Wine Books: Dr Tran Ky & Dr F Drouard
Doctor Tran Ky & Doctor F Drouard are medical practitioners who have in common a belief in wine's power as medicine.
The use of alcohol as medicine is a long-standing one, as evinced by Dr Maury in his small missive entitled Wine is the Best Medicine. This book, by Ky and Drouard, and translated by Reginald Duquesnoy, is very much along the same lines as Maury's, only here the authors' gaze falls solely upon Champagne, an approach which perhaps suggests a role for this beverage as the universal cure-all. But there is one important difference between the two; here it would seem we have a book, published in the modern era, no doubt without having undergone the process of peer review, putting forward wine as treatment. It is easy to view Maury's work in a very light-hearted manner, as it was first published (in English) more than three decades ago, and seems to speak to us from another era. Review any genuine medical textbook from one hundred, fifty or even just thirty years ago and in many circumstances its advice will seem amusing to modern practitioners, so one can forgive Dr Maury his foibles. But this book sprang from the pen of the authors mere months ago, and thus clearly deserves closer inspection.
Tran Ky, now retired, came to France from Cambodia and pursued a medical career through the Medical Military School in Lyons, before subsequently specialising in urology, whereas Drouard has a more surgical leaning, and interestingly is the son of a vigneron in Champagne. Ky is a prolific author, with a string of titles to his name, many of which seem to concern Champagne in one role or another. In this publication, following an extraordinarily brief chapter on the history of Champagne (which fails to mention Christopher Merret, perhaps the news of this Englishman's role in evolution of the starry beverage has not yet reached France) and then a chapter on the history of Champagne as medicine (largely a series of historical anecdotes, ending at 1969), this particular work uses a problem-based approach; each chapter deals in turn with a specific symptom or diagnosis, sometimes quite specific - the "stimulation of desire" warrants a chapter of its own - and sometimes rather broad and even nebulous, such as the chapters on "food allergies" and "gynaecological troubles". Despite the suggestive title the authors do not profess in Stimulation of Desire that they have discovered how to cure loss of libido with Champagne, but instead this is merely an essay that centres around the premise that one glass of Champagne for women, and two for men, seems to provide a relaxing disinhibition prior to procreation, or the plaisir d'amour as the authors put it. This news, somewhat less than earth-shattering, is couched in pseudo-scientific jargon, and readers who want to grasp a full understanding of the authors' arguments had better be prepared for the "psycho-affective context", "the alchemy of hormonal organisation" and the "unconscious energy" that is discussed. The other chapters follow in the same vein, providing more historical context such as the prescription of a pint of Champagne for Madame de Montespan, mistress to the Sun King, during child birth, and the imbibing of only the finest wines to "jollify the creative humours" that would engender a male rather than a female heir. There are other historical anecdotes of interest, but where the authors enter the realm of fact they seem, such as in their discussion of the disease chlorosis, quite discombobulated. This 19th Century affliction is in no way related to the vine disease of the same name that was a common problem during the latter years of that century, as vignerons experimented with different rootstocks following phylloxera, but was in fact iron deficiency anaemia. Haemoglobin itself had only recently been described at this time, but progress in understanding anaemia and "the practice of globular numeration", whatever that is, apparently vindicated treatment with Champagne. The authors allege that physicians of the era noted young women suffering from this condition would soon perk up with one flute of Champagne per meal. This is apparently because Champagne is rich in "ferric ions" providing 0.4 mg of iron per flute, "largely sufficient to cover daily requirements" state the authors. This figure seems somewhat distant from the one recommended by the US Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences today, which is 18 mg per day for an adult female, even more if pregnant. At 0.4 mg per flute I calculate that 45 flutes, or approximately five bottles per day, should provide a sufficient basal intake of iron. If treating a deficiency, rather than providing a basic requirement, doses would obviously need to be higher. Champagne may make a good appetite stimulant, a more likely mechanism for its success than its iron content itself, which seems negligible. It is saddening that Ky and Drouard seem to have failed to notice this apparent discrepancy, and have failed to develop a more pertinent discussion around it.
Such inadequately referenced statements and plain inaccuracies (and lack of any peer review) mean that this book is inadmissible as serious medical literature relevant to today's practitioners, despite what the authors may feel. We shall have to take their recommendation that "champagne, as part of the family daily pharmacopoiea, should be closely linked with the early treatment of period troubles" with a pinch of salt. But that does not mean the book is without merit. Many of the historical information contained within is of interest, even if it is dressed up in so much flowery psycho-babble. To be fair the book's strapline is "History, Traditions, Biology and Diet", but I feel the book would have been better served by a title that indicated more surely that it was a work of interest to medical historians and Champagne geeks, examining how wine has been used as a treatment through the ages, rather than a new fad diet which the cover somewhat suggests. Many of the illustrations, however, are of great merit, having originated from Punch and other publications and advertisements of historical interest, and perhaps these make the book worth viewing in their own right.