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Does Eating Yeast Before Boozing Mitigate Drunkenness?

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That's what Esquire's Aaron Goldfarb reports Jim Koch said. As the co-founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company, Koch could use a trick to avoid getting sloppy at all the alcohol-soaked events he attends. The tip came to him by way of his late friend, beer legend and biochemist "Dr. Joe" —or Joseph Owades, PhD.

Owades speculated that consuming a teaspoon of active yeast per beer—add it to yogurt to make it easier to eat—before a night of drinking will mitigate the effects of the alcohol. Koch claims he's been following this advice with great success for years. The science behind the theory is thus: yeast contains an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH), which breaks apart alcohol molecules into carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Normally, this process occurs in the liver as your body metabolizes your favorite adult beverage but the thinking is that with yeast in your stomach, the alcohol will be broken down into its harmless constituents before it reaches the liver, thereby saving your bloodstream and your dignity.

Esquire put this science to a rather, well, unscientific test with several boozy experiments. They concluded that while it's not so good at counteracting the effects of binge drinking, it will keep you lucid (and, later, relatively hangover-free) for a night of "responsible" drinking over many hours.

As an embarrassing lightweight who doesn't drink beer (Amaretto sours are my drink of choice), I decided that rather than test this, I would reach out to some food scientists for an informed opinion. The fine folks at Pennsylvania State University's Food Science Department were happy to help.

For the most part, they took issue with the presumed simplicity of the reaction Koch is counting on. So while Owades' science isn't wrong, per se, he's ignoring other factors, like the stomach environment. But the three professors who weighed in cited different levels of skepticism. First, there was Dr. John Hayes:

It sounds far fetched, and I highly doubt it works. However, until someone does a carefully controlled empirical study, we can't be certain. Still, I personally wouldn’t risk a DUI doing this.

Dr. Ryan Elias was more encouraged, saying, "Brewer's yeast (S. cerevisiae) are pretty good at making the enzyme in question here (alcohol dehydrogenase), as they need it to survive high ethanolic environments (e.g. beer, wine)." He also speculated that the yeast could conceivably "perform their work at a rate that's competitive with absorption in vivo." However, he would only go so far as to grant that "some elements" made sense, stipulating that we need to establish the impact of the stomach's pH level.

In response, Dr. Joshua Lambert offered the context to dismantle Owades' theory:

I don't know what the survival rate of yeast is under stomach pH. Some of it does survive, but I'm not sure it can compete. As for the enzyme, the optimal pH for activity is between 8.6 and 9 (i.e. basic) and it needs a cofactor, which while abundant inside the yeast is probably not readily available in the stomach or small intestine.

But then how does Koch stay on his feet while many beers deep? And how can you drink your friends under the table or, if you're me, maintain your composure after more than one Amaretto sour? Lambert has some thoughts on that as well:

I think it is much more likely that the reason that Jim Koch can drink beer all night without getting drunk is an adaptive response in his own body. Alcohol dehydrogenase and cytochrome P450 2E1, which also metabolizes alcohol, are inducible. The activity of the enzyme goes up after exposure. Regular alcohol consumers have higher levels than those that don't imbibe. It is an interesting story, and scientifically possible, but much less likely than an adaptive response by the drinker's liver.

You hear that? If you want to be able to imbibe like Jim Koch, drink up!

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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