Vitamin F: 1926–1957

View PDF: Vitamin F Research 1926 to 1957 1926 Boissevain, C.H. “The Action of Unsaturated Fatty Acids on Tubercle Bacilli.” Boissevain reports experiments showing the effect of unsaturated fatty acids on the virulence of tubercle bacilli in vitro. (Compare with the work of Larsen on the ricinoleates.) Linoleic and linolenic acids were among the most […]

A Few Facts About Vitamins

By Dr. Royal Lee

Summary: In this succinct article from 1940, the great nutrition pioneer Dr. Royal Lee presents some of his foundational views about vitamins—facts that might go a long way toward righting the field of diet and health today were they more widely known. First, he points out, the effects of vitamins vary so immensely between species that it is completely nonsensical to recommend daily allowances for humans based on tests made on rats and guinea pigs (which is precisely how “recommended daily intakes” were developed). Second, he explains, no vitamin consists of a single compound. All vitamins in their original form—that is, as they are found in food—are in fact “complexes,” or mixtures of biochemically interrelated compounds that work together to deliver a nutritive effect to the body. Such natural vitamins are a far cry from the single, chemically pure, “most active” compounds that pass as vitamins today. Taking such isolated fractions without their accompanying synergists, Dr. Lee says, explains the disappointing, and sometimes disturbing, results of early research testing the efficacy of synthetic vitamins. Vitamin Products Company, 1940. 

The Facts Are Published—Why Not Be Honest About It?

By the Therapeutic Foods Company

Summary: In this brilliant missive from Dr. Royal Lee’s Therapeutic Foods Company, the “facts” published refer to studies showing that only natural vitamins—that is, vitamins as they are found in food, as complexes of many cooperating compounds—are capable of curing vitamin-deficiency diseases such as beriberi, scurvy, pellagra, and rickets. On the other hand, isolated or synthetic fractions of the vitamin complexes, which today we define as “vitamins,” do not cure deficiency diseases. For instance, few people realize that ascorbic acid (what is known today as “vitamin C” despite the fact that it is just one of numerous compounds in the natural vitamin C complex) has never been shown to cure scurvy. Nor does synthetic thiamine cure beriberi or synthetic vitamin D cure rickets. In fact, Dr. Lee points out, studies at the time indicated that isolated vitamin fractions might ultimately make these conditions worse. Scientific study supports these facts, he says, so why not be honest about it? Therapeutic Foods Company, 1941.

A Critical Discussion of Trace Elements and Biodynamic Agriculture

By Dr. Royal Lee

Summary: By the close of the 1940s, Dr. Royal Lee had seen many “peeps behind…the iron curtain that is so carefully maintained by the makers of fraudulent foods to keep the American people in ignorance as to the real cause of their chronic diseases.” Thus, in commenting on the opinion of a committee who’d concluded, on very little evidence, that fertilizing soil with trace minerals is unnecessary to produce nutritious plants, Dr. Lee could not help but question the motives of the committee’s so-called experts. “Such haste in promoting one side of a vital question that cannot be settled without a great amount of research certainly throws a lot of doubt upon the integrity and honesty of the committee.” Lee would spend the next two decades calling out such formulaic chicanery, the kind of which would later lead to some of the great shams of modern nutrition, including cholesterol theory and low-fat diets. 1949. Original source unknown.

Are We Starving to Death?

By Neil M. Clark

Summary:  Dr. William Albrecht was the Chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri and the foremost authority of his time on the subject of soil fertility and its relation to human health. In this 1945 article from the iconic Saturday Evening Post, author Neil Clark recounts Dr. Albrecht’s pioneering experiments demonstrating the critical connection between the trace mineral content of a soil and the health and hardiness of plants grown in that soil—and, consequently, the health and hardiness of animals and humans who eat those plants. Dr. Albrecht warns the magazine’s readers in no uncertain terms that unless America makes a concerted effort to restore the trace minerals to its depleted soils, the country’s population will suffer a slow extinction from the “hidden hunger” of mineral-poor foods, as evidenced by ever increasing rates of degenerative disease. With the “chronic disease problem” worse today than ever, Dr. Albrecht’s prophecy rings ominously true, and his findings demand the adoption of organic farming practices across the board in America’s agricultural industry. From The Saturday Evening Post, 1945. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 21.

The Special Nutritional Qualities of Natural Foods

By Dr. Royal Lee and Jerome S. Stolzoff

Summary: In this landmark report from 1942, Dr. Royal Lee and coauthor Jerome Stolzoff contrast the nutritional merits of traditional, natural foods and their industrially processed counterparts. Whereas the foods of traditional diets have centuries of trial and error behind them affirming their ability to nourish the human body, the authors say, industrially processed foods were introduced into the food supply practically overnight, with no nutritional testing whatsoever. Only when people in droves began developing vitamin-deficiency diseases—which include the likes of heart disease and cancer, Dr. Lee points out—did nutritionists of the early twentieth century begin to realize the frightening truth: processing and refining render food nutritionally unfit by irrevocably damaging its vitamin complexes, and unless the human race returns to a diet of time-tested natural foods, it will quite literally starve itself to death. Includes an eye-opening chart listing almost 150 modern diseases and the vitamin deficiencies associated with them by scientific research of the early twentieth century. Published by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, 1942.

