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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Health and Illness II
GA 348

V. The Effect of Nicotine — Vegetarian and Meat Diets — On Taking Absinthe — Twin Births

13 January 1922, Dornach

A question is raised concerning the effects of vegetarian and meat diets, and of nicotine.

Concerning conception, how is it possible that women bear sons if none of the ancestors had sons? How can the birth of two sets of twins be explained?

What influence does absinthe have on semen?

What is the difference between the ages of wasps and bees?

Dr. Steiner: The matters I have discussed regarding bees naturally refer only to bees and not to wasps. Bees differ from wasps, so my statements refer to bees, not wasps.

Now we shall try to go into these questions. The first asked about the influence of nicotine and therefore of the poison that is introduced into the human body through smoking and through tobacco in general. First, we must be clear how the effect of nicotine shows itself. The effect of nicotine shows itself above all in the activity of the heart. Through nicotine, an increased, stronger activity of the heart is called forth. The heart is not a pump, however, but only indicates what goes on in the body: the heart beats faster when the blood circulates faster. Nicotine therefore actually affects the blood circulation, animating it. One must therefore be clear that through the introduction of nicotine into the human body, the blood circulation is stimulated. This, in turn, calls forth a stronger activity of the heart.

Now, this whole process in the human organism must be traced. You must be clear that everything occurring in the human organism is actually strictly regulated. One of the most important points regarding the human organism, for example, is the fact that the pulse rate of the adult is 72 beats a minute, and this holds true even into old age.

By comparison, as I have mentioned to you before, man takes about 18 breaths a minute. When you multiply 18 by 4, you get 72. This means that on the average the blood substance pulses four times as quickly through the body as does the breath. Of course, these are average figures; they differ slightly in each human being. The fact that this ratio varies in people accounts for the differences between them, but on the average it is 1:4; that is, the blood circulation is four times stronger than that of the breathing rhythm.

If I now introduce nicotine into the human organism, I can do it for two reasons — first, because of a strong liking for tobacco, and second, as a remedy. Every substance that is poisonous is also a remedy. Everything, one can say, is both poisonous and healing. If, for example, you drink several buckets of water, they naturally have a poisonous effect, whereas the proper amount is a means of sustenance, and when it is introduced in unusually small amounts, it can even be a remedy. As a matter of fact, water is generally a potent remedy when certain methods are employed. It can therefore be said that even the most commonplace substances can be poisons as well as remedies. This is why the effect that a given substance has on the human organism must be known.

If I introduce tobacco into the human organism, it first stimulates the blood circulation. The blood becomes more active, circulating more vigorously. Breathing, however, is not stimulated to the same degree by tobacco; the breathing rhythm remains the same. The blood circulation is therefore no longer synchronized with the breathing. If man were to introduce nicotine into his body, he would need a blood circulation different from the one he ordinarily has.

Let us say, for example, that there were a person whose system was adjusted to the exact average of 18 breaths and 72 pulse beats (there aren't any such persons, but let's assume there were one). Now, nicotine causes his pulse rate to increase to, let us say, 76 beats. The correct ratio between the pulse and the respiration thus is altered. The result is that the blood doesn't receive enough oxygen, since a certain amount is supposed to be absorbed into the blood with each pulse beat. The consequence of nicotine poisoning, therefore, is that the blood demands too much oxygen. The breathing process does not supply enough oxygen, and a slight shortness of breath occurs. This shortness of breath is, of course, so negligible that it escapes notice; after all, as I have told you, the human body can take a lot of abuse. Nevertheless, the use of nicotine always calls forth a definite, very slight shortness of breath. This slight shortness of breath causes with each breath a feeling of anxiety. Every shortness of breath causes a feeling of anxiety. It is easier to control a normal sensation of anxiety than this terribly slight anxiety, of which one is completely unconscious. When something like anxiety, fear, or shock remains unnoticed, it is a direct source of illness.

