Little Known Pharmaceutical History

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates.

Hippocrates dies in c. 375. He has been revered for his ethical standards in medical practice and is mainly known for the Hippocratic Oath.

A 12th-century Byzantine manuscript of the Oath

A 12th-century Byzantine manuscript of the Oath

The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. Of historic and traditional value, the oath is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of medicine in many countries, although nowadays various modernized versions are often used. [1.]

From the first quote above one can see that disease was believed to be caused by incorrect food consumption, or a lack of something needed.

Rickets causes softening and poor mineralization of the bones, leading to skeletal deformities. While rickets is the term typically used to describe the condition in children, osteomalacia refers to the weakening of bones seen in adults who are severely deficient in vitamin D.

Rickets is among the most frequent childhood diseases in many developing countries. The predominant cause is a vitamin D deficiency, but lack of adequate calcium in the diet may also lead to rickets (cases of severe

Image created by Michael L. Richardson, M.D. Sept 28th, 2004

Image created by Michael L. Richardson, M.D. Sept 28th, 2004

diarrhea and vomiting may be the cause of the deficiency). Although it can occur in adults, the majority of cases occur in children suffering from severe malnutrition, usually resulting from famine or starvation during the early stages of childhood.

Rickets was known about and described by a physician in the first and second centuries AD. Rickets was not defined as a specific medical condition until 1645, when an English physician Daniel Whistler gave the earliest known description of the disease. German pediatrician, Kurt Huldschinsky, successfully demonstrated in the winter of 1918/1919 how rickets could be treated with Ultra-violet lamps. In 1923, American physician Harry Steenbock demonstrated that irradiation by ultraviolet light increased the vitamin D content of foods and other organic materials. Steenbock’s irradiation technique was used for foodstuffs, but most memorably for milk. By 1945, rickets had all but been eliminated in the United States. [2.]

Thus we have a documented disease (of almost 400 years) and its cause is a deficiency of a specific nutrient, in this case sunshine and/or Vitamin D3.

Man suffering from pellagra. Dr James W Babcock (1856-1922) - reproduced with permission of the Waring Historical Library of the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.

Man suffering from pellagra.
Dr James W Babcock (1856-1922) – reproduced with permission of the Waring Historical Library of the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.

Pellagra first was recognized in the United States in 1902, and it became an epidemic in the American South.[3] Poverty and corn consumption were the most frequently observed risk factors. The public became pellagra-phobic, and patients were shunned and ostracized. Hungarian born Dr. Joseph Goldberger of the United States Public Health Service eventually solved the problem. He was able to prevent and induce pellagra by using dietary modification.[4.]

The systemic disease resulting from niacin deficiency defines pellagra, and it is characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and death, which usually appear in this order. GI tract symptoms always precede dermatitis, or, according to Rille, “Pellagra begins in the stomach”.[5.]

Pellagra remained endemic among maize-eating peasants of southern Europe for almost two centuries before it was recognized in the United States.

As you can see this was a major disease, again caused and cured by a specific deficiency.

One last example if deficiencies’ causing disease in history – Scurvy.

The first written account of a disease likely to be scurvy comes from the Ebers papyrus, which has been dated to 1500 BC Egypt. The Ebers papyrus not only diagnosed scurvy, but also prescribed that victims of scurvy be treated with onions; a common source of vitamin C. Ancient Greece also recorded instances of scurvy.

In 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was hired by King Charles I (Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) of Spain to circumvent the globe by heading west from the southern tip of South America to the Spice Islands and then around the southern cape of Africa and back to Europe. Of the three ships and 250 sailors who departed Spain, only one ship and eighteen men survived the voyage (Magellan died from battle wounds in the Philippines). Scurvy outbreaks hit the Magellan expedition twice, once in the Pacific and once in the Indian oceans, both occurring far from land. Estimates show that scurvy killed about half of the crew, but the scurvy toll would have been much greater had some of the sailors not died from other reasons (e.g. fighting with native peoples, storms, etc.). Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian mariner aboard Magellan’s expedition wrote of scurvy that “Of all the misfortunes, this was the worst: the gums of some of the men swelled over their upper and lower teeth, so that they could not eat and so died.”

