Saturday, July 11, 2009

Antimony for Good Digestion?!

Scribal Terror has an article on "The Everlasting Pill," which was apparently an item you could buy in the past as an aid to good digestion. It was a small "bullet" of metallic antimony that you swallowed as a purgative agent. Not only that, it was meant to be re-used: once it had passed all the way through your digestive system it could be recovered, cleaned off and used again!

The original source is the Medico-Pharmaceutical Critic and Guide (1907), edited by William J. Robinson, which goes on to say:
This, as Dr. J. A. Paris says, was economy in right earnest, for a single pill would serve a whole family during their lives and might be transmitted as an heirloom to their posterity. We have heard of a lady, says the Doctor, who, having swallowed one of these pills became seriously alarmed at its not passing. "Madam," said her physician, "fear not. It has already passed thru a hundred patients without any difficulty."
And then finishes with this keen observation:
We do not think that the everlasting pill would be popular at the present time.
I wonder why antimony was chosen? Antimony and its compounds have been used in treating parasites, but I don't know it that would have anything to do with the supposed "cathartic" properties of the "Everlasting Pill." Of course, antimony is toxic. According to wikipedia, antimony poisoning is similar to arsenic poisoning, which only makes sense since antimony is right below arsenic in the periodic table. I don't know how much metallic antimony you would absorb through the gut, but I doubt it would be a good idea to use this device.

You can read the original, and many other interesting articles in the Medico-Pharmaceutical Critic and Guide which is available by way of Google Books. This book is out of copyright, so you can read the whole thing for free on line, or download a PDF copy for yourself. As a bonus, you can also search and copy selections on line - which is how I got the quote above. Since the PDF version is just a scanned image it can't be searched or copied so easily.

Image: Wikimedia commons

Scribal Terror: The everlasting pill by way of Neatorama,

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