Health and Medicine

The Man Who Drank Radioactive Juice Until His Bones Crumbled And His Jaw Came Off


James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockFeb 4 2021, 11:00 UTC
X-ray of a jaw

X-ray of a jaw. Rames Khusakul/

In the early 20th Century, consuming radioactive materials or otherwise smearing them on your skin was all the rage.


On March 1, 1896, French physicist Henri Becquerel discovered the radioactive properties of uranium. Soon afterward, it was found that polonium, thorium, and radium emitted radiation too, with Marie Curie first coining the term radioactivity. Before you could say "now let's hang back a bit and see if anybody gets cancer", people began creating products, from Doramad Radioactive Toothpaste to radioactive cards you put in your cigarette packets to "enhance your cigarette smoking" while "lowering tar and nicotine". (Spoiler alert, it did not).

One such product became a favorite of American sportsman and socialite Eben Byers. Byers was a steel mogul and athlete that had himself a reputation of being a bit of a ladies' man, after winning the US amateur golf championship of 1906. In 1927, he fell off a bed on a train and injured his arm, which reportedly hampered him in both the athletic and sexual department.

Radithor: not a health drink. Image credit: Sam LaRussa/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 His doctor prescribed him a drink called Radithor for his pain – likely because the inventor of the drink, William J.A. Bailey, offered doctors money for every drink they prescribedByers' pain cleared up (by coincidence or placebo) and he attributed it to Radithor, which was essentially radium diluted in water like cancer flavored Kool-Aid. From then on, he was convinced of the drink's benefits, and sent cases of the deadly juice to business colleagues, girlfriends and even fed it to his racehorses. For his own part, he drank 1,400 half-ounce bottles of the expensive drink.

At the time, he wasn't to know any better. Regulators were not convinced of harmful effects, and actually took action against one maker of radioactive "medicines" because they hadn't put in as many deadly radioactive materials as they'd promised.

Radioactive toothpaste will undeniably make your remaining teeth glow. Image credit: Suit/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

After several years of necking radiation like it was going out of fashion (which it was, because of cancer) he began to lose weight, get headaches, and many of his teeth began to fall out. He told his doctor that he'd lost "that toned-up feeling", which is a fairly mild way of putting that your bones have begun to crumble.

In 1931, regulators began to wake up to the news that radiation is bad for you, and asked if Byers would like to testify at hearings. But by this point, he was far too sick, and instead, a statement was sent through his lawyer.

It relayed that Byers' "whole upper jaw, excepting two front teeth, and most of his lower jaw had been removed." As well as this, the lawyer reported, "all the remaining bone tissue of his body was disintegrating, and holes were actually forming in his skull."


He had only learned his case was terminal a few weeks before his death aged 51, by which point only six of his teeth remained. He was buried in a lead coffin.

Following his death, many other doctors (the real kind, not the ones who would prescribe deadly toxins for mild injuries) testified about the ill effects of radiation, leading in the end to the radioactive quackery industry.

The inventor of the drink, meanwhile, insisted that his drink was safe until his death of bladder cancer in 1949. When medical researchers exhumed his corpse 20 years later, his insides were "ravaged" by radiation and his remains were still warm.

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