This section is from the book "The Human Body: An Elementary Text-Book Of Anatomy, Physiology, And Hygiene", by H. Newell Martin. Also available from Amazon: The Human Body.
We have learned already that alcohol-containing drinks are apt to injure the joints and muscles; and in subsequent chapters their hurtful influence on nervous, and digesting, and circulating, and breathing organs will be pointed out. For the present we confine ourselves to the question, Has alcohol a just claim to be called a food ? Does it build tissue, or strengthen the muscles, or help to maintain our animal heat ? Is it useful to health ?
How does corn differ from wheat in composition? What alimentary principles are scarce in rice? Which one is abundant? What do potatoes contain? What is the main useful constituent of most fresh vegetables? Of fruits? How may scurvy be prevented?
Why are all alcoholic drinks dangerous? What questions must be answered before deciding if alcohol is a true food ?
To this the answer is certainly no; so far at least as useful tissue is concerned. Alcohol cannot build up albuminous material, since it contains no nitrogen; and such material constitutes the essential part of muscular, glandular, and nervous tissues. There is even some evidence that alcohol leads to excessive waste of such tissues: several competent observers have found that its use increases the amount of nitrogen waste excreted from the body. It often leads to excessive and harmful overgrowth of connective tissue and fat, but it does not lead to development of muscle or brain or gland.
To this the answer is also no. Alcohol in small doses excites brain and muscle, and may for a short time goad them to overwork or to work when they should be resting. But as it nourishes neither of them, the final result is bad. The brain and muscle are left in an injured state. As regards the brain, the consequence is often insanity (Chap. XXI.). As regards the muscles, very careful experiments have been made on soldiers who were given definite tasks to accomplish. The result was that on the days on which they were supplied with spirits, they could neither use their muscles as powerfully, nor for as long a time, as on the days when they got no alcoholic drink.