Such a source of illness is constantly present in a person who is a heavy smoker because, without realizing it, he is always filled with a certain anxiety. Now, you know that if you suffer from anxiety, your heart pumps more quickly. This leads you to realize that the heart of a person who constantly poisons himself with nicotine continuously beats somewhat too fast. When it beats too quickly, however, the heart thickens, just as the muscle of the upper arm, the biceps, grows thicker when it is constantly strained. Under some circumstances, this is not so bad, as long as the inner tissue doesn't tear. If the heart muscle — it is also a muscle — becomes too thick from over-exertion, however, it exerts pressure on all the other organs with the result, as a rule, that beginning from the heart the blood circulation becomes disturbed. The circulation of the blood cannot be initiated by the heart, but it can be disturbed when the heart is thickened.

The next consequence of a thickened heart is that the kidneys become ill, since it is due to the harmonious activities of heart and kidneys that the entire human bodily organization is kept functioning properly. The heart and kidneys must always work in harmony. Naturally, everything in the human being must harmonize, but the heart and kidneys are directly connected. It quickly becomes apparent that when something is amiss in the heart, the kidneys no longer function properly. Urinary elimination no longer works in the right way with the result that man develops a much too rapid tempo of life and comes to wear himself out too quickly. A person who takes into his body too much nicotine in relation to his bodily proportions therefore will slowly but surely deteriorate. Actually, he gradually perishes from a variety of inner conditions of anxiety that influence the heart.

The effects of states of anxiety on the activities of the soul can easily be determined. In people who have introduced too much nicotine into their bodies, it becomes noticeable that gradually their power of thought is also impaired. The power of thought is impaired, because man can no longer think properly when he lives in anxiety. Nicotine poisoning, therefore, can be recognized by the fact that such people's thoughts are no longer quite in order. They usually jump to conclusions much too quickly. They sometimes intensify this overly rapid judgment to paranoid thoughts. We can therefore say that the use of nicotine for pleasure actually undermines human health.

In all such matters, however, you must consider the other side. Smoking is something that has only come about in humanity's recent evolution. Originally, human beings did not smoke, and it is only recently that the use of tobacco has become fashionable. Now let us look at the other side of the coin.

Let us assume that a person's pulse beats only 68 instead of 72 times per minute. Such a person, whose blood circulation is not animated enough, now begins to smoke. You see, then, his blood circulation is stimulated in the right direction, from 68 to 72, so that his blood circulation and breathing harmonize. If, therefore, a doctor notices that an illness is caused by weak blood circulation, he may even advise his patient to smoke.

As was said before, when the blood circulation is too rapid relative to breathing, one is dealing with terrible conditions of anxiety, which, however, do not become conscious. If for some reason a person's blood circulation is too weak, however, this makes itself felt by the fact that he goes around wanting to do something but not knowing what. This is also a characteristic phenomenon of illness; there are people who go around wanting something, but they do not know what it is that they want. Just think how many people go around without knowing what they want! One commonly says that they are dissatisfied with life. They are the people, who, for example, somehow drift into some profession, which then does not suit them, and so forth. This is really due to a blood circulation that is too weak. With such a person one can actually say that it is beneficial to administer nicotine to cure him. If smoking is agreeable to him, one need not prescribe nicotine in medicinal form, but one can advise him to smoke, if previously he wasn't a smoker.

It is actually true that in recent times people who really do not know what they want have become more and more numerous. It is indeed easy in our modern age for people not to know what they want, because, since about three or four centuries ago, the majority of them have become unaccustomed to occupying themselves with something spiritual. They go to their offices and busy themselves with something they actually dislike but that brings in money. They sit through their office hours, are even quite industrious, but they have no real interests except going to the theater or reading newspapers. Gradually, things have been reduced to this. Even reading books, for example, has become a rarity today.

