Starvation Diet Prescribed In 1916

The following post was made by a friend on a UK diabetes site. It is very interesting!!!

"Here's a link to an ebook of a diet prescribed in 1916 at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, which is extremely carbohydrate restricted, around 30g per day, sometimes only 15g, for diabetics. It shows that carb restriction was known about and practised nearly 100 years ago and before insulin was discovered. Unfortunately it did not save the lives of many of the children described but helped the adults."


Thank you for posting that! I love the recipes and am tempted to try a couple of them.

My opinion about what was going on there: the starvation diet was working with T2Ds and LADAs producing some of their own insulin but not T1Ds. IMO there wasn’t any way for the doctors at the time to figure out what kind of diabetes the people had. A diet with that mixture of carbs, protein, and fats would probably work well for T2Ds today as well.

The original Banting Diet was a low carb diet dating from the 1860s. And yes that Banting was an ancestor of our hero Fred Banting.

The author of the book you highlight was Lewis Webb Hill of Harvard. He actually was promulgating the starvation diet advocated by Fred Allen. In the recent book Breakthrough the discovery of insulin is told through the story of Elizabeth Hughs, daughter of the secretary of state Charles Evans Hughes. Elizabeth was a patient of Allen’s and followed the starvation diet for four long years before being saved as one of the first patients to get insulin.

The starvation diet not only restricted carbs, but severely restricted calories to something like 500. At the time it prolonged the lives of the children by usually up to two years, but it must have been terrible.

In another book called Fight to Survive it describes Elizabeth’s survival in great detail. She was skeletal and bedridden most of the time, and was so weak that she could not stand up from sitting in a chair without assistance, though she was able to walk until the end because she practiced every day. It describes how even something as minor as a cold nearly kills her, and how even the slightest excitement or emotional upset caused her to spill sugar in her urine (she could not live with her family because of this and lived in relative isolation in the country with a nurse who cared for her). She survived for three years, yes, but those three years were in no way living … It was rather shocking to read and made me eternally grateful for insulin.

Jennifer, in 1945 I had diabetes several months before I was diagnosed. Three doctors examined me and did not know what was wrong with me. I had lost so much weight, and would not eat anything. My parents did not give up and took me to a fourth doctor. He diagnosed me and I was rushed to a hospital. If I had not been taken to the fourth doctor I may not have lived much longer. My mother told me in later years that she was amazed how fast the injections of beef and pork insulin brought me back to life. I was 6 when diagnosed, and I had missed a few weeks of first grade. I was able to go to school and completed first grade successfully.

What amazing parents you had.

Interesting the understanding of the role of protein on BG, which isn’t something doctors consider now.

Truly a starvation diet with few carbs, few calories, low protein. Staggering to think a body could survive any length of time.

I saw that on the other forum and also this
The Starvation diet didn’t keep people alive for that long whatever type of diabetes they had.

Joslin is reviweing the first 50 years of the 20th century in a table he gives the ’ Average Duration in Years of Life of Diabetics from Onset of Diabetes to Death in Successive Eras of Treatment’

During the’ Allen ’ period at ‘Joslin’, the average length of time between diagnosis and death was only 6.1 years
for the under 10s, 2.9 years,
age 10-19:2.7 years ,
age 20-39: 4.9 years,
age 40-59 :8 years.
over 60:6.4 years.
He’s rightly, very positive about the future for younger patients noting that in 1950 ‘we have 2,145 patients whose diabetes began when they were children. As an illustration of this possibility I would cite the fact that already 12% of these have lived 25 years, 4% 30 years, and a moiety even 35 and more years with their diabetes.’

Marie, where did you you get this data? I’d really like to use this to make a point to a real…um…foolish person on another group, and if you could provide the source, I’d really appreciate it. This nincompoop on this other group seems to think that eating like Allen recommended will “regenerate” our beta cells. I’m hoping this will help put him in his place, making him shut his mouth…though that is just a hope.

Hahhahahhahah. Beat you to it (…).

