Frederick Madison Allen
Frederick Madison Allen

Date of birth:
March 16, 1879

Des Moines, Iowa

Starvation diet

Frederick Madison Allen is synonymous with the ‘starvation diet’, which he devised before the discovery of insulin to extend the lives of diabetes patients.

Alle, a physician, theorised that restricted calorie intake and engaging in regular exercise would prolong the life of insulin-producing beta cells

Among those who supported Allen’s work was Dr. Elliot Proctor Joslin , but Allen also had his critics who claimed that some of his patients died of starvation rather than diabetes.

Early research

Alle, who was born in Iowa, studied medicine at the University of California. He attended Harvard Medical School between 1909 and 1912 and thanks to his father’s financing, published Studies Concerning Glycosuria and Diabetes in 1913.

The 1,179-page book provided an exhaustive review of diabetes, containing his research on animals, where he concluded that hyperglycemia did not cause lowered resistance to infection or proteinuria.

Allen also reported that on a low-carbohydrate diet – or an Eskimo diet, as he called it – dogs with diabetes remained relatively well. Allen put forward that people with diabetes should reduce their food intake until there was no glucose left in patient’s urine. This is known as glycosuria.

Human treatment

Allen was offered a junior position at the Rockefeller Institute in 1914, where he was able to test on human diabetes patients. Alongside a starvation diet, Allen insisted his patients receive plenty of exercise.

As some patients died from starvation, critics viewed his treatment as cruel, but Allen argued that on his diet, life was tolerable for patients.

In 1919, Allen published Total Dietary Regulation in the Treatment of Diabetes, which contained records of 76 of his patients who were treated with dietary changes.

Two years later, the British Medical Journal said of the book: “Allen’s case records have real practical value. The reader can match them with cases from his own experience, and he can see exactly what was done and note the result.”

Allen left Rockefeller in 1919 and set up the Psychiatric Institute, New York. The centre was designed to focus entirely on diabetes research, with payment from patients dependent on what treatment they wanted to receive. Even before insulin therapy, his centre achieved great success in extending patients’ lives.

Allen worked seven-day weeks for most of his life. After his centre went bankrupt in 1936, he pursued further research into hypertension and cancer. Allen died in Maine on 14 April 1957.

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