Usually the standard products were pretty good everywhere, and there were often some stand out exceptionally good products in each market.
Then in 2011 everything started to collapse. At first it was in Egypt, and I assumed that this was just due to the political turmoil. Fresh food products at the market were still fairly good, but restaurants seemed to be having a very hard time producing the traditional dishes people expected. The city water also went to shit, and our water maker mysteriously failed at the same time. Life went on though, and the beer was still good.
Up in Europe the food was however still screwed up. When we got to Greece I got one really good jar of olives produced by the French grocery giant Carrefour. They were great, not only as edible as olives I was used to but also just really extremely tasty. That was it though, the olives were generally horrible everywhere else. Sort of edible, but so strong as to be an obvious severe and immediate health hazard. Same with the Feta goat cheese. I got a few packages early on that were like I was used to from California, but that was it. The rest of it was inedible. Just horrible stuff that caused immediate problems, and it tasted bad also. And so went the food throughout the Mediterranean. Mostly just horrible stuff. The bread was inedible, the potatoes made everyone sick and the meat was so badly contaminated that it was actually scary to eat.
I soldered on though and just kept looking for edible things to eat. I also kept up a regular program of intense physical exercise even though it usually felt like it was going to kill me. I had always sort of known that my body had an enormous capability for adaptation and recovery and I remained optimistic that the culinary harassment would be short lived. The food in Europe did start to improve somewhat, but it was a slow process.
Returning to the Americas in late 2012 saw some additional improvements. Some of the packaged foods from the U.S. down in the Caribbean were pretty good, and some of the locally produced foods were fairly descent as well. What was really a big surprise though was that returning to Florida the food once again was just absolutely out of this world horrible. What had happened to the lousy but consistent food I had been used to? Gone, all gone. The fast food restaurants were serving up death on a bun and everything at the super market was markedly worse than it had been. Where had all the food gone?
The lousy food went on getting worse for some time throughout 2013 and 2014. It was really bad, everyone was miserable and it seemed there was nothing that could be done. I just kept drinking tons of water and tried not to think about eating. I did however continue to search for edible food products, and eventually they began to show up. The first consistent ones were Odwala brand food bars. The orange cranberry and chocolate peanut butter were my favorite. The orange cranberry was more palatable, but not much to eat. The chocolate peanut butter one was a bit harder to swallow, but had some good staying power for a long three hour ride.
With two food bars and a quart of water I headed out through the hills on my dirt bike and I usually found that I was much healthier and stronger at the end of the ride than I had been at the beginning even if I did also feel totally exhausted and somewhat brain dead. By ridding about every other day or every third day and trying hard to avoid eating contaminated foods everything slowly improved.
So what was going on? It is the simple fact that increased metabolism is able to process through certain toxins much more rapidly. It seems that what the food was contaminated with was carefully chosen to yield horrendous immediate health effects while doing relatively little actual damage to the body. It was toxic to be sure, it caused immediate functionality problems while also degrading overall health over a longer period of time. It was however also able to be eliminated by natural processes within the body.
Beer nuts are free, sort of. As long as the beer sells the bar puts out beer nuts. Salty, not very edible and manifestly compatible with beer. Eat a few beer nuts and a drink of something is required. Eat more beer nuts, and what happens? I don't know, I have never eaten beer nuts much. I have however seen that some of the intentional food contamination is designed to sell beer. Some toxin that seems to break down in the presence of something in good beer. It is like milk and cookies, only on a larger scale and over a longer period of time.
Good beer is a minor health hazard, bad beer is a major health hazard. Many Europeans and Americans drink beer or wine, some to excess some in moderation. Many Europeans and Americans have made a lifestyle of drinking beer or wine. The alcohol clearly is toxic and causes problems, but we keep drinking it. Part of this is the history of water quality in Europe. Beer and wine saved us as a civilization from the onslaught of bacteriological pathogens, and we are forever grateful. Not only consciously but also from an evolutionary perpective. See Water: Getting the Bugs Out. That does not however change the simple fact that ethanol is toxic and undesirable in a natural diet.
It appears that something has happened though where the historical significance of beer and wine have outstripped the immediate problems associated with ethanol consumption. Beer nuts. I think that the food industry companies may have been trying to sell beer and wine to a new generation. There is some really good beer on the market at present, and wine production is also a notch up from what it had been for many decades.
Just how this all fits together is extremely controversial, but some things are pretty clear. There has been a consorted attack on the health of the world population, but there is also good reason to believe that it has not been all out of malevolence. The fact that good recovery from the toxins that have been added to food is possible indicates that those specific toxins were probably chosen specifically for demonstrating a principle. And that principle is that toxicology is conquerable. Beer amnesty one might say. So what if you practically killed yourself drinking beer, you can recover.
Drinking less beer in the future might be a good idea for some people. Ethanol is toxic and undesirable. Those beer nuts do however also seem to do something to break the ethanol down before it does too much damage. And this is where it is important to address another very controversial aspect of good beer. It isn’t just the ethanol. There are other drugs in there also, and it has probably been this way for a rather long period of time. Beer nuts with a good beer prevents the ethanol from getting too far and doing damage, and other drugs yield a euphoric altered state. Dangerous stuff, but it is part of European history and European civilization. Ethanol it's self may be something of a drug, but it is probably not what people like about drinking beer. As far as I know the effects of ethanol are not all that pleasant. I have messed with ethanol a bit both for sterilizing equipment in a laboratory setting and also as a solvent and motor vehicle fuel. It is not all that toxic or dangerous, but it certainly is to be avoided. Sorting out just what ethanol is though is a bit tough, most industrial ethanol is supplied with significant quantities of methanol and methanol is quite nasty.
It would be hard to imagine that it is not better simply not to drink beer or wine. That is mostly what I did. As pervasive as beer is I mostly kept away from it. That is not to say that I never drank beer, I certainly did. I just always tried to keep in mind that minimizing exposure to beer was desirable.