Soft drinks and polio

Soft drinks rarely get positive marks for health benefits. In fact soda consumption is linked to increase risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, tooth decay, obesity, and most recently pancreatic cancer according to a recent University of Minnesota study.

But have soft drinks taken the blame for diseases without any clearly linked evidence? Internet rumors include carbon dioxide poisoning due to over consumption and deaths resulting from mixing soda and certain candies that create a combustible combination.

Yet, targeting soft drinks is not a new phenomenon.

In the late 1940s polio continued to elude researchers and their ability to isolate the virus and create an effective vaccine. At the University of Minnesota a team of medical scientists funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now March of Dimes) worked to better understand the disease and search for treatments and a cure. This group known as the Minnesota Poliomyelitis Research Committee included such notables as Ancel Keys (physiological hygiene), Cecil Watson (medicine), Elexious T. Bell (pathology), Ernst Gellhorn (neurophysiology), Irvine McQuarrie (pediatrics), Raymond Bieter (pharmacology), Gaylord Anderson (public health), Berry Campbell (anatomy), A.B. Baker (neurology), and Maurice Visscher (physiology) as its chair.

The committee’s focus on such a widely feared and often misunderstood disease resulted in a deep public interest in their progress. Letters to the committee offering advice, theories, and potential solutions were common.

Suggestions received included dropping DDT on the city of Minneapolis by airplane to kill the virus,looking at the public health menace of dog feces in yards and parks as a transmitter of the virus, and recognizing the unfettered spread of world capitalism as a proponent of the disease (this letter also included a card to join the Socialist Party).

Also included in the committee’s files are two letters from a St. Paul chiropractor who puts the blame squarely on the popular consumption of soft drinks. Written at the end of 1946 the letters blame the chemicals included in the drinks and the government for ignoring the issue. The author theorizes the increase of polio corresponds to warmer weather when more soft drinks are consumed and concludes, “I am sure it is the soft drinks that is causing polio.”

Read the letters below.