By Sir Robert McCarrison, MD
Summary: Dr. Robert McCarrison is a bona fide giant in the history of nutrition. As a member of Britain’s Indian Medical Service in the early twentieth century, he conducted some of the first feeding studies investigating the effects of vitamin-deficient diets on test animals, and his 1921 book Studies in Deficiency Disease remains a classic on the physiological consequences of malnutrition. In this essay from 1928, Dr. McCarrison focuses on the “minor manifestations” (or, in today’s terms, subclinical symptoms) of vitamin deficiency, which he rightly names as harbingers of serious illness that any good doctor should be familiar with. He also admonishes his medical colleagues for fixating on bacteria as causes of disease, noting that it is malnutrition that sets the stage for infection in the first place. “Obsessed with the idea of the microbe,” he writes, “we often forget the most fundamental of all rules for the physician—that the right kind of food is the most important single factor in the promotion of health, and the wrong kind of food the most important single factor in the promotion of disease.” From Transactions of the Seventh Congress of the Far Eastern Association of Tropical Medicine, 1928.