'Medical Testament'

Food and Health

Concerning the Cheshire Medical Testament

by Lionel Jas. Picton, O.B.E., M.D., B.Ch., L.R.C.P., M.R.C.S.

-- From "Feeding the Family in War-time, Based on the New Knowledge of Nutrition" by Doris Grant, Harrap, London, 1942.

A FEW years ago the Cheshire Panel Committee issued their "Medical Testament," in which they said that the first of the two objects of the National Health Insurance Act had not been attempted. That object was "the prevention of sickness." The authorities had contented themselves with the second, "the cure of sickness."

The Panel Committee, consisting of thirty-one family doctors, saw that the prevention of sickness depends on right feeding. In this matter, as a nation, "we have left undone the things that we ought to have done and done the things we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us."

An extreme statement, to attribute all illness to wrong food? Yes, I agree that it is seldom possible to trace a particular illness to the food the patient had been eating. But the Panel Committee was looking at lifelong conditions and at the nutrition of the mothers of the race. Here, in quotations from their own words, is their argument:

"Of the first item, the prevention ... of sickness, it is not possible to say that the promise of the Bill has been fulfilled.

"Though to the sick man the doctor may point out the causes of his sickness, his present necessity is paramount, and the moment is seldom opportune, even if not altogether too late, for any essay in preventive medicine. On that first and major count the Act has done nothing.

"We feel that the fact should be faced.

"Our daily work brings us repeatedly to the same point: this illness results from a lifetime of wrong nutrition!

"The wrong nutrition begins before life begins. 'Unfit to be a mother' -- from under-nutrition or nutritional anaemia -- is an occasional verdict upon a maternal death. For one such fatal case there are hundreds of less severity where the frail mothers and sickly infants survive.

"The reproach of the bad teeth of English children is an old story. In 1936 out of 3,463,948 school-children examined 2,425,299 needed dental treatment. Seeing that the permanent teeth develop from the seventeenth week of pregnancy and that certain foods, accurately known since 1918, are the condition of their proper growth, that is a technical reproach which should be removed. That its removal is practicable is shown by Tristan da Cunha. Most of the population of the little island, people of our race, living on the product of sea and soil, have perfect teeth which last them their lives."

Here is another illustration of the Panel Committee's contention about this matter of teeth: a thousand Indian and a thousand Chinese labour recruits on the Singapore base (1923 onward) were examined, and their dental condition was compared with that of our men. "The teeth were larger and stronger, apparently more fully developed; the arches were wide, making room for full development; uniformity and white ivory aroused one's wonder and envy." "Eighty-seven per cent. of Indians and 67 per cent. of Chinese exhibited this standard of complete and perfect teeth, free from defect, every tooth doing its duty. A similar examination of the active service personnel of one of H.M. ships in 1921, representing a highly select and well-cared-for part of the general population, revealed only 75 per cent. of the standard of perfection, but even these lacked the uniformity and ivory-like whiteness of the Asiatic teeth" (Surgeon-Captain Given, R.N., in The British Medical Journal, December 27, 1941.) The explanation is not race: the Tristan islanders are of our own race.

The Panel Committee pass from teeth to rickets, the prevention of which by right feeding "is so easy that every dog breeder knows the means"; and to nutritional anaemia which Sir John Orr has shown is only too common at the lower income levels of the population; and to constipation:

"Advertised aperients are a measure of its prevalence, and the host of digestive disorders which result from it are a substantial proportion of the conditions for which our aid, as doctors, is sought. Yet the cause in every case -- apart from rare abnormalities -- is the ill choice or ill preparation of food. It is true that we are consulted on these conditions when they are established and have to deal with their effects -- gall-stones, appendicitis, gastric ulcer, duodenal ulcer, colitis, and diverticulitis -- of years in which the body has been denied its due of this constituent of food or burdened with an excess of that. Other means of cure than proper feeding are called for at this late stage; but the primary cause none the less was wrong nutrition.

"Those four items -- bad teeth, rickets, anaemia, and constipation -- will serve as the heads of our indictment, but in truth they are only a fragment of the whole body of knowledge on food deficiencies which different investigators from Lind and Captain Cook to Hopkins and the Mellanbys have unlocked.

"But it seems to us that the master key which admits to the practical application of this knowledge as a whole has been supplied by Sir Robert McCarrison."

The Panel Committee go on to describe his experiments and studies of the diets of the many races and myriad people of India. The results of those experiments and studies carried to their minds complete conviction, "especially as those of us who have been able to profit by their lesson have been amazed at the benefit conferred upon patients who have adopted the revised dietary to which that lesson points."

It is the purpose of this volume to hand on that lesson, to disclose it to the public in a form readily understandable, and to do one other thing -- to establish quality, quality dependent upon the way in which the food is grown and produced, as of the essence of the matter.

"It is far from the purpose of this statement [I again quote from the "Medical Testament"] to advocate a particular diet. The Esquimaux, on flesh, liver, blubber, and fish; the Hunza or Sikh, on wheaten chappattis, fruit, milk, sprouted legumes, and a little meat; the islander of Tristan on his potatoes, seabirds' eggs, fish, and cabbage, are equally healthy and free from disease.

"But there is some principle or quality in these diets which is absent from, or deficient in, the food of our people today. Our purpose is to point to this fact and to suggest the necessity of remedying the defect.

