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If you love pickles, you'll love the 1900s suicidal pickle diet craze

They might look good. But are they deadly?
They might look good. But are they deadly?
Ben Gabbe/Getty Images
Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

A new study gives hope for neurotic pickle lovers, finding that people who happen to eat more fermented foods experience less anxiety. One idea is that pickles may actually cause an anti-anxiety effect by increasing probiotics in the gut. As Grub Street notes, this means pickles might help you feel less anxious.

But don't launch into an all-pickle diet without heeding this warning: in the early 1900s, pickles were killer.

In the 1900s, the pickle diet threatened America's youth

Pickles being bottled in 1880. But at what cost?

Pickles being bottled in 1880. But at what cost?

Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

For a while, pickles seemed like the perfect solution to early-20th-century dieters. In 1901, models lived on the pickle diet and, as a result, so did ambitious young dieters (who were usually women). That same year, numerous newspapers encouraged young women to keep using "a high pressure corset, hot baths, and pickle diet," because "never before has fat been more fatal to style and grace in dress." The new craze captured the plates of everyone from young socialites to teachers.

But once the pickle diet became popular, the media set its sights on revealing the dangers beneath the brine. As early as 1882, Washington's Evening Star reported the terrifying "symptoms" of pickle addiction:

Her tongue is as dry and hard as a piece of leather, and her physicians say that the interior of her stomach is as hard and smooth as the surface of polished glass.

In 1903, the Minneapolis Journal chided girls on a pickle diet, and New York's Evening World gave the pickle diet a cameo in a cartoon. But those were only the prelude to a far more serious threat: killer pickles.

In 1906, stories surfaced about a St. Louis woman named Anna Gross. She had reportedly embraced the pickle diet and dropped dead while drinking a glass of water. Papers across the country soberly recounted that "the inner walls of her stomach were almost completely eaten away."

Fortunately, in 1907, the Seattle Star went long on the pickle threat with extreme sensitivity:

This is the best headline somebody came up with.

Seattle Star/Library of Congress

Its recommendation: pursue health over the deadly pickle. "Women should know that nothing is as attractive as health," a doctor said. Otherwise, you'd end up in the sanitarium or in a suicidal mania, as one woman supposedly did in 1912. Pickles made her "a raving maniac with superhuman strength."

But don't worry — there is a better way

So what to do with the information at hand: one study today says pickles can help with your anxiety, but in the 1900s, newspapers claimed a woman died by pickle. Who can you trust?

Remember, the new study showed that fermented foods in general may help reduce anxiety. And so if you're too scared of these 1900s tales to eat pickles, one brave report from 1912 offers a noble suggestion.

Hurry and get some sauerkraut!

Hurry and get some sauerkraut!

East Oregonian/Library of Congress

Sauerkraut, recommended by both 1912's millionaires and a recent study. Enjoy.