The Body Chemical

Today’s show looks at how ideas about the body’s equilibrium have changed over the past few centuries.

Episode 5 | January 11, 2008

Episode 5: The Body Chemical by Distillations Podcast

Western medicine has always looked at the body as a system in balance. Today’s show looks at how ideas about the body’s equilibrium have changed over the past few centuries, from humoral theory to the discovery of vitamins and the role of trace elements in human health. In a new segment, “Mystery Solved,” Erin McLeary, CHF’s curator of exhibitions, explains how public health officials in the early 20th century uncovered the cause of pellagra, a strange and frightening disease associated with poverty in the Deep South. In a feature on the role of trace elements in the diet, naturopath Amy Rothenberg shows us around a health food store and Michael Maroney, a professor of chemistry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, gives us a medical tour of the periodic table. The Element of the Week: Black bile.

Show Clock

00:00 Opening Credits
00:32 Introduction
01:12 The Element of the Week: Black bile
02:52 Mystery Solved: Pellagra
05:39 Trace elements, or why do we need selenium and nickel, anyway?
08:55 Quote of the Week: Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
09:15 Closing Credits

Resources and References

On humoral theory: Noga Arikha, Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humors (Harper Collins, 2007), and the helpful entry on Wikipedia.

On pellagra: Elizabeth W. Etheridge, The Butterfly Caste (Greenwood, 1972).

On Joseph Golderberger: Dr. Joseph Goldberg and the War on Pellagra, an online exhibit by the Office of NIH History.

On trace elements in the body: NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheets.

Quote: Attributed to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, winner of the 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Although we found this quotation on a number of Web sites, we were unable to locate an original source. If you know where it comes from, please tell us!


Special thanks to Erin McLeary for researching the show.

Our theme music and all additional music this week is composed and performed by Dave Kaufman, from The music during the Element of the Week is Oh Buoy. The music for the end of Mystery Solved is Guicello’s Attempt. The music for the quotation is Une Plaisanterie.

“Vitamins” photo from stock.xchng, uploaded by n_yfe.