"To descry some factors common to all these diets is difficult and an attempt to do so may be misleading, since knowledge of what those factors are is still far from complete; but this at least may be said, that the food is, for the most part, fresh from its source, little altered by preparation, and complete; and that the natural cycle,

Animal &
Vegetable --> Soil --> Plant --> Food {Animal -->} Man

is complete."

[Sir Robert McCarrison, in a letter to the writer, says, "There is 'something' in freshness and quality of food which is not accounted for by the known chemical ingredients of food: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins."]

This is as true of the harvest of the sea as of the land. An interesting sidelight is that artificial sea-water, chemically identical with the analysis of ocean water, will not maintain the life of fish from the ocean.

In the natural cycle no chemical or substitution stage intervenes. How well our peasantry know this! I said to one "Tom, do you use chemical manure for potatoes?" He replied, "Oh, yes, we must; we want the size and the weight." He saw my dubious look: "Well, yes; we want the fat cheques -- but -- we always set two rows for ourselves without it." The loss of quality, of taste, and of 'using' condition, of the product of side-tracking nature by the use of chemical manures, is perfectly well known to the sons of the soil.

The attempt to short-circuit the natural cycle, which began with Liebig in the eighteen-forties, and which has obsessed agriculturists ever since, was innocent enough at its inception.

"The accidental discovery of concentrated manure, which serves all the purpose of horse or town manure, is also a great help to the farmer. So long as guano lasts the tenant may augment his crop in proportion to the quantity he can purchase, and a ton of boiled bones upon an acre of grassland, and at a cost of from £3 10s. to £4 10s., will double its value."

So says "Law Rawstorne, Esquire," in The New Husbandry (1849). Unhappily, he and his successors failed to realize two vital factors that the intervening years were to teach: (1) that concentrated manure renders available the reserves stored in the soil by, I had almost said, 'early agricultural piety,' for so I think of the reverent return to the soil of all that has ever come from it; and (2) that guano and bone-dust are all very well, but all dusts are not the same dust; the chemical dusts which this new husbandry led up to are like a money-lender's loan to the spendthrift heir of an old estate.

At all costs the natural cycle must be preserved, and for two reasons, one of which, the robbery of the soil-fertility by artificials, has just been mentioned; the other of which is thus:

"The ancient Chinese method of returning to the soil, after treatment, the whole of the animal and vegetable refuse which is produced in the activities of a community results in the health and productivity of crops and of the animals and men who feed thereon."

That, indeed, is the conclusion of the whole matter. The principle or quality in the diets of those peoples whose health is outstanding is that the food comes fresh and from a soil rendered fertile by Nature's round, the circulation of organic matter.

We owe to Sir Albert Howard the revelation of the way this circulation works. It is at its best in the forest, where Nature slowly but surely maintains perennial fertility without our aid. It is at its second best in peat, which is sour and close. He has disclosed the secrets of the fungus and microbic processes the Chinese have used, and made them easy of understanding. By his lifetime of labour the intimate complexities of soil management, both in farm and garden, are sweetened and made broad and plain for anyone of goodwill to grasp and employ. His work at Indore disclosed methods which we can all use. Soil so handled, even if in poor condition, improves the first year, becomes fully fertile in three or four, and yields crops -- corn, apples, bush fruits, roots, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, and salads which, besides being well grown, are of unrivalled quality and which are to an astonishing extent disease-resistant. A head gardener recently showed me a bed of strawberries. "All mine had 'yellow-edge.' There is no cure but to grub them up and burn them -- say the experts. I replanted mine in compost, and just look at them -- not a trace of disease!"

Evidence in great volume exists that the health of people living on compost-grown food is exceptional; but as the evidence is necessarily derived from what we are pleased to call 'primitive races,' such as the Burusho of Hunza, who preserve in this modern world an ancient civilization, it is difficult to gather and table. But active work is being done at home, and in the now countless places throughout the world where Indore composting is carried out this work is yielding indications of rich promise of better human health.

To be healthy, children must be born of mothers who eat well-chosen food. To be fully healthy, with full joy of life and stamina, the food must be grown by the simple but supreme agriculture which has now been disclosed. And the same is true of the children in infancy and adolescence. And the same is true of man and woman. If you build a house of defective materials, however good the plan or even the workmanship, the house will be defective. The plan on which a baby is built is his heredity; the materials are the food his mother ate -- there is none other. Those given him by the milk of the breast in his first year are from the same source. I do not think it irreverent to say that the primary means of grace in the early stage of life are right choice and right quality of food; both must be employed if you would have the hope of glory.

See also Letters to the British Medical Journal

The Nature of Health (Introduction and Table of Contents)
Medical Testament
McCarrison bibliography (References)
Speeches by Sir Robert McCarrison and Sir Albert Howard
Correspondence in the British Medical Journal
Food and Health -- Lionel Picton
Soil Fertility and Health -- Sir Albert Howard
Soil Fertility: The Farm's Capital -- Sir Bernard Greenwell
Open-Air Dairying -- A.J. Hosier
Farming for Profit with Organic Manures -- Friend Sykes
Nutrition and Health -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Nutrition in Health and Disease -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Studies in Deficiency Disease (Introduction) -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Diseases of Faulty Nutrition -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration -- Weston A. Price
The Saccharine Disease -- T. L. Cleave
An Agricultural Testament -- Sir Albert Howard
Ill Fares the Land -- Dr. Walter Yellowlees
Food & Health in the Scottish Highlands: Four Lectures from a Rural Practice -- Dr Walter Yellowlees

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