That this has all come about is due to the fact that people don't know at all what they want. They must be told what they want. Reading newspapers or going to the theater stimulates the senses and the intellect but not the blood. When one must sit down and read some difficult book, the blood is stimulated. As soon as an effort has to be made to understand something, the blood is stimulated, but people do not want that anymore. They quite dislike having to exert themselves to understand something. That is something quite repugnant to people. They do not want to understand anything! This unwillingness to understand causes their blood to thicken. Such thick blood circulates more slowly. As a result, a remedy is constantly required to bring this increasingly thick blood into motion. It is brought into motion when they stick a cigarette into the mouth. The blood doesn't become thinner, but the blood circulation becomes ever more difficult. This can cause people to become afflicted with various signs of old age at a time in life when this needn't yet occur.

This shows how extraordinarily delicate the human body's activity is. Diagnostic results are obtained not only when the blood is examined but also when the manner in which a person behaves — whether he thinks slowly or quickly — is studied. You therefore can see, gentlemen, that if you wish to know something about the effect of nicotine, you must be thoroughly familiar with the entire circulatory and breathing processes.

Now, remember what I recently told you about how the blood is produced in the bone marrow. Essentially it comes from there. If the blood is produced in the bone marrow and the blood is made to circulate too quickly, then the bone marrow must also work faster than it should. As a result, the bones cannot keep up with their work, and then those creatures develop within the bones, those little creatures that devour us. Doctors such as Metchnikoff believed that these osteoclasts, as such little fellows are called, are the cause of human death. Metchnikoff said that if there were no osteoclasts, we would live forever. He held that they literally devour us. The fact is that the older we get, the more osteoclasts are present. It is true that our bones are gradually eaten by the osteoclasts, but from the other side it is like fertilizing a field well — more will grow on it than if it were badly fertilized. For man, the introduction of nicotine into the body has a detrimental effect on the bones, but for these cannibalistic bone-devourers, the osteoclasts, it creates the best environment possible.

This is how it is in the world. A lazy thinker assumes that the world is fashioned by the Good Lord and so all must be well. Then one can ask why God allowed the osteoclasts to grow alongside the bones? If He had not allowed the osteoclasts to grow, we would not be slowly devoured throughout life. Instead, we could abuse our bones so terribly that something else would finally make them deteriorate. In any case, they could last for centuries if these little beasts were not contained within them.

It serves no purpose, however, to think lazily this way. The only useful thing is to go truly into the facts, to know that the delicate forces instrumental in building up the bones have their adversaries. These osteoclasts, too, are part of creation, and we have them within us by the millions. The older you get, the more of these osteoclasts you have. You have cannibals, though they are minute, always within you. Actual cannibals are not the most clever; the cleverest are those that we carry around within us in this way, and they find fertile ground when nicotine is introduced into the body.

You can recognize the extraordinary importance of thoroughly understanding the entire human being in order to determine how a given substance works in the human body. Now, man constantly eats. He eats animal substances and he eats those of plants. I have told you before that I have no intention of promoting one or another form of diet. I only point out the effects. Vegetarians have frequently come to me saying they are prone to slight fainting spells, and so on. I have told them that it is because they don't eat meat. These matters must be viewed quite objectively; one must not desire to force something. What is the “objective view,” however, regarding eating plants and eating meat? Consider the plant. A plant manages to develop the seed that is planted in the earth all the way to green leaves and colorful flower petals. Now, you either receive your nourishment directly from grains, or you pluck a cabbage and make soup or something. Compare what you get from the plant with what is present in meat, usually an animal's muscle. Meat is a completely different substance from the plant. What is the relationship between these two substances?

You know that there are some animals that are simply gentle vegetarian beings. There are animals that do not eat meat. Cows, for example, eat no meat. Neither are horses keen on meat; they also eat only plants. Now, you must be clear that an animal not only absorbs food but is also constantly shedding what is inside its body. Among birds you know that there is something called moulting. The birds lose their feathers and must replace them with new ones. You know that deer drop their antlers. You cut your nails, and they grow back. What appears outwardly so visible here is part of a continuous process. We constantly shed our skins. I have explained this to you once before. During a period of approximately seven to eight years, our entire bodies are shed and replaced with new ones. This is also the case with animals.

