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Clin Chem. 2003 Apr;49(4):699-705.

William Prout: early 19th century physician-chemist.


In the early 19th century, the discoveries of new substances in the healthy and diseased body spawned a search for chemical explanations for physiologic phenomena to guide medical diagnosis and control therapy. William Prout's work on the nature and treatment of diseases of the urinary organs established his reputation as one of Britain's most distinguished physiological chemists. Prout was very skeptical of chemical remedies because of possible side effects, but he suggested iodine treatment for goiter. He emphasized that a satisfactory diet should include carbohydrates, fats, protein, and water. In 1824, he showed that the acid of the gastric juice was hydrochloric acid. Prout applied chemical methods and reasoning to physiology and was criticized for his view that the body's vital functions could be explained by chemistry. His remedy for lack of progress in animal chemistry was for physiologists to become chemists. Prout stimulated much discussion on atomic theory by his hypothesis that the atomic weights of all chemical elements are whole-number multiples of the atomic weight of hydrogen and that the chemical elements were condensed from hydrogen atoms.

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