15. A doctor once blamed chocolate for women suffering from hysteria
âHysteria’ was once a catch-all term for a number of psychological disorders: insomnia, irritability, anxiety, fainting, nervousness… and enjoying sex. Crucially, however, only women could suffer from this terrible and ambiguous disorder: etymologically, the term comes from the Greek word for uterus, hystera (á½ÏÏÎÏÎ±). Tragically, countless women suffered from the primitive methods of âtreating’ hysteria, which could include tooth-pulling, electric shocks, and solitary confinement. As medicine (slowly) progressed in the 18th and 19th centuries, more and more women were diagnosed with hysteria as doctors sought to help sufferers. Their intentions, at least, were good, if not their diagnosis or treatments.
In 18th-century New Spain (Spanish-controlled parts of the Americas), one doctor thought he’d identified a pernicious cause: drinking chocolate. Jose Bartolache believed that hysteria affected 80% of nuns in Mexico and Puebla, which he linked to the consumption of chocolate. Nuns were wealthy members of society in 18th-century Mexico, and would glug down liters of chocolate everyday in their private quarters. When new legislation forced them to drink communally, however, they were apparently too embarrassed to drink quite so much in front of other people, and Bartolache forcefully argued that hysteria was one of the withdrawal symptoms.