During the 16th Century, exploration and colonization became increasingly important to the nations of Western Europe. Spain’s conquistadors Hernan

Page from the journal of Henry Walsh Mahon showing the effects of scurvy, from his time aboard HM Convict Ship Barrosa. 1841/2

Page from the journal of Henry Walsh Mahon showing the effects of scurvy, from his time aboard HM Convict Ship Barrosa. 1841/2

Cortez and Francisco Pizarro conquered the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas in Mexico, Central America, and Peru. The gold and silver plundered and mined surpassed the imagination of Europe’s monarchies and focused exploration not only on finding short routes to the East Indies, but on exploring, settling, and exploiting the New World. As a result, European nations sent more voyages into the seas for ever increasing amounts of time. As a result, the isolated cases of scurvy seen in the late 15th and early 16th Centuries became a constant plague on sailors of all nations. In fact, between the years of 1500 and 1800, scurvy was the leading cause of naval death, killing more sailors than all other diseases, disasters, and battles combined. During the Seven Years’ War for example, Britain records indicate that 184,899 sailors were in service. Of those, 133,708 died from disease (largely from scurvy) and only 1,512 died in combat. These numbers illustrate the enormous toll scurvy took on the navies of Europe, killing orders of magnitude more men than battle. [6.]

Overall, it is apparent that the government and common citizens were aware of both scurvy and foods that could prevent it. However, logistical problems, conditions during warfare, and cost made scurvy an enormous problem for both the Union and Confederacy during the American Civil War. The war, however, seems to be the last conflict greatly effected by scurvy as food preservation and logistics improved greatly in the coming decades.

In 1746, after seven years as a surgeon’s mate, James Lind passed the surgeon’s exam and was promoted to surgeon on the HMS Salisbry.  It is aboard the Salisbury that Lind performed his now famous scurvy experiment.  In May 1747, scurvy struck Lind’s ship in the English Channel. With the permission of his captain, Lind began an experiment on twelve men with advanced scurvy.

Lind described his experiment in his Treatise on Scurvy with the following

I took twelve patients in the scurvy, on board the Salisbury at sea. Their cases were as similar as I could have them. They all in general had putrid gums, the spots and lassitude, with weakness of their knees. They lay together in one place, being a proper apartment for the sick in the forehold; and had one diet common to them all. Two of these were ordered a quart of cider a day. Tow others took twenty-five gutts of vitriol three times a day, on an empty stomach. Tow others took two spoonful’s of vinegar three times a day, upon an empty stomach; having their gruels and their other food well acidulated with it, and also the gargle for their mouth. Two of the worst patients, with the tendons in the ham rigid, (a symptom none of the rest had), were put under a course of seawater. Of this, they drank half a pint every day, and sometimes more or less as it operated, by way of gentle psychic. Two others had each two oranges and one lemon given them every day. These they ate with greediness, at different times upon an empty stomach. They continued but six days under this course, having the quantity that could be spared. The two remaining patients took binges of a nutmeg three times a day, of an electuary recommended by a hospital surgeon. The consequence was, that the most sudden and visible good effects were perceived from the use of oranges and lemons; one of those who had taken them, being at end of six days fit for duty. The spots were not indeed at the time quite off his body, nor his gums sound; but without any other medicine, than a gargarism (gargle) of elixir vitriol (diluted sulphuric acid), he became quite healthy before we came into Plymouth, which was on the 16th of June. The other was the best recovered of any in his condition; and being now deemed pretty well, was appointed nurse to the rest o the sick. [6.]

James Lind, a pioneer in the field of scurvy prevention.

James Lind, a pioneer in the field of scurvy prevention.

From a modern day clinical perspective, Lind’s experiment was a “six-armed comparative trial” of oranges and lemons, elixir of vitriol, vinegar, cider, seawater, and nutmeg with no control group. Lind’s experiment was extraordinary in that is took a direct break from the traditional historical and theoretical approach to medicine and embraced the idea of clinical trials. Lind showed an insight clearly ahead of his time by understanding that to develop a cure, treatments must be compared simultaneously in similar patients. Lind’s study was eloquent for its time in that it was a concurrent study of commonly used scurvy treatments, with similar patients, in similar conditions. By using a concurrent study, Lind was able to disprove any arguments such as bad air; crowding, etc. were the cause of his positive observations of citrus compared to other “cures.”

Lind also identified scurvy as a diet deficiency disease, although he regarded other factors as equally important. Lind stated that scurvy was caused by damp and uncomfortable conditions aboard ship, crowding, depression, and lack of fresh vegetables and fruits. Although we currently know that scurvy can only be caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet, Lind showed remarkable astuteness in realizing that the conditions for seamen hasten the disease. [6.]

For a fascinating education, the full Harvard article is available here.

Modern Day Pharmaceutical history

From what I can see historically, the deficiency view of disease started to change drastically in the early 1900’s as pharmaceutical companies began to heavily market drugs as cures for everything. For instance in 1913 the Rockefeller Foundation was the front organization for a new global business venture of Rockefeller and his accomplices. This new venture was called the pharmaceutical investment business. Donations from the Rockefeller Foundation went only to medical schools and hospitals. These institutions had become missionaries of a new breed of companies: the manufacturers of patented, synthetic drugs. [10.]

