Ever since the revelation referred to as the “Word of Wisdom,” and now contained in D&C 89, was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith there has been talk of whether or not it is an effective physical health standard. I think it is perhaps beyond argument that it is effective spiritually, at least for those who believe that obedience to God’s word will bring them closer to Him (John 14:23), but the revelation also notes physical and mental benefits for keeping this word of wisdom, which can also have spiritual side effects:
- “shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones” (v18)
- “shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (v19)
- “shall run and not be weary” (v20)
- “shall walk and not faint” (v20)
- “the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (v21)
I shared my relative’s story, Creed Haymond, in my last post (or rather Creed shared it), which is a clear example of obedience to the Word of Wisdom blessing one to be able to “run and not be weary” and “walk and not faint.”
But there are many who still question the physical benefits of the Word of Wisdom, for one reason or another. For example, some might point to studies which show that there might be a health benefit to a low consumption of alcohol, as evidence against the Word of Wisdom. However, I believe there exists an abundance of scientific evidence that the proscriptions contained in the Word of Wisdom are for our general health benefit, both physically and mentally, and therefore also spiritually, much of which evidence has come to light since the revelation was given to Joseph Smith in 1833. I will give only one good example, which I just today came across.
Acetaldehyde (also known as ethanal) is an “organic chemical compound with the formula CH3 CHO, sometimes abbreviated by chemists as MeCHO (Me = methyl).” It occurs naturally in nature, and also through industrial processes. What makes it interesting in this context is that this single chemical is present in all of the main proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom, namely the consumption of coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco. It’s presence in coffee and tea is perhaps minor, but it is a large component of both alcohol drinking and tobacco smoke, which can lead to serious health consequences.
In alcohol drinking, this chemical is produced by the oxidation of ethanol, when alcohol in the liver is broken down by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. As such, acetaldehyde is a byproduct and a much more toxic substance (as much as 30x) than the alcohol from which it derives. It is associated with most of the clinical and pathogenic effects of alcohol consumption, including hangovers. Not only is it toxic, but mutagenic, and carcinogenic, causing such diseases as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
A combination of topical and digestive tract acetaldehyde may also result from drinking alcohol, as many bacterial microbes produce the chemical from ethanol, and so it can accumulate in the saliva during drinking, and in the esophagus, stomach and colon, which can cause digestive tract cancers including esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, and colorectal cancer. It can cause a number of adverse reactions in humans, when it comes in contact with the skin or ingested:
Acetaldehyde is an irritant of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, throat and respiratory tract. Symptoms of exposure to this compound include nausea, vomiting, headache. These symptoms may not happen immediately. It has a general narcotic action and large doses can even cause death by respiratory paralysis. It may also cause drowsiness, delirium, hallucinations and loss of intelligence. Exposure may also cause severe damage to the mouth, throat and stomach; accumulation of fluid in the lungs, chronic respiratory disease, kidney and liver damage, throat irritation, dizziness, reddening and swelling of the skin. ((Acetaldehyde, Wikipedia.))
In addition, some people have an inherited genetic mutation which causes the body to not produce the enzymes necessary to break down acetaldehyde, namely aldehyde dehydrogenase (caused by a variant in the ALDH2 gene). Such a genetic deficiency can cause a build up of acetaldehyde in the body while drinking, which can cause serious side effects such Alcohol Flush Syndrome, and has been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Similarly, acetaldehyde is a significant element in tobacco smoke, and so it is brought in to the body via the lungs and through swallowing while smoking (it is dissolved into the saliva). It also works synergistically with the nicotine, increasing smoking’s addictive nature. Likewise it is found in marijuana smoke. Studies in marijuana showed that the presence of acetaldehyde in the smoke causes DNA damage, or mutations in DNA, which can also cause cancers such as lung cancer.
It is clear that acetaldehyde is a serious danger to the physical health of our bodies and minds. I think it is interesting that some of the reactions of the brain to acetaldehyde are “delirium, hallucinations and loss of intelligence,” not to mention the mentally degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s. This is insightful in light of verse 19 of D&C 89, which calls attention to increases in wisdom and knowledge by obedience to the Word of Wisdom. The digestive tract has often been associated with the navel and nourishment (v18), and this can have severe problems, as we’ve seen, when it comes in contact with acetaldehyde. When the chemical is produced in the liver from alcohol, it enters the blood which has its source in bone marrow (v18). And, of course, the many problems associated with human contact with acetaldehyde can ultimately be fatal (v21).