Consider a cow or an ox. After some years the flesh within it has been entirely replaced. With oxen the exchange takes place even faster than with human beings. A new flesh is therefore made. From what did this flesh originate, however? You must ask yourselves this. The ox itself has produced the flesh in its body from plant substances. This is the most important point to consider. This animal's body is therefore capable of producing meat from plants. Now, you can cook cabbage as long as you like, but you won't turn it into meat! You do not produce meat in your frying pan or your stew pot, and nobody has ever baked a cake that became meat. This cannot be done with outer skills, but, taken fundamentally, the animal's body can accomplish inwardly what one can't do outwardly. Flesh is produced in the animal's body, and to do this, forces must first be present in the body. With all our technological forces, we have none by which we can simply produce meat from plants. We don't have that, but in our bodies and in animal bodies there are forces that can make meat substance from plant substance.

Now, this is a plant (sketching) that is still in a, meadow or field. The forces that have been active up to this point have brought forth green leaves, berries, and so forth. Imagine a cow devours this plant. When the cow devours this plant, it becomes flesh in her. This means that the cow possesses the forces that can make this plant into meat.

Figure 1

Now imagine that an ox suddenly decided that it was too tiresome to graze and nibble plants, that it would let another animal eat them and do the work for it, and then it would eat the animal. In other words, the ox would begin to eat meat, though it could produce the meat by itself. It has the inner forces to do so. What would happen if the ox were to eat meat directly instead of plants? It would leave all the forces unused that can produce the flesh in him. Think of the tremendous amount of energy that is lost when the machines in a factory in which something or other is manufactured are all turned on without producing anything. There is a tremendous loss of energy. But the unused energy in the ox's body cannot simply be lost, so the ox is finally filled with it, and this pent-up force does something in him other than produce flesh from plant substances. It does something else in him. After all, the energy remains; it is present in the animal, and so it produces waste products. Instead of flesh, harmful substances are produced. Therefore, if an ox were suddenly to turn into a meat eater, it would fill itself with all kinds of harmful substances such as uric acid and urates.

Now urates have their specific effects. The specific effects of urates are expressed in a particular affinity for the nervous system and the brain. The result is that if an ox were to consume meat directly, large amounts of urates would be secreted; they would enter the brain, and the ox would go crazy. If an experiment could be made in which a herd of oxen were suddenly fed with pigeons, it would produce a completely mad herd of oxen. That is what would happen. In spite of the gentleness of the pigeons, the oxen would go mad.

You see, such a matter naturally testifies against materialism, because if oxen only ate pigeons and if only the material element were effective, they would have to become as gentle as the pigeons. That would not be the case at all, however. Instead, the oxen would turn into terribly wild, furious creatures. This is proved by the fact that horses become extremely violent when fed a little meat. They begin to grow wild, because they are not accustomed to eating meat.

This, of course, applies also to human beings. It is very interesting that historically a part of Asia's peoples is strictly vegetarian. These are gentle people who rarely wage war. In the Near East, people began to eat meat and thus brought about the madness of war. The peoples of the Asian nations transform plants into flesh by making use of the forces that otherwise are left unused, unconscious. Consequently, these people remain gentle whereas the meat eaters of other nations do not remain so gentle.

We must be clear that people have only gradually become mature enough for such deliberations as we are presenting here. When people began to eat meat, it could not be considered in the way we have just done; it all arose from feeling and instinct.

You see, the lion continually devours meat; he is no plant eater. The lion also has very short intestines, unlike the plant-eating animals whose intestines are very long. This is also the case in humans. If a person is born into a certain race or people whose ancestors ate meat, then his intestines will already be shorter. They will be too short for pure vegetarianism. If, in spite of that, he eats only plants, he will have to practice all sorts of measures to remain healthy.

