Confrontation in Washington

Gilda Knight
July 6, 2018

“You’ve written that calcium is a good pain killer. What is the source for this?”

“The idea has been around a while. I may be wrong.”

It was the beginning of the first clear-cut debate between nutritionists and the biochemist who is considered to be among the leading nutrition communicators in this country, Adelle Davis.

Robert Choate, the nutrition consultant who coordinated the luncheon meeting late last April, asked a second question, this time about the value of vitamin E in dissolving blood clots. Miss Davis said, “I’m not saying it always dissolves clots. But there is no proof that it doesn’t.”

Dr. Allan Forbes, FDA, asked where the facts in the literature show that nutrition can alter a case of malignancy. Miss Davis, who makes strong suggestions in her books that proper nutrition may indeed change the course of malignant growth, replied, “I’m not saying they do.”

While cautioning that her recommendations for taking up to 50,000 units daily of vitamin A for visual problems when excessive amounts are stored in the body and can cause serious disorders, Dr. Forbes said that no one could be too happy about a youngster undergoing a brain operation for a suspected tumor when it was really an excessive vitamin A intake problem. Miss Davis”s reply: “I will accept your criticism and will watch carefully and take it seriously.”

To question after question Miss Davis replied “I will accept your criticism,” “I could be wrong,” “I’m not saying it always does,” when asked about the theories she expounds authoritatively in her widely-read books, Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and Let’s Get Well.

A Columbia University professor, Dr. Eleanor Williams, took issue with Miss Davis’s claim that pregnant women should not drink skim milk because it might cause cataracts in their babies. Miss Davis said that she is troubled by skim milk consumption because mothers should gain weight during pregnancy. The concern for slimness might cause brain-damaged children. “I could be wrong. Thanks for the information,” Miss Davis commented to Dr. Williams.

No one at the meeting disagreed with Miss Davis’s premise that one of the fundamentals of the quality of life is good nutrition. Dr. Arnold Schaefer of the Pan American Health Organization insisted, however, that proof be given and that people not be led astray. “You must deal in real numbers.”

The Chicago Nutrition Association’s listing of nutrition books, providing excerpts from critical reviews of books on nutrition, says of Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit, “Garnished with extravagant claims and questionable undocumented facts . . .  Not a satisfactory compromise. This book must be condemned as one replete with misinformation.” And, of Let’s Get Well, “A confusing combination of fact and fiction. There is a surfeit of documentation on some of the basic findings of nutrition, but the interpretations of such findings are oversimplified and the conclusions drawn as to the treatment of disease, are often at variance with accepted medical practice.”

A growing number of books on nutrition is being published, and they run the full gamut of reliability. The listing mentioned above should be on the desk of every  nutritionist.

This article was published in September 1972 the American Institute of Nutrition’s quarterly newsletter, Nutrition Notes. Ms. Knight, who was AIN’s Executive Director, subsequently teamed with Dr. Stephen Barrett to edit the 1976 edition of The Health Robbers.

This article was posted on July 6, 2018.