Yet most of our understanding of acetaldehyde came long after 1833, when studies in organic chemistry matured. Although the chemical was first isolated in 1774 by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, it wasn’t until 1835 that the structure and composition of the chemical was obtained by chemist Justus Von Liebig in Germany, who also named the chemical, two years after the Word of Wisdom was revealed. Further observations of the chemical were made in 1881 by Kutscherow. The deleterious nature of the chemical (as noted in this post) was likely only beginning to be understood much later, in the twentieth century. Much of this understanding has come to light just in the past few years, such as the genetic correlations.
This is just one example of how the proscribed substances of the Word of Wisdom can be detrimental to us physically and mentally, and therefore also spiritually. Acetaldehyde is only one of the many harmful chemicals in these substances, and therefore only one of many reasons why the Lord may have counseled the Saints that these were “not for the belly” (D&C 89:7).
While your article is true it is a bit misleading. The body, under normal conditions, handles acetaldehyde without any negative effects. It is only when it is in large quantities, such as with binge drinking that the build up occurs. I’m not trying to advocate breaking the word of wisdom but it is important that we don’t overstate or stretch the truth to fit our ideas.
Thank you for your comment, but I disagree. There is nothing about acetaldehyde that is good for the body. While the body may be able to break it down in small amounts (which could be because it occurs naturally in our environment), that doesn’t mean we should intentionally injest it or substances which produce it. That would be like saying because our bodies can fully clot and heal wounds that intentional self-inflicted bleeding isn’t harmful. Acetaldehyde, even in small doses, can have serious health consequences, particularly for people with the ALDH2 genetic deficiency, which includes a large number of those of Asian descent.
“What makes it interesting in this context is that this single chemical is present in all of the main proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom, namely the consumption of coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco.”
Acetaldehyde is also present in fruit, vegetables, dairy products and bread in as similar concentrations. I agree with John Dawson—don’t stretch the truth to fit your ideas…
Actually, the concentrations of acetaldehyde produced by the metabolic breakdown of alcohol and in tobacco smoke are radically higher than in those foods, which is why I focused on these two, and noted that the amount in coffee and tea was minor in comparison. Here is a sampling of the average concentrations in common fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and bread:
(Michael Uebelacker and Dirk W. Lachenmeier, Quantitative Determination of Acetaldehyde in Foods Using Automated Digestion with Simulated Gastric Fluid Followed by Headspace Gas Chromatography, J Autom Methods Manag Chem. 2011; 2011: 907317. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3124883/)
Compare that with the concentrations produced by the oxidation of alcohol in the liver, and in tobacco smoke. As the study above notes, “A first-exposure estimation resulted in a daily acetaldehyde intake of less than 0.1mg/kg bodyweight from food, which is considerably lower than the exposures from alcohol consumption or tobacco smoking” (emphasis added).
For one point of comparison, here is the amount of acetaldehyde found directly in alcoholic beverages, even outside of ethanol metabolism. (It is certainly much higher after ethanol metabolism in the liver.)
(Lachenmeier DW, Sohnius EM, The role of acetaldehyde outside ethanol metabolism in the carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages: evidence from a large chemical survey, Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Aug; 46(8):2903-11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18577414/)
It is also interesting to note that just recently in October 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) upgraded acetaldehyde in association with alcohol consumption to Group 1, the highest possible classification, meaning it is “carcinogenic to humans,” in addition to reaffirming Group 1 status of tobacco smoking, second-hand smoke, and smokeless tobacco as also “carcinogenic to humans.” (International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group, Special Report: Policy A review of human carcinogens—Part E: tobacco, areca nut, alcohol, coal smoke, and salted fish. The Lancet 2009 10, 1033–1034. http://old.ensp.org/files/lancet-iarc-100-1.pdf)
I’m not sure exactly what truth you think I’m stretching.
