The cod-liver oil binge

Lupus cured by enormous quantities of cod-liver oilLupus is an autoimmune disease characterised by a skin rash, joint pain and fatigue.  Although poorly understood even today, it is known to be caused by an anomalous response of the body’s immune system, which erroneously begins to attack otherwise healthy tissue.

In 1852, when the Canada Medical Journal reported this case, the condition was widely (and incorrectly) believed to be contagious and caused by an as yet undetected infectious agent.  Whatever the reasoning behind it, the therapeutic regime employed on this occasion was more than a little extreme.

L’Union Medicale mentions a case of lupus in which the ulcerations cicatrized [scarred] under the influence, or during the administration of Cod-liver oil. The patient was a young man, aged 23, residing in the country, and was admitted into the hospital of Ghent on the 6th of December, 1850. The disease had manifested itself in various parts of the face and chest, and was of old standing. After purging and rest, half a pound of oil was given in the day, two equal halves being taken morning and evening; the daily dose was gradually carried to three pounds, with occasional interruptions when the appetite failed, or diarrhoea came on.

I can’t begin to imagine ingesting three pounds of cod-liver oil a day.  The patient must have been downing flagons of the ghastly stuff.

The patient was in the mean time well fed, had wine and beer, and the ulcerated spots were successively touched with tincture of iodine, lemon-juice, and nitrate of silver. In the space of about seven months the cure was complete, all the lupoid ulcerations, to the number of three or four, were completely cicatrized, and the patient had purchased this result by swallowing during that period 265 pounds of cod-liver oil!

 Poor guy.

 [We have long entertained the conviction that lupus is a disease of scrofulous nature, and like other manifestations of that cachexia, is more benefitted by cod-liver oil than by any other medicine. We have thus treated several cases successfully, but never found it requisite to administer more than a table-spoonful thrice in the day.—Ed. P. J.]

I should think not.

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