Excerpts from “Nutrition in Everyday Practice”

By E.C. Robertson and F.F. Tisdall and by Dr. E.V. McCollum

Summary: Excerpts from two chapters of a 1939 compilation by the Canadian Medical Association, which admits that “the practical application of facts concerning nutrition has not kept pace with our increasing knowledge” and warns Canadian physicians that they “must increase their interest in this problem of normal nutrition, otherwise the public will seek information on this subject elsewhere.” (Advice that was, tragically, almost wholly ignored.) In the chapter “Nutrition and Resistance to Disease,” Roberston and Tisdall explain that while clinical evidence regarding nutrient deficiencies in humans can be difficult to obtain because of experimental limitations, this is not the case for animal studies, which show quite clearly the effects of even “comparatively slight” shortages in vitamins. The authors present studies showing drastic differences in resistance to disease in animals fed a diet sufficient in nutrients and those fed diets deficient in, respectively, vitamins A, B, and D; minerals; and animal protein. “These studies furnish clear-cut evidence that improper nutrition lowers the resistance of the animal to infection,” the authors state, “and also that the nutritional deficiency does not have to be so severe as to produce outstanding evidence of disease.” In the second chapter, “Better Nutrition as a Health Measure,” Dr. McCollum discusses the specific roles of vitamins A, C, and D in the body and in dental health in particular. From Nutrition in Everyday Practice, 1939. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 115.

Cost of Malnutrition

By Dr. Royal Lee

Summary: In this creative and forward-thinking commentary on preventive healthcare, Dr. Royal Lee discusses the ways in which proper nutrition saves businesses money by fostering employee health. Getting enough vitamin A complex, for instance, helps maintain the integrity of mucous membranes and thus prevents infection and lost man hours. Sufficient vitamin B complex keeps the nerves and heart functioning properly, while adequate vitamin C complex promotes stamina by optimizing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. A proper amount of vitamin D complex prevents cramps, irritability, and bone-calcium loss, and so on. From Let’s Live magazine, 1958.

Nutrition and National Health: The Cantor Lectures

By Sir Robert McCarrison, MD

Summary: In this in-depth lecture before the Royal Society of Arts, Dr. Robert McCarrison discusses conclusions and observations of his pioneering research as Britain’s former Director of Research on Nutrition in India and its implications for the health of Britain’s population. “The greatest single factor in the acquisition and maintenance of good health,” he says, “is perfectly constituted [i.e., whole, natural] food.” 1936.

Modern Miracle Men

By Rex Beach

Summary: A fascinating document from the U.S. Senate that originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine. Beach describes the work of Dr. Charles Northen, whom he credits as the first person to show conclusively that mineral-deficient soils produce nutrient-deficient food plants, which in turn lead to nutrient deficiencies in the livestock and humans that eat them. A historically significant record of the decline of America’s soils, nutrition, and health. Reprint 109, 1936.

Vitamins in Our Food

By Prof. A.E. Murneek

Summary: In this article from Science magazine, Professor Murneek laments the various factors that have resulted in the “devitaminization” of the modern food supply. “Improper selection of food-producing plants, modern methods of handling the crop, and faulty preparation by cooking and other means has resulted in a diet of subnormal vitamin content for many people,” he writes, adding that refining and processing of foods have “devitaminized our foods still further.” If consumers truly want good health, Murneek says, they must learn to choose quality over looks or convenience when it comes to food. “By catering to the ‘eye-appeal’ we have, in our choice, often lost ‘food value,’ including undoubtedly a large amount of vitamins, both known and unknown.” He reminds readers that the food manufacturers do not have their health in mind. “Profit has been often the motivating force in present food technology, the dollar sign the guiding star, setting styles, fostering sales and creating eating ‘habits’ for the use, in volume, of certain products….Thus economics and style, not nutrition and health…have guided most parties concerned in food production and distribution.” Reprint 36, 1944.

The Need for Vitamins

By L. Stambovsky

Summary: In this article, written amidst the Great Depression and the outset of World War II, the author describes the vitamin-poor state of the typical American citizen in terms that still apply today. “Quantitatively, most Americans get enough calories in the form of [refined] carbohydrates…But refined sugar and starch, while they are energy sources, provide little or no accessory or vital food factors [i.e., vitamins and minerals].” This basic message sums up the work of many of the early nutritionists, who tried in vain to communicate the fact that nutrient deficiencies are at the root of most modern degenerative illness. Includes an illuminating chart listing various vitamin deficiencies and their associated diseases. From Drug and Cosmetic Industry magazine, 1942. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 31.