You claim that section 89 of the D&C proscribes the consumption of alcohol which is untrue. It proscribes the consumption of strong drinks and wine except for it’s use in the sacrament. However, mild drinks made from barley are allowed. Mild drinks made from barley would be beer which, as you explained in your last comment, contain much less alcohol than wine or spirits (strong drinks). So, section 89 does allow the consumption of limited amounts of wine and the consumption of beer.
Now, some ignorant folks will claim that mild drinks made from barley are not beer but some other modern non-alcoholic barley based beverage. Hogwash. Unless you can discover some other common 1830’s era non-alcoholic barley based beverage, mild drinks made from barley means beer. Remember that the instructions in section 89 were meant to be understood by folks living in the 1830’s who had never lived by any type of dietary restriction. If you asked a group of such folks what’s a mild drink made from barley, they would unanimously say it’s beer.
That is certainly one way to interpret it, if you want to ignore the counsel and word of living prophets and apostles.
Here are the concentrations found in coffee and tea, which are, on average, significantly higher than most foods.
The IARC classifies coffee as a Group 2B “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
That’s not just an interpretation, that’s exactly what section 89 says. Have any of the apostles ever taught that mild drinks made from barley are not beer? I don’t believe they have. You have to understand that section 89 and the church’s prohibition policy are not the same thing. The Lord revealed section 89, which was not given as a commandment or requirement, to Joseph Smith in 1833. The church established a policy, in the early 1900’s, prohibiting the consumption of alcohol. Before then, wine was still used for the sacrament and members did consume alcohol in varying degrees. Now, that is forbidden by the church’s policy, not by section 89. Although cough syrup and vanilla extract are still allowed. The prohibition policy is based on section 89 but it didn’t change or reinterpret anything about section 89. They are not the same thing. However, because of the prohibition policy, members tend to apply a very strict interpretion to the verses of section 89 concerning alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea while allowing a very loose and open interpretation of the other verses.
If you have another way to interpret section 89, please explain. Do you believe that section 89 forbids the use of wine for the sacrament? Do you believe that mild drinks made from barley mean something other than beer? If so, what non-alcoholic barley based beverages were people making back in the 1830’s?
What may have been the case in 1833 is not necessarily the case today, it’s true. Living prophets and apostles today have interpreted the Word of Wisdom to mean abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. This is not a mere “policy,” but it is the word of God through his living oracles, a commandment, given by revelation the same way section 89 was given to Joseph Smith in 1833. I did not attempt an in-depth interpretation of section 89 in the context of what it may have meant in 1833, but it is the foundation of what is known as the Word of Wisdom today. Do you believe that living prophets, seers, and revelators have given us a commandment from the Lord today to abstain from the consumption of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, coffee, and tea?
If mild drinks made of barley included beer in 1833, and were not proscribed, then it has changed today. Beer is an alcoholic beverage which is now proscribed by the Word of Wisdom. If beer was not proscribed in 1833, it may have been because it was a method of purifying water of harmful microbes before modern technologies allowed for proper plumbing and sanitation. This may have also been a reason for making tea. In his 2007 book, Survival of the Sickest, Dr. Sharon Moalem notes:
As water purifying and sanitation systems improved in the early 1900’s, the Lord may have revealed it was time to proscribe alcoholic beverages and tea entirely, as “strong” and “hot” drinks. Regardless of the reason, it is proscribed today by the Lord’s commandment, and one cannot enter the House of the Lord if they don’t abide this word.
Here’s a selection of quotes from the Church on what the Word of Wisdom means to us today:
The church does have a policy against the consumption of alcohol but that was not received by revelation as a commandment. Section 89 was not given as a commandment – that is clearly stated in verse 2. If a revelation was received which made section 89, or any part of section 89, a commandment, were is that revelation recorded, which president of the church received it, and when was it received? Can you answer that? There was no revelation – instead, there is a policy based on a portion of section 89 that was developed over many years by the Apostles of the church. That doesn’t make it any less relevant but let’s recognize it for what it is.
Also, mild drinks made of barley did not include beer in 1833. Mild drinks made of barley were beer in 1833. “Strong drink” in section 89 refers to distilled alcohol. “Pure wine of the grape of the vine” refers to purely fermented wine, not fortified wine.
Bryce, you are looking at the science side of things which is cool. Here is a link to to Fairmormon. I think this help with some of the comments.
