How Long Can You Survive on Beer Alone?
- In case anyone gets this idea for Lent next year.
How Long Can You Survive on Beer Alone?
Long enough to develop scurvy.
By Jeremy Singer-Vine
Posted Thursday, April 28, 2011, at 7:35 PM ET
Is a beer diet a good diet? An Iowa man completed his Lent-long beer fast<http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/27/beer-fast-ends-with-bacon-smoothie/> on Sunday, marking the occasion with a bacon smoothie. During the 46-day feat, J. Wilson consumed only beer and water, emulating a centuries-old tradition once practiced by the Paulaner monks of Munich, Germany. How long could a man survive on beer and water?
Not more than a few months, probably. That's when the worst effects of scurvy and protein deficiency would kick in. (Liver disease is a serious risk of chronic alcohol use, but it takes longer to arrive.) If you kept to a strict beer diet-and swore off plain water altogether-you'd likely die of dehydration in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the strength and volume of beer consumed. There's plenty of water in beer, of course, but the alcohol's diuretic effect makes it a net negative in terms of hydration under most conditions.
Scurvy would be an ironic cause of death for a beer-dieter, since the drink was long considered a prophylactic against the disease. For much of the 1700s, doctors administered beer, wort, and malt to prevent the lethargy, wounds, gum disease, fever, and eventual death caused by scurvy. Legendary British explorer Captain James Cook touted the anti-scorbutic effects of beer<http://scholar.google.com/scholar?cluster=10471478023513735783&hl=en&as_sdt=0,33>; his sailors' rations typically included a gallon per day. (The low-alcohol, made-from-concentrate brew would be unrecognizable today.) Beer's failure to quell major outbreaks of scurvy, like those at the siege of Gibraltar in 1780 and aboard the HMS Jupiter in 1781, helped disprove the theory. In 1795, the British admiralty adopted lemon juice as the official cure.
One serving of beer contains between zero<http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/> and 30<http://www.nrjournal.com/article/S0271-5317%2801%2900360-8/abstract> milligrams of vitamin C, depending on the recipe. But the alcohol also makes drinkers urinate vitamin C faster than usual<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2567249/#__sec7>, which is one reason doctors are supposed to monitor chronic alcoholics for scurvy. In the 1920s, British researchers tested the effects of a beer-based diet on two Rhesus macaque monkeys<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1259493/?page=3>. Each animal received up to 200 milliliters of India pale ale each day, along with some other foods lacking in vitamin C. "Well-defined symptoms" of scurvy appeared after 37 days for one and after 57 days for the other.
Aside from vitamin C, beer is notably deficient in vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as thiamine, protein, and fat. If scurvy didn't set in first, the thiamine deficiency known as beriberi might be deadly. If left untreated, beriberi can trigger heart failure. Protein deficiency is another major risk, with the potential to cause muscle wasting and anemia. To get the recommended daily intake from beer, you'd have to drink about 3.5 gallons a day.
CNN Belief Blog
04:20 PM ET
Beer-only fast ends with bacon smoothie<http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/27/beer-fast-ends-with-bacon-smoothie/>
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - J. Wilson has survived his 46-day beer-only fast and found some unexpected spiritual insights.
Wilson, who lives outside Des Moines, Iowa, was emulating a Lenten tradition carried out by German monks hundreds of years ago<http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/06/for-lent-can-man-live-by-brew-alone/>. In keeping with tradition he ate his last solid food on Ash Wednesday and broke his fast on Easter Sunday.
"I made a bacon smoothie and that's what I broke the fast with," Wilson said.
He slurped down the smoothie after midnight on the morning of Easter Sunday. He was up late for an interview with the BBC in London for their Easter Sunday broadcast
Wilson undertook the fast with medical advice from his doctor and spiritual advice from his pastor, after he conducted lengthy research into extended fasts.
In his research he found that smoothies were the best way to ease back into food. The plan was to go three days on smoothies before eating any solid foods.
"I planned on focusing on some foods that would help specifically my liver and my kidneys, which I had been beating up on for a couple of weeks -- so foods like cabbage and broccoli and cauliflower," he said. But it didn't quite work out that way.
"I had no idea my wife was going to buy my two boys a ham for Easter," he said. After he made a gravy with the drippings from the ham, he helped himself to two servings of mashed potatoes and gravy and some ham as well.
Wilson is an avid home brewer, blogger, and Christian, and his beer-only quest merged these passions.
For Lent, Christians often give up something to remember the sacrifice they believe Jesus made for them on the cross. Wilson decided to give up all food and drink except beer.
At the beginning of the fast Wilson drank four beers a day during the week and five a day on weekends. Toward the end of the fast, he increased his beer intake to five a day during the week to maintain his strength.
His drink of choice: 12 ounces of Illuminator Doppelbock, a recipe he developed and brewed with the help of Eric Sorensen, the senior brewer at Rock Bottom Brewery in Des Moines, Iowa.
Wilson kept one keg at home and one at the office at the Adams County Free Press<http://acfreepress.com> newspaper, where he's the editor. He spread the beers out through out the day and said he only felt tipsy three times over the 46 days.
He checked in with CNN's Carol Costello on the 31st day of the fast<http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/08/for-lent-can-man-live-by-brew-alone-2/>, and kept a running blog, the Diary of a Part-time Monk<http://diaryofaparttimemonk.wordpress.com>, documenting his quest and offering spiritual insights along the way.
Wilson said the spiritual takeaway was threefold:
- "I just don't think we give ourselves enough credit to accomplish difficult tasks. I think our bodies are capable of more than we ask of [them]. And certainly in relation to willpower - willpower related to food or willpower of how you're going to conduct yourself spiritually - I think we can do more.
- "I noticed early on a difference between needs and wants. The first thing I noticed even in that first week, I got to the spot on day three when I wasn't hungry any more, physically hungry. The aroma of food would kind of zap me and I would desire the cheeseburger that I smell or somebody's chicken noodle soup across the office. So I didn't need it but I wanted it. So there's a difference between needs and desires.
- "The real challenge is it's one thing to subscribe to beliefs, religion or otherwise, it's another thing to apply them to your life every moment of your life. Part of that whole monk in the world philosophy I was exploring is can you live like a monk or believe like a monk and still navigate our crazy world? The ongoing challenge is you've got these beliefs, now fine. Live it."
From a health standpoint, Wilson seems no worse the wear. He began the fast at 160 pounds and finished up at 135. He saw his doctor Wednesday morning and was told everything looked good for now, pending the results of blood tests.
If you're wondering if Wilson will ever drink beer again after living on nothing but beer for 46 days, he said he'll probably take a break from doppelbock, but on Easter Sunday he brewed 10 more gallons of a different recipe.
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