Acid-Base Balance of Diets That Produce Immunity to Dental Caries Among the South Sea Islanders and Other Primitive Races

By Dr. Weston A. Price 

Summary: The notion of “alkalizing” one’s diet—or eating foods that supposedly increase the pH within the body and thus optimize health—has been around as long as the science of nutrition itself. In this 1935 article, famed dentist and nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston A. Price debunks the hypothesis that an alkalizing diet helps prevent tooth decay. Citing data from his famous worldwide study of populations free of dental disease and other degenerative illness, Dr. Price states, “In no instance have I found the change from a high immunity to dental caries [cavities] to a high susceptibility…to be associated with a change from a diet with a high potential alkalinity to a high potential acidity.” In fact, he adds, his data show, if anything, that good tooth health is the result of an acidifying diet. Dr. Price further discounts the notion that an alkalizing diet promotes health in general and instead stresses the importance of eating whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins so abundant in animal foods. From Dental Cosmos, 1935. Reprinted with permission from the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.

Studies of Vitamin Deficiency

By M.K. Horwitt, et al.

Summary: Report of a controlled study conducted in a state hospital testing the effects of diets deficient in thiamine and riboflavin. Of course this kind of test could never be conducted under today’s ethical standards. Nevertheless, as expected, those who were starved of various vitamins suffered noticeable effects and recovered when they were restored to a proper diet. From Science. Reprint 26, 1946.

Quotations on Vitamins from the United States Department of Agriculture Yearbook for 1939

By the United States Department of Agriculture

Summary: Excerpts from one of the most quotable government documents ever published. In the 1930s, even as the FDA was harassing doctors and companies promoting nutritional therapy, the USDA published independent studies demonstrating the widespread effects of vitamin malnutrition in the American public (proving that not everyone in the department was asleep at the switch as America’s food supply became adulterated, refined, and chemicalized). The USDA Yearbook for 1939 was such a surprisingly candid assessment of nutritional deficiencies in the country that the Lee Foundation published and distributed highlights from it in the form of the booklet shown here. If the statements in the USDA’s yearbook had been published by supplement companies, the FDA would have brought legal actions. Unsurprisingly, reports like this stopped coming out of the USDA in subsequent years. From The United States Department of Agriculture Yearbook for 1939.

Vitamins and Their Relation to Deficiency Diseases of the Alimentary Tract

By Edward A. Johnston, MD

Summary: This excellent report, a reprint from the Journal of the American College of Proctology, starts with a clear description of the all-important connection between vitamin complexes (as they are found in whole foods) and the endocrine system. “When we consider that vitamins in the food are the substances with which the endocrines are able to secrete their active principles, it is apparent that a glandular insufficiency may take place in the absence of vitamins….All of the ductless glands, the thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, pineal body, pituitary, adrenals, gonads, pancreas, islets of Langerhans, and spleen must have one or more of the vitamins in order to secrete their vital fluids, and if deprived of the vitamins, will atrophy and cease to function.” Such events, Dr. Johnston says, are obviously bound to weaken the body and make it more susceptible to disease. “Stomach ulcers are probably the best instance of bacterial invasion primarily due to a lowered resistance resulting from a vitamin deficiency. Other instances of vitamin A deficiency, and often found in conjunction with infections of the intestinal tract, are infections of the eyes, tonsils, sinuses, lungs, buccal and lingual mucosa, and the skin.” This is the Royal Lee philosophy writ large. From Journal of the American College of Proctology, circa 1940. Lee Foundation of Nutritional Research reprint 2.

Vitamin U Therapy of Peptic Ulcer

By Garnett Cheney, MD

Summary: While it was never accepted as a vitamin by the FDA, “vitamin U” from raw cabbage juice was successfully used by pioneering holistic physicians in the treatment of stomach ulcers. Here Dr. Cheney gives some background and clinical applications of this officially unaccepted vitamin in a presentation before the 80th Annual Session of the California Medical Association in 1951. This file includes a supplementary document from a 1957 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association on the subject of cabbage juice for digestive problems. From California Medicine. Reprint 91, 1952.

The Primary Cause of Disease

By Dr. Royal Lee

Summary: Dr. Lee lays out a basic principle of his nutritional philosophy—the idea that bacterial infection is usually a secondary result of malnutrition. Properly nourished bodies, naturally stronger and well defended, are much better equipped to resist invasion of pathogens, which are always around us, Lee explains. A weaker, malnourished body, on the other hand, is much more susceptible to a successful attack by foreign invaders. From Let’s Live magazine, 1958.

Maternal Malnutrition and Fetal Prenatal Developmental Malformation

By Howard H. Hillemann, PhD

Summary: A thoroughly researched report on the birth and developmental defects known to result from specific nutrient deficiencies in human and test-animal mothers during pregnancy. Professor Dr. Howard Hillemann of Oregon State College covers deficiencies of vitamins A, C, and E, fats, carbohydrates, the B complex vitamers (including folate), protein, calcium, phosphorous, and manganese. Includes 61 references. Published by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, reprint 66A, 1956.

Maternal Malnutrition and Congenital Deformity

By Howard H. Hillemann, PhD

Summary: In this lecture from 1958, Oregon State professor Dr. Howard Hillemann breaks down the number of birth defects occurring in the United States by cause, noting in particular the increasing numbers of defects attributable to environmental chemicals, food additives, and prenatal malnutrition. The report includes a comprehensive discussion of the role of vitamins and minerals in prenatal nutrition, addressing each nutrient individually. Published by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, reprint 66B, 1958.