It is certainly possible to be a vegetarian today, and it has many points in its favor. One of the main advantages of eating only vegetables is that one does not tire as quickly. Since no uric acid and urates are secreted, one does not tire as quickly but will retain a clearer head and think more easily — if one is in the habit of thinking! A person who cannot think does not gain anything by freeing his brain from urates, because it is necessary for the whole human organization to harmonize. In any case, through self-control, a person can become a vegetarian today. Then he uses those forces that, in people who eat meat, are simply left unused.

Now, I wish to call your attention to a strange phenomenon. If you look around in the world, you will find that there is an illness that quickly undermines human health. It is so-called diabetes, the sugar sickness. First, sugar is discovered in the urine, and man soon succumbs to the body's deterioration, which is caused by an over-abundance of sugar. It is a truly fatal illness. Sugar is also what keeps the human being inwardly strong, when taken in the right way.

This can even be verified by statistics. Much less sugar is consumed in Russia than in England. This really accounts for the entire difference between the Russian people and the English. The English are self-conscious and egotistical; the Russians are unselfish and physically not as vigorous. This is related to the lower sugar consumption in Russia than in England, where a large amount of sugar is eaten in the food. The human body, however, requires the assimilation of an amount of sugar. Just as the bones support a human being, so the amounts of sugar circulating in his body sustain him. If, then, too much sugar is eliminated in the urine, too little is taken up by the body and the health is undermined. This is diabetes.

Diabetes is today more prevalent among Jews. Certainly others also have diabetes, but it occurs with particular frequency today among Jews. These people have a tendency to diabetes. The Jew has more difficulty absorbing sugar, yet on the other hand he requires it. The Jewish diet should therefore actually tend to make it as easy as possible for the human body to make use of sugar and not to eliminate it.

If you read the Old Testament, you will find a variety of dietary rules that to this day are observed in restaurants that serve kosher food. Kosher cooking follows the ancient Mosaic dietary laws. If you study these, you will find the essence lies in the fact that Jews should eat food that allows the greatest assimilation of sugar, since this people has difficulty absorbing it. Pork makes the assimilation of sugar extremely difficult — pork aggravates diabetes unusually in the human being — so the prohibition of pork was calculated particularly to prevent diabetes. You see, you must read the Old Testament even from a medical standpoint; then it becomes terribly interesting. It is fascinating to trace what the various prohibitions and kosher preparations of foods are intended to accomplish. Even the so-called “Schächten,” the special way of butchering and killing poultry, for example, is intended to retain just the right amount of blood in the meat a Jew consumes so he can assimilate from it the right amount of sugar.

In recent times, Jews have gradually neglected their dietary laws, although they still remain within their racial relationships. Since the dietary rules are really rules for a specific racial group, to abandon them is detrimental, and they therefore succumb more readily to diabetes than other people. That is how it is.

We therefore can say that a meat diet produces unused forces in the human being that work in the human body improperly to produce waste. Naturally, this waste can then be eliminated again, but it is often a quite complicated task. One can say that when some matters are rightly expressed, they look quite peculiar. Some people work in their own particular way all winter long and eat in their own way, too. They consume with pleasure just enough food to give them a slight stomach upset every day, which they keep under control by drinking the necessary amount of alcohol. Come April or May they are ready for Karlsbad or some other health spa, since by that time they have accumulated a goodly amount of waste in their organisms, in their bodies. What they really need now is a thorough cleansing. The system must be cleaned out. They go to Karlsbad. You know that the waters of Karlsbad cause vigorous diarrhea, which purges the system. This done, they can return home and begin all over again. As a rule, no more is necessary than to go to Karlsbad every year, but if they are kept from going once, they suffer from something like diabetes or some related problem.

From the standpoint of an affluent society, it does not sound too bad to say that so-and-so is going to Karlsbad. In reality, it means using manure buckets to put one's body back in order; this is what drinking the waters and taking the baths at Karlsbad accomplish. The system is thoroughly purged and is then all right for a while.

