Is Your Boon My Bane?
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Hygienic Review 1943
The old fallacy that "what is one man's
meat (food) is another man's poison"
has served and misled people so long
and is, today, so often repeated even
by men who should know better, that I
deem it wise to say a few words in
I am frequently "reminded" by some wise patient, one of those fellows who has
the little knowledge that is dangerous, that "you cannot feed all patients alike,
for 'what is one man's meat is another man's poison.'"
I once saw a man to whom water was a poison. He drank a glass of coca-cola
about every thirty minutes during the day to satisfy his thirst. The caffeine in
this slop did not hurt him. In fact, he explained to me, that by his athletic
activities he "burned up" the caffeine. But he was afraid of plain water.
I have never yet met a person to whom air is a poison, but have met several
who were "poisoned" by fresh air. Fresh air gave them colds, or headaches, or
other trouble; foul air agreed with them perfectly.
For the most part, however, the claim that what is food for one is poison for
another is applied to those articles of food that are derived directly or indirectly
from the soil.
Even here, it is not claimed that calcium is food for one and poison for another,
or that carbohydrates are food for one and poison for another. I have never
seen it stated that vitamin C nourishes one man and poisons a second.
The claim is not made against the food factors or food elements as such, but
against the food products that contain these elements. And yet, such foods
never enter the body of any one. Cabbage does not circulate in the blood
stream. Potatoes are not rolled through the arteries and veins like marbles.
Imagine a fish-eater having little fish swimming around in his blood stream!
Foods are broken down in the processes of digestion into a few uniform and
acceptable substances and these alone enter the blood stream.
"But we are not all constituted alike" protests our wise man. It may be true that
life is as chaotic as this implies, but, if it is, physiologists have not found any
evidence of it.
Each of us starts life as a fertilized ovum and follows in the course of our
evolution the same lines of development. We arrive at maturity with the same
number of bones and same number of muscles in our bodies. We possess the
same glands and have the same digestive and excretory systems.
Each of us secretes saliva containing pytalin; each of us secretes gastric juice
The liver of each of us turns out bile, while the pancreas of each one produces
pancreatic juice with the same enzymes. The glands of the intestines of each
of us turn out the same juice containing the same enzymes.
Structurally and functionally our digestive systems are so much alike that the
physiologist can't find that different constitution we hear so much about. At
the same time we all require the same food factors to nourish our bodies.
Everything points to the suggestion that we are constituted upon the same
principles, are constructed alike, have the same nutritive needs and are
equipped to digest and utilize the same kinds and classes of food
I have never seen a man whose constitution was that of a dog, or that of a
cow. They have all possessed human constitutions and, so far as human
observation can go, they are all subject to same laws.
Did anyone ever proclaim that cows, for instance, are so differently constituted
that some cows need and must have grasses and herbs and others cannot
use these, but must eat flesh?
Or, has anyone ever declared that, whereas most lions live on flesh, blood and
bones, some lions are so differently constituted that flesh is their poison and
they must graze like the ox?
All this nonsense about different constitutions is prated by people who
haven't the slightest idea about what is meant by constitution.
By constitution is meant the composition of the body. It is, in other words, the
tout ensemble of organs and functions that constitute an organism.
Man's constitution differs from that of the horse or the wolf, but not from that
of another man.
Man is in subjection to natural law. Every organ and every function in his
body renders unceasing obedience to natural law. His whole organism is
constituted according to and upon immutable law.
Will it be claimed that the laws that govern one man's structures and functions
differ from those that govern the laws and functions of another man?
Are all men subject to the law of gravity? Then all men are subject, and in the
same degree, to all other natural laws.
The laws of nature are such that everything we do or fail to do either conforms
to law or runs counter to it.
There is no neutral ground. It is ridiculous to say that the laws of nature
require one kind of practice in one man and another and opposite kind of
practice in another.
Habits and circumstances that are precisely adapted to the laws of life in one
man are habits and practices that are precisely adapted to these same laws in
Because of this false doctrine that there are many kinds of human
constitutions, requiring different habits and circumstances to conform to the
laws of life, we are misled into all kinds of errors.
"Tobacco does not harm my constitution,” says one, while another confidently
asserts, that: "coffee agrees with my constitution." Another possesses a
constitution that requires large quantities of food; while another is so
constituted that he requires very little sleep.
There is hardly an injurious practice and indulgence in the whole long
catalogue of man's abuses of himself, that is not defended by those who
practice them, or indulge, on the ground that it agrees with their particular and
None of them, so far as I have been able to ascertain, have ever found that
jumping from the top of the Empire State Building agrees with their
But if life is as chaotic as they seem to think, there seems to be no reason why
some constitutions should not be found that would need and require such
Life being what it is and natural laws being what they are, what is really and
permanently best for one is best for all; and what is injurious for one, is so for
None of the above is to be interpreted to mean that human needs do not vary
under different conditions and circumstances of life.
No one would be foolish enough to declare that the three days old infant and
the fifty years old man have identical needs; or that the needs of man in the
tropics and his needs in frigid regions are identical. Nor are the needs of the
sick and those of the healthy identical. This is not due to any change in the
law, but to change in conditions.
There are individual weaknesses and differences, in resistance that call for
temporary modifications of any program of living, but it is essential that the
modification comply with the laws of life.
All programs or parts of programs that violate these laws are ultimately
ruinous. Variations within the law are legitimate. No variations that step
outside the law are ever permissible.
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Article: Is Your Boon My Bane?