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A Little History From the Files of Aerospace Medicine – September 18, 2020


September 18, 2020

Good Morning,

Today I want to look back at an interesting development in Aerospace Medicine. I think you will find the facts interesting, and funny, at the same time.


Aerospace Medicine

from World War l

For centuries, castor oil has been used as a stimulant laxative, meaning that it increases the movement of the muscles that push material through the intestines, helping clear the bowels. I remember my mother giving castor oil as a child several times. Yuck! Ingesting too much will cause diarrhea.

WW1 aviators that were flying behind Gnome engines were ingesting residual castor oil from the exhaust, and started to experience diarrhea while flying. Not a happy experience. Never-the-less, castor oil must be retained as a lubricant since there was not other alternative.

Physicians at the beginning of the last century already knew medically that diets full of non-soluble fiber (residual diet) will provide healthy bowel moments. They quickly reasoned that if an aviator ate a no residual diet before they fly will reduce the change of experiencing diarrhea after ingesting the castor oil. So aviators were “prescribed” to eat a steak or bacon and egg diet (all protein diet/no residual diet) with coffee (a natural diuretic) before each mission. Problem solved.

As engines and lubrication technology advance, and aviators were no longer ingesting castor oil, one would think the eating of an all protein/no residual “aviator’s breakfast” before flight would be unnecessary. It was also discovered that an aviator’s breakfast slowed the motility of one’s bowels and thus reduced the chance in having a bowel movement while flying a mission. A tradition was born out of medical necessity.

Believe it or not, this “aviator’s breakfast” tradition continued into the U.S. Space Program out of medical necessity. Early Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Program Astronauts ate an aviator’s breakfast before every launch into space………and all of this became because of using castor oil as a lubricant.

Enjoy the weekend, take care, and enjoy time with family and friends.

Robert Novell

September 18, 2020