I am a terrible skeptic. I don’t believe in Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Karl Marx, Barack Obama, global warming, the benefits of a low-fat diet or the evils of obesity. And I put plenty of salt on my fries. So I guess it should be no surprise that I don’t believe in the evils of Bex either — though I know that that is going to raise a few eyebrows.
Let’s start from the present: If you have got aches and pains these days, your doctor will always recommend paracetamol (acetaminophen) — because it is “safer” than apririn. That paracetamol can destroy your liver while aspirin only causes microscopic stomach bleeding seems not to be considered.
Australia used to have an over-the-counter pharmaceutical called Bex, which was hugely popular in Australia, particularly among Australian women. It contained aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine. Everybody knows about two of those ingredients but guess what phenacetin was? It was a analgesic known since the 19th century which broke down in your body to — wait for it — paracetamol.
But the do-gooders condemned Bex because it was so popular. It was so popular that some people would go through a whole box (12 powders) in a couple of days. There were labels on the packet telling you not to do that — saying that long-term heavy usage was harmful but what the heck!
The particular harm that Bex did was thought to come from the phenacetin: A tiny percentage of users — very heavy users — got kidney failure and Australia had the world’s highest incidence of kidney failure. So the Becker company was told to convert their powders to aspirin only.
The customers however thought that the new Bex was “not the same” so stopped buying it and it is no longer produced. So what’s the problem with that?
One problem is that many Bex users went onto Valium instead — with its attendant risk of making you drowsy when you’re driving. So did the ban on Bex kill people in road accidents? Probably.
But the main problem is that something was taken away from people which they found very beneficial — all because a tiny minority misused it. You can misuse anything by taking it in excess — even water can kill you if drink too much of it. Google “hyponatremia” if you doubt it. So should we ban water? They would if they could, I suspect.
So why did Australian housewives like Bex so much? Because it gave them a small lift while taking their aches and pains away. They would come home from their shopping, make themselves a cup of tea, take a Bex then have “a good lie down”. And after their nap they would wake up refreshed ready to deal with the rest of the day.
That was however only one use of Bex. You basically took Bex for ANY aches and pains. It kept a lot of people away from the doctor when they had colds and flu, for instance.
And a VERY important use of Bex was as an early treatment for what is still a dreaded and all too common ailment: migraines. Migraine sufferers generally get some warning when a migraine is due to strike, an aura, jaw stiffening etc. And as soon as anybody prone to migraines felt the slightest suspicion that one was about to strike, they would grab their nearby packet of Bex and slam one into themselves quick smart. And it did help. If you got the Bex into yourself straight away, The migraine would either not develop or would be less severe than a full-blown attack.
I know an old lady now in her 90s who was prone to migraines in her youth (migraines in women tend to stop after menopause) and she took a LOT of Bex. AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HER KIDNEYS. She would hardly be around at age 92 if there were. So let me note again that it was only a tiny minority of Bex users who got problems from it.
It is true that soluble aspirin can also help with migraines if you take it quickly enough but I suspect that Bex did a better job. I am of the Bex generation. I took it on rare occasions when I had a headache (which I rarely do). And I certainly remember fewer complaints about migraines back then than I hear now. That’s pure anecdote of course and Bex probably didn’t help all migraine sufferers, but why not test it out properly? Nobody seems to have done so. The simple-minded do-gooders who always know better than ourselves what is good for us just banned it.
Now here’s the final kicker: Something that is often prescribed for aches and pains these days is NSAIDS (Ibuprofen etc.). And guess what is a major side effects of NSAIDS? Kidney damage. NSAIDS are hundreds of times more toxic to the kidneys than Bex ever was. So let’s ban NSAIDS!
Sometimes the wisdom of the past WAS better than the wisdom of the present.
UPDATE: I suspected that APC preparations such as Bex and Vincent’s were not unique to Australia but could find no mention of it. The following comment from a reader does however confirm my speculation:
“Bex… It contained aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine”
Ah yes, the APC pill. I first encountered them when I enlisted in the US Army, 1965. Wonderful, knocked out a headache in fifteen minutes vs the sixty-to-ninety of plain aspirin.
While a prescription drug outside the Armed Services, they were handed out by orderlies more readily than a stick of chewing gum. Now entirely illegal to manufacture in combination.
Posted by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don’t forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here