Not all revelations to God’s prophets are recorded in detail and published to the world. I suspect there are many revelations that are given to the Lord’s servants so that they may direct the affairs of the Church in the manner God intends, but are not necessarily made scripture. Some of these certainly come through the words of prophets and apostles in General Conference. What is clear is that the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, and coffee is a commandment, given by the Lord through his prophet, to us today, and obedience to it is a requirement to enter into the temple of God. The quotes I included above should make that clear.
Here is a great resource for questions about the Word of Wisdom: http://en.fairmormon.org/Topical_Guide/Doctrinal_issues/Word_of_Wisdom
Pres. Heber Grant is the one who cracked down on the Saints to start following the Word of Wisdom and made it a requirement to follow it or no Temple recommend among other things. Those Saints who did not follow the W of W before Pres. Grant were tolerated and told to drink, chew, and smoke discretely.
My parents were converts and did not smoke or drink prior to converting to the church. My mother comes from a line of alcoholics and mental illness and she was afraid to start drinking because she did not want to end up like other members of her family. I have witnessed first hand what alcoholism and drug addiction does. Last year my mother’s last surviving sibling passed away suddenly. After the funeral everyone was drinking (a lot). I was asked repeatedly if I wanted an alcoholic drink. I politely said no but I would take a soda. My step-cousin asked me if the reason I wasn’t drinking was because I was Mormon. I said yes, and then told everyone that my mother, their Aunt and sister-in-law, did not drink before she converted to the Mormon church because of the family alcoholism problem, and even if she had not converted I probably would not drink either. And I told them my father did not drink before converting. They did not know that about my parents.
Following the counsel of the Word of Wisdom does bless us spiritually and physically. Following the counsel of our leaders blesses us. Because it comes from heavenly Father and His Son, and They tell us to follow Them and keep Their commandments. Addiction has cost civilization greatly in many, many ways. Even food addiction and eating wrong things is harmful and unhealthy. It amazes me how many members do not follow the counsel of the nutritional aspect (food) of the W of W. Eating well is just as important as not drinking coffee/tea/alcohol and not smoking.
The problem with “science” concerning foods/drinks/substances etc. is that one year it is bad for us and the next year it is good for us. Then the next year no one is really sure if it is good or bad. Then it has these benefits, then it doesn’t, then it might have benefits. And round and round it goes. On almost everything.
Great information! There is always something new to learn. It is important to keep learning.
DB, I don’t understand what your point here is. Whether or not beer was specifically interpreted by the leaders of the church in 1833 as included in the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom doesn’t really matter. Modern-day prophets and apostles since then HAVE. The current prophets and apostles have.
I think Bryce’s point of the article is that the Lord knows what he is talking about when he gives words of wisdom, and that all the elements mentioned as not good for the body specifically in section 89, and the subsequent interpretations by prophets and apostles – are not good for the body.
I think it is pretty interesting that Bryce found a specific substance linking all of them in a deleterious way. I had never seen this analyzation before.
Are you trying to be helpful by a pedantic fixation on semantics?
During the three decades after the Revolutionary War in America, many factors contributed to what was deemed by many to be the excessive use of alcohol. This concern paralleled a similar sentiment in Europe, which in turn led a great many Christian religions to advocate for greater restraint in the availability and use of alcohol. this sentiment became so popular that it led to what was and is still referred to as The Temperance Movement. Temperance is today an archaic word, but it meant to curb or temper the use of alcohol (and became generally related to higher societal and moral values). Beer was indeed a plentiful form or alcoholic drink during this time, but it was not the only available drink made from barley and other grains. It is unlikely that this Section D&C referred to.
Nonalcoholic malt beverages made primarily from barley and hops had been produced for centuries prior to the 19th Century. They were especially popular in Middle Eastern Countries and parts of India and Asia where Islam had spread. Grains such as barley were mainstay foodstuffs for people since the beginning of recorded history–especially in the Middle East and the Holy Land. It is natural that beverages made from these grains became part of the mainstay diet of these people. Drunkenness is condemned throughout the Bible and religious writings of these and virtually every other significant civilization. Alcohol was used and tolerated by some of these peoples, but never to excess. Alcoholic drinks were not consumed on a day-to-day basis by most of them, and not at all by many. Women and children have universally been insulated from the use of alcohol by all prominent societies. Even men were not encouraged to regularly consume alcoholic beverages–except on holidays and in moderate amounts. But nonalcoholic beverages were a mainstay family drink depended upon for nutrition by the whole families. These beverages were not alcoholic beers as we know them today. They were different. They were truly mild drinks–containing no alcohol, or insignificant amounts of alcohol.
