A woman subject to hives (an unpleasant itchy crop of skin blisters due to eating certain articles of diet) was going on a long train journey where she would have to eat whatever she could get. She asked her doctor at the last moment for something to ward off hives.
Hives, also known as nettle-rash or urticaria, is an example of allergy. Certain people are allergic to certain articles of diet. If they eat this food they get stomach pains, vomiting, a skin rash or blisters, running eyes or noses, often a state of collapse – any symptom or a mixture.
In this case the doctor had a sample of a new anti-allergy drug in tablet form and gave it to the patient, who hurried off to catch her train. When she returned from her trip she visited the doctor “singing her praises” of the new drug – not as an anti-allergic (she managed to avoid her upsetting foods) but as a cure and preventative of train sickness.
That’s how Dramamine, now universally used as a preventive of air sickness, seasickness, motor-car sickness or train sickness, came into the picture.
During the war the drug was used on American troop ships on rough Atlantic crossings, cutting seasickness down to 2 percent. After the war it became a plane-sickness standby.
This typical example of the way a drug intended for one purpose proves unexpectedly suitable for another, is paralleled by the peculiar action of certain new drugs and vitamins, not on disease but on healthy patients. But the unexpected action of certain new drugs on the healthy seems to show there is a kind of plus health attainable which doctors never dreamed of.
The vitamin B12 is a successful treatment for pernicious anemia. It is the active principle in liver extract which controls this disease. Naturally it is not given to healthy persons who do not suffer from pernicious anemia.
But in America research chemists, seeking a cheaper source of B12 than liver extract, found it was present in certain bacteria which grew in poultry farm refuse. The chemists cultivated these germs in the laboratory, and extracted B12 as a compound form called animal protein factor or APF.
Farm stock which accidentally got access to APF were found to thrive on it. Fowls and pigs particularly did well; it diminished the death rate in sucking-pigs, increased growth of chickens. While veterinary scientists were amazed at this unexpected result, another accident happened.
A biochemist was trying out the new antibiotic drug aureomycin on animals. Aureomycin is a rare expensive drug made from a mold which grows in soil. It is a specific cure for virus pneumonia, one of the newly recognized lung infections against which penicillin and sulfa drugs are useless.
An American experimenter, testing aureomycin against a virus disease in animals, found that a healthy young animal (given aureomycin as a disease preventive) grew bigger and stronger than others that did not.
This extraordinary result, to a lesser extent, follows adding penicillin or streptomycin to stock food. Pigs that get aureomycin gain weight (11 to 15 percent) over those that get none. If also given APF they grow still faster.
The American experiments, however, have opened up a new field of research. Whether there are subtle virus infections prevalent throughout the world which restrain growth (and which aureomycin cures); whether a mild form of pernicious anemia affects young animals (which vitamin B12 cures) these are problems for the future to solve.
Meanwhile, scientists had been studying the queer new disease “dog hysteria” prevalent in Britain. An affected dog gets nervy, starts running madly till it falls in convulsions. This was recently traced to nitrogen trichloride, a substance added by English millers to “improve” flour. This is harmless to animals, toxic to dogs. (It is present in English dog biscuits.)
Before this cause was discovered, a vet thinking dog hysteria might be “brain starvation” due to poor diet, tried giving dogs glutamic acid and found it prevented their taking convulsions.
Since then glutamic acid has been tried in absence seizures (petit mal seizures) in human children, and found effective – though the diseases have no relationship.