Naturally, this is no way to raise the level of national health. Ultimately, the quality of all foods processed and sold on the market is geared to the eating habits of a person who can afford to go to Karlsbad or a similar spa. One who cannot afford to go to Karlsbad also has to eat, but he can't be purged without the money. No other foods are available to him. Therefore, a start must be made in medicine to set social life on the right course.

Naturally, one could expound on this subject much longer. If I have forgotten something today, however, I shall try to tell you about it in the course of time.

Concerning absinthe, I only wish to add that it actually works quite similarly to the alcohol in wine, for example. The difference is that while wine directly ruins the physical substance — sleep evens matters out somewhat — absinthe also ruins the sleep. With absinthe, a person gets a hangover during sleep, and he is therefore prevented from sleeping well. One must sleep, however, if one drinks alcohol. Ordinarily, too much drink must be slept off — this is testified to by the expression, “to sleep it off.” Sleep has a beneficial effect on alcohol intake and evens matters out. For this reason, absinthe is more damaging than ordinary alcohol, because even sleep is ruined.

Now you need to consider how our hair, for example, grows more rapidly during sleep. A person who shaves knows that when he sleeps particularly late on a given day, he is more in need of a shave when he wakes. Have you noticed this? (Answer: “Oh yes!”) When the soul activity is absent from the body, whiskers grow very quickly. Sleep is there to stimulate the growth forces in the physical body. Absinthe, however, extends its effects even into sleep, and with absinthe-drinkers sleep does not neutralize these effects. The red corpuscles of the blood are even ruined in sleep in women who drink absinthe, and in men the white corpuscles are ruined. Something else comes in here. Since absinthe works all the way into sleep, a woman's monthly period is very strongly influenced. Irregularities then occur that become even more pronounced in her descendants. The result is that ovulation, which should occur every four weeks, takes place irregularly.

The main thing that. can be said about absinthe is, therefore, that it works similarly to the ordinary alcohol in wine, beer, or cognac, but it even ruins sleep. Though one could go into more detail, I wish to say something concerning the other question that was asked about twins.

In identical twin births, fertilization occurs just as it does for single births. A male sperm penetrates the female egg cell, which then closes itself off; all the other processes take place within it. The number of offspring derived from this egg is determined by something quite other than the number of male sperm. Only one sperm enters the egg, whereas the whole world has an influence on the offspring. They are created by the forces of the entire universe.

What I have to say now sounds somewhat curious, but it is the truth. It can happen that shortly after fertilization the woman is subjected again to the same influences from the cosmos. This is what I mean: let us assume that fertilization occurs during the time of the waning moon. The woman is then exposed to certain forces in the cosmos that originate from a certain segment of the moon. Now, in the first three weeks after fertilization the initial processes are completely indefinite. Nothing can yet be determined. After three weeks, the human being is just a minute little fish-like thing. Before that, everything is indefinite. The three weeks run their course, always in such a way that almost anything can develop from the human germ, and if things are just right and the woman now comes under the influence of the waxing moon, then the same influences are again present externally. Some effects have already been present from the waning moon; now the waxing moon also has an influence, and the birth of twins can come about.

It can also be possible that a woman might consciously be eager to have a child, but subconsciously she harbors a certain antipathy, perhaps a totally unconscious antipathy, toward bearing children. She need only have a certain antipathy toward the man she has married. Such antipathies also exist. Then she herself holds back the rapid development of the so-called embryo, the human germ. The influences that should have an effect once work several times from the cosmos, and thus triplets can result. Even quadruplets have been born. All this is never caused by the fertilization, however, but by the other influences, the outer influences. If identical twin births were to occur at fertilization, the twins would certainly turn out to be different from each other since they would have had to originate from different sperm. Twins can indeed also come from two eggs rather than one. But the striking feature of identical twins is that they are alike even in unusual characteristics; even what comes about at a later age, for instance, develops in the same way in twins. The reason is that they emerge from one egg. So you must realize that fertilization is not different in the case of identical twin births, but rather outer influences play their part here.