Early Research On the Industrial Diet

By the early 1900s, the modern diet had long been a growing concern, as it already was a topic of public debate going back a century, such as obesity and conditions like ‘nerves’. This public health issue became a moral panic with tuberculosis and neurasthenia that was linked to diet. Much of the focus was scientific study. Many vitamins and micronutrients were being discovered and researched.

Also, the industrial seed oils were being linked to ill health right from the start; although not yet understood as oxidative, inflammatory, and mutagenic. The initial observations were being made on farm animals being fed “on by-products from margarine factories”, as advised by feeding experts. It would be decades later that a mass experiment would be initiated on humans when, in the 1930s, industrial seed oils replaced animal fats as the main source of fatty acids in the American diet.

The following decades after that in the post-war period would begin the public health crisis of skyrocketing rates of metabolic syndrome: obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, etc. But long before that, the health decline was already becoming apparent to many, such as Dr. Weston A. Price and Dr. Francis M. Pottenger Jr, and even earlier with Dr. Claude Bernard, Dr. William Harvey, Dr. James H. Salisbury, etc. Another example of someone on the leading edge was Dr. M. J. Rowlands.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Is it a Deficiency Disease?
By M. J. Rowlands, M.D.
May 25, 1927

My clinical investigations began as far back as 1912, when I installed an X-ray apparatus with the idea of trying to find out what similarity there was in the lesions amongst my cases. In the war during 1914 and 1915 stationed at Netley. The blood-cultures and joint punctures I carried out proved sterile.

Owing to ill-health I had to relinquish the Service for some time; I returned to it again in 1916 and was given the pathological charge of three hospitals of some 2,000 patients, where I could place as many rheumatoid patients for whom I could find beds, an order being posted in the London area that all true rheumatoids were to be sent to one of my hospitals. In this way I was able to accumulate some 200 rheumatoids and keep them for investigation. But with all this opportunity and all the advantages of able assistance and cordial help for over three years, until May, 1919, nothing of great value was discoverable. In 1916 I wrote a paper which was published in the Lancet1 giving the results of my investigations up to that time.

After the war I again took up the investigation of this disease chiefly owing to my farming instinct. The question of vitamins and the work of Hopkins, Funk, Plimmer and Drummond, was being published. I began to experiment with pigs, as I found that a large number of my pigs which were bred on the open-air system were from time to time suffering from marked stiffness and swollen joints. I began to feed my animals on a full vitamin diet and the result of these experiments was marvellous. There was a complete change in the condition of my herd and I decided to show my experimental animals at the largest Fat Stock Show in the world-namely, Smithfield. The result of the first time of showing was every possible prize that I could have won as well as the Cup. This gave me ample proof that in animals’ malnutrition lay the seat of investigation. In 1921 I read a paper before the Farmers’ Club at the Surveyors’ Institute discussing my experiments. Professor T. B. Wood, of Cambridge, and Dr. Crowther, Principal of the Harper Adams College, who opened the discussion, ridiculed all my experiments, and the whole idea of vitamins, and, in fact, the only member of the audience who agreed was Lord Bledisloe. To-day I think both Professor Wood and Dr. Crowther are aware of the value of vitamins and now admit their use to the British farmer. […]

I had by me all the notes of an experiment I had carried out a few years previously. Feeding experts were constantly advising farmers-and are doing so to-day-to feed their pigs on by-products from margarine factories, such as palm kernels, coco-nut, earth-nut, soya beans, etc. So I placed three pens of pigs on these foods as a test, using against them a food containing meat, yeast, cod-liver oil and a salt mixture, the carbohydrate content of the diet being the same in all the pens. Within a few weeks it became apparent that the pigs on a diet of palm-kernel and coco-nut were rapidly going downhill; and at the end of the test the pigs fed on my mixture had increased by 143 lb., and for every 1 lb. of increase in weight had consumed 2 * 62 lb., whereas the ” palm kernel pigs ” had increased only 40 lb., and for every 1 lb. of increased weight they had consumed 5 lb. The palm kernel pigs showed a vitamin B deficiency. […]

In dealing with the deficiency of vitamin B in cases of rheumatism, Dr. Rowlands’ paper was convincing and dramatic, but the relationship between this deficiency and the various forms of rheumatism was not clearly shown. Whereas it was probably a factor in rheumatoid arthritis, the co-relation was not evident in either osteo-arthritis, with its prevailing characteristic of robustness, or in the climacteric type associated with thyroid deficiency. Possibly there were other vitamin deficiencies-an “A” deficiency and probably a “D” deficiency-concerned in the control of phosphates, […]

Rheumatoid arthritis was certainly a deficiency disease, and the deficiency was connected with the assimilation or utilization of phosphoric acid and other phosphates, so that probably vitamins B and D were often associated with it. Rheumatoid arthritis never attacked the bon viveur or the alcoholic, but was the disease of the total abstainer, the vegetarian and the careful liver. […]

An important point which none of the discussers had mentioned was the great change in our diet, not so much in our own choice of food, but in the food of the animals on which we depended so much for our own. For instance, cows used to be fed on ground oats, ground wheat, ground barley, ground rye; all these contained the essential vitamin B. To-day very few farmers gave such food to their cattle; instead, they gave cotton-seed cake, linseed cake, and all kinds of patent foods which were deficient in vitamin B, and therefore. milk was not now so good as in former days. Chickens, again, were now fed on all sorts of material, and were the subjects of intensive culture, with the result that the egg-yolk was not of the same value as formerly. Vitamin B was not an animal product, it must be supplied to the animal from some outside source.