It is further supposed by some historians that these barley malt beverages were heated in order to evaporate the alcohol that was an inevitable and initial undesirable by-product of fermentation. Alcohol was recognized as a toxin in their otherwise nutritious daily food beverages. It is easily removed by heating because it turns into a gas at a lower temperature than does water and the other liquids in the malted liquid. Evaporation as a means of removing alcohol entirely reasonably preceded distilling the alcohol to be used separately. Distillation requires extra steps and is not so easily accomplished as is evaporation–although the knowledge that the alcohol goes somewhere must have rationally led to experiments in distillation. Subsequently, even within places and among cultures that did not readily allow drinking alcohol or drunkenness–distillation was known and used to extract alcohol as an external disinfectant, an internal medicine or anesthetic, a fuel, and as a product to export. But this was later in the evolution of fermented beverages. Even so, the primary purpose of distillation was probably used to rid the malt brew of alcohol, not to make alcohol–at least initially.And in any event, the nonalcoholic potion that was left was good for food. Where alcohol can kill you, the nonalcoholic brew is good for you.
Fermentation also produces yeast. Yeast is highly nutritious. The growth of yeast produces carbon dioxide–which causes the effervescent quality (bubbles) in these brews which may have been thought to both enhance the flavor and the same pleasantness associated with the fizz in carbonated drinks. It also is not so easily removed as is alcohol. Fermentation is a form of natural carbonation.
The Temperance Movement was in full swing when the Word of Wisdom came to be. The popularity of these ancient nonalcoholic drinks had reached an apex in history and were as commonplace than was beer, if not more-so. These drinks were separate and distinct from beer. They were known by such names as lager, small beer, little beer, gruel-water, near-beer, and maybe a dozen other names–and even ale. As the melting pot that America was mixed various languages and cultures, these terms became confused, or lost. But people living in America then commonly new the difference. It was not hard to test these products, since drinking one or more beers, would produce at least a minimal intoxication, whereas it was impossible to drink enough of the nonalcoholic malt beverage to become intoxicated.
Although the years that have passed since those times to this modern day–through almost a hundred years of the Temperance Movement and the days of Prohibition, followed by a relaxation of rules and laws may have obscured common knowledge of these conditions among many people, nonalcoholic malt beverages continue to have a popular following among members of some religions, cultures, and countries–for the same reasons that they were then and anciently. They are considered by those to be tasty, nutritious, and desirable to promote health. Also, as a result of those events, various cultural and legal definitions have arisen to define which is which. During prohibition, it was determined that a trace amount of alcohol would be reasonable to allow in order to provide producers a small margin of error. However, it was then and is now, known that many common foods and beverages naturally contain small amounts of alcohol.
For example, research known both then and now discloses that fresh orange juice contains upwards to a full 1% alcohol content. This is an insignificant amount. It harms no-one. The benchmark established as allowable, defining nonalcoholic malt beverages in America during the prohibition was half that at .05%. Today’s production methods make the amount far less–usually none. Thee continues to be some confusion in America regarding the nature of these drinks. A few states still legally consider them to be adult drinks and require proof of age to buy them. Most do not. But even in those that do not, stores and restaurants often demand to see an ID even from elderly consumers. Many religious people refuse to show an ID, as this would imply that they are buying alcohol. The Middle East and Indonesia continue to be the primary consumers of such beverages, but they are also still increasing in popularity in America. Early Mormons were aware of such drinks, did not confuse them with real beer, and drank them readily. They still do. Utah, as a state, is the number one consumer of nonalcoholic beer in America.
I agree with Bryce. Those who oppose what he is saying sound like people that don’t pay a full tithing because some scriptures state we are to pay tithing on our surplus. Why sustain current leaders unless we are going to obey their words? Just like what Joseph Smith taught is more important than what Paul taught; those that came after Joseph Smith are more important to us than Joseph Smith. We are to follow our living prophets and how they interpret the scriptures of the dead prophets.