The Alchemy of Disease: How Chemicals and Toxins Cause Cancer and Other Illnesses

John Whysner. Columbia Univ., $35 (344p) ISBN 978-0-231-19166-1
Whysner, a former professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, delivers an illuminating overview of the history of toxicology. He traces the field back to the Middle Ages, when the alchemist Paracelsus undertook a groundbreaking study of mineral toxicity levels to determine what dosages would be safe to administer medicinally. Whysner continues through “the age of industrial chemicals,” starting in the mid-19th century, and the first study linking synthetics to cancer—in 1895, by a German surgeon who linked aniline dyes to bladder tumors. He goes on to describe how researchers demonstrated the hazards of coal dust, asbestos, arsenic (once used in wallpaper), and tobacco, among other agents. At present, he notes, smoking is still, despite much higher awareness of its dangers, a leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. He suggests that simple, preventative solutions for alleviating the ill effects of toxin exposure (including, in addition to stopping smoking, promoting healthier eating and more exercising) have been downplayed by the health-care industry thanks to the availability (and profitability) of medical treatments, a speculation some readers may reject. Nonetheless, serious students of medical history will appreciate this detailed, historical account of toxicology’s contributions to better health. (June)
Reviewed on : 03/25/2020
Release date: 06/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 978-0-231-54950-9
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