Reg Charity No. 274304

Founders of Modern Nutrition

Sir Robert McCarrison

Captain Surgeon T.L. Cleave

Dr Hugh M. Sinclair

Dr Hugh C. Trowell

The McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health was formed in 1966 by doctors, dentists and veterinarians, all members of the Soil Association, who were convinced that nutrition was of supreme importance in the promotion of health and the prevention of disease (research link).

They named their new Society in honour of Sir Robert McCarrison, a pioneer researcher in the field of nutrition who in his Cantor lectures in 1936 outlined the relation between nutrition and health in a manner which was new to his audience. Nearly 70 years later, medical science has at last come to realize that the main causes of ill-health, namely the degenerative diseases, are explained by Sir Robert's conclusions.

The Future of the McCarrison Society.
By W.W. Yellowlees

In the last twenty years or so there has been a dramatic change in the attitude of the government to the role of nutrition in the prevention of disease. A 1976 booklet, Prevention and health - Everybody's business, issued by the HMSO devoted only one brief complacent paragraph to nutrition; the nations diet was said to be improving; the fortification of bread with calcium, iron and vitamins was mentioned with pride. Prominence was given to the desirability of fluoridating the nation's water supplies. That was all.

In recent years, however, a series of reports and utterances from official quarters culminated in the publication of two long and glossy reports - The Health of the Nation in England (1991), and in Scotland, Scotland's Health, a Challenge to Us All (1993). There is much in these reports to applaud. In their emphasis on the importance of the health-giving properties of diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables both reports echo McCarrison's teaching.

So is there a future for the McCarrison Society at a time when at last official spokesmen are saying some of the things that McCarrison said so many years ago? Can we in the Society fold up our tents, happy that our message has been accepted? I do not think so. Here are my reasons.

Our Society does not depend for its survival on funding from commerce or government. All our revenue comes from members'subscriptions or grants from charities. This independence is of the utmost importance at a time when commercial interests play a dominant role in dietary advice coming from both official and unofficial sources.

The recent government publications in Scotland and England, referred to above, depart significantly from McCarrison's simple rules; the following illustrations of these departures refer mostly to the Scottish publication.

Dietary Fibre and Constipation. Generous daily helpings of bread, pasta etc. are advocated, but nothing is said about the desirability of using whole grains in lieu of refined cereals. This omission ignores Scotland's widespread constipation and the diseases which according to Cleave, complicate that simple condition: varicose veins, diverticular disease, and possibly colonic cancer. The latter disease is one of the commonest cancers in Scotland.

Refined Sugar. This is largely exonerated as a cause of diabetes or coronary heart disease. As with fibre, the works of Cleave and McCarrison are totally neglected.

Dietary Fat. Milk and butter are blamed as the cause of CHD in spite of the fact that there is no hard evidence to support this theory. The possibility of danger from artificially lowering blood cholesterol is brushed aside; so is the epidemiological; evidence which appears to contradict the fat theory of the cause of CDH.

Organic Food. In advising a high intake of fruits and vegetables no suggestion is made of the desirability of choosing organically grown produce. The possible harm from the long term ingestion of toxic pesticides gets no mention. Nor does the evidence of mineral and trace element imbalance in stock and possibly mankind as a result of the use of soluble chemical fertilisers.

Dental Decay. Fluoride in the water supply is unfortunately, strongly advocated as the most effective way of preventing dental decay; a good example of selective use of data and the power of commerce.

The above five examples are not trivial; they embrace the cause of many prevalent serious diseases.

In the debate on the dietary cause of disease, hard evidence is usually impossible to establish. In spite of all our modern scientific advances, dietary advice is still built partly on guesswork and theory. Government officials tend to follow an agreed policy and to support their advice with highly selective data. Research which contradicts the official line is simply ignored. In this process of selection, commercial considerations obviously exert powerful pressures which governments seem powerless to resist. Our membership is small, but I believe that we in the McCarrison Society have an important role to play in repeating McCarrison's teaching that the greatest single factor in creating health is sound nutrition: sound nutrition in McCarrison's words was a diet based on "the unsophisticated foods of nature". We need the help of those who share this