Dr. House, cobalt and beer

No, it’s not one of those “name three things that don’t go together” deals, it’s a strange but true story that started with a German patient with strange symptoms that no one could figure out. But a doctor at the Centre for Undiagnosed Diseases in Marburg, Dr. Juergen Schaefer, a ‘House’ fan, recognized the symptoms from an episode featuring a patient with a deteriorating artificial joint  and was able to determine he was suffering from cobalt poisoning as a result of an old pair of hip replacements. Once the metal joints were replaced with ceramic he made a partial recovery (some of the damage was permanent).

But, you ask, what about the beer? It turns out that cobalt poisoning is extremely rare, mostly confined to steelworkers (cobalt is used as an additive). But there was also another group that was affected, beer drinkers in 1960s Quebec. That’s because a brewery, Dow, added cobalt sulfate to its beer to help foam stability. Although most drinkers had no problems with the beer, very heavy drinkers ingested enough cobalt to come down with symptoms. Dow went out of business in 1997, sales never having recovered from the incident.

Leave a Reply