Thus, in its first years of existence, the pharmaceutical investment business already faced a mortal threat: vitamins and other micronutrients promoted as public health programs would prohibit the development of any sizable investment business based on patented drugs. The elimination of this unwanted competition from natural micronutrients therefore became a question of life and death for the pharmaceutical business. [10.]


In Europe it is a known fact that IG Farbin (major chemical company) financed Hitler and used the Nazi prisoner’s as slave labor in many concentration camps. “In each and every country Hitler’s Wehrmacht invaded, the first act was to rob the chemical, petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries and assign them – free of charge – to the I.G. Farben empire,” [10.] and so it goes with this hidden history…

This is a small piece of our modern drug history. The main point I am here to emphasize is that deficiencies have been proven time and again since ancient times to cause disease. Of course drugs are a necessity and have to be used medically in many cases and for many different maladies. My premise is that we have to marry nutrition and sound nutritional practices with standard medical to gain the most optimal result!

With my daughter’s leukemia no vitamin would have worked. It took medicine about forty years to reverse the almost absolute death sentence this disease caused to a remission rate upwards of 80%! None-the-less lets not forget the ancient quote of “let food by they medicine.” I interpret this to mean that we use food daily in proper ways, as close to nature when we eat it to maintain health and vitality. The sicker the patient the better the food should be to support and aid the patient!

How can this be implemented with sick people? By cooking food from scratch, meaning meat in small portions that is raised on grass, fresh vegetables, raw vegetables, raw fruits, nuts and seeds, along with sunshine, fresh air and exercise everyday. Complemented with purified water served in glass or stainless steel. Drastic reduction of any packaged foods unless specified as “unsweetened and organic.” Sugar and synthetic sugars are deadly to health and in particular brain health. Young children should never be given any sweetened, diet, flavored drinks because the chance of these containing detrimental chemicals hidden under a benign name is very high. Juices should be made at home and fresh. Store bought juices turn acidic as they sit on a shelf while become more sugary. This is one of the worst habits to feed young children. Many articles site the detrimental effects of this practice.

Our Learning and Change

We began this journey during my daughter’s cancer treatment; learning about food, effects of genetically modified foods, dairy and why it is bad and the list goes on. Step by step we eliminated certain foods and added others. The net result is feeling much healthier, happier and stronger. Exercise is a regular routine for everyone in our house.

These are the steps to take to stack the cards of life in your favor. Is this a complete guarantee? No, but if an excellent diet and good exercise are done everyday you will certainly cut the chances of disease, per Dr. Henry S. Lodge, by SEVENTY Percent! I like those odds and that is what I am working towards every day for my whole family. My investment of time and money far outweigh the negatives and the return is fabulous.

So please, the next time you think about taking a drug, or eating packaged holistic-nutritionfoods daily, do some homework and read up on it. If you are in treatment for any disease then compliment the treatment with the best food, exercise (what you can) sunshine and supplements (as approved by your doctor) and see what happens. This was our mainstay throughout two and half years of treatment and continues five years later in survivorship. I promise you – you deserve the best that life has to offer medicinally and that includes these other healthy practices for furthering actual nutrition, strength and vitality. Hence real health regained.

Just imagine a hospital of the future that employs every avenue of health for the patient. Including acupuncture, massage, nutrition, raw juices, chiropractic and all the other wonderful therapies out there. A marriage of all these is what I propose would be the best for everyone.

Someday this will come to pass…



  1. Hippocratic Oath, Ethical code, Written by: The Editors of Encyclopædia BritannicaLast Updated 11-9-2014
  3. Rajakumar K. Pellagra in the United States: a historical perspective.South Med J. 2000 Mar. 93(3):272-7.[Medline].
  4. Hegyi J, Schwartz RA, Hegyi V. Pellagra: dermatitis, dementia, and diarrhea.Int J Dermatol. 2004 Jan. 43(1):1-5.[Medline].
  5. Rille JH. Medizinische Gesellchaft Leipzig. Sitzug vom 16. November 1926. Ueber Pellegra (mit Lichtbildern).Dermatol Wochenschrift. 1927. 6:189.
  6. LEDA at Harvard Law School, Jason Allen Mayberry, Scurvy and Vitamin C Food and Drug Law, Winter 2004 Class and 3L Paper April 27, 2004
  7. The Doctor Rath The History of the Pharma-Cartel
  8. Photo credit in banner


















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