I can type google faster than Marie. I did it, I did it!!

Now if I could just learn to spel.

ps. Hope I am not the nincompoop.

bsc : observation from the North American West Coast …Marie lives in France, according to her profile …it is beddy beddy time in Europe instead of googling time …
interesting stats never the less

So you mean I won a race against someone who was asleep? And I won? Boy that really takes the wind out of my sail.


No, but Fred Hahn is. Anyone who says, and I quote:

You have noticed that you are more able to eat carbs. This is common as adopting a low sugar/carb diet can aid the pancreas in healing. In fact, Atkins showed that even T1D were able to improve beta cell production after a time on a VLCKD. So I’m not surprised that this happened to you.

is worse than a nincompoop, but in polite company, I cannot and will not say what I truly think of him. If it were true that low carb diets “improve[d] beta cell production” in T1D, then would you not expect the children treated by Allen in the years prior to the advent of insulin to live longer than 2.7-2.9 years (which, yes, I will acknowledge is an improvement over the 6 months or less that most children were able to survive prior to insulin, but does not provide evidence for beta cell “improvement”, especially given that most children had to continually drop the carbs down to nearly nothing in order to keep glucose from spilling into the urine – perhaps showing he ignores significant issues which do not fit into his belief system).

There are a lot of issues I intend to take up with him, and it generally ends up with him focusing on extraneous topics, since he is not capable of responding to my direct questions. FOR YOU LURKERS OUT THERE: Whenever ANYONE who claims to be able to “cure” diabetes deflects or ignores your questions, you know you’re dealing with a snake-oil salesman. Or at least someone who refuses to admit ignorance. Do yourself a favor: RUN from them as fast as you can!

I looked it up recently (admittedly on google, not a perfect source…) and noted that Elizabeth Hughes was allowed 400 calories/ day whereas inmates at nazi concentration camps were given 5-600. Still, of course, with the intent to murder them but at least to keep them working. That isn’t an angle I wanna try to work?

Acid, (don’t know why I can’t reply to your comment!)

The grandmother of a very good friend of mine was a type 1 about 9-12 years before the discovery of insulin. She was allowed 900 calories of red meat and all the red wine she could drink per day. I wouldn’t mind the red wine recommendation, but to try to live on a mere 900 calories (well, ok, that’s only 400-500 less than mine currently) sounds awful. I wouldn’t want to try those starvation diets. Thank God for insulin!

Notice that the adults over 40, presumably Type 2’s, didn’t live so long, either. Type 2’s ran into the vicious cycle that high BGs cause glucotoxicity to the beta cells, and then the beta cells secrete less insulin, resulting in higher BGs, etc.

I was also interested in the fact that they knew that a lot of adult-onset diabetics were “fat” (their word, not mine), and that weight loss and exercise were of value.

So glad for the invention of insulin, but I think we also need to regard their knowledge in our treatment – limitation of carbs DOES matter!

You know I refused to engage in that adventure. I really don’t understand the strong emotions you have expressed. Perhaps I don’t know some ancient history. But I will tell you that Mary Vernon on pg 57-58 of the Atkins Diabetes Revolution describes a case of a type 1 who was able to restore better function achieving a normal fasting blood sugar and an HbA1c of 5.3. Granted, this was after serious loss of control and an HbA1c of 16.

Jenny Ruhl has been vocal that high blood sugars can be toxic to your poor pooped out pancreas and not all type 1s suffer immediate total and absolute beta cell exhaustion. In fact, for LADA’s I think it is prudent follow a low carb diet and avoid high blood sugars and keep their beta cells healthy.

Sure, this so called nincompoop may make poor choices in his words, and he clearly grates certain people. I just cannot for the life of me understand the strong reaction it has caused.

But perhaps it’s just me, I mean look at this face.

I would prefer to kill the hell out of my beta cells since it would make calculating IOB far simpler. ;-).

Carbs are very useful for exercising. I skip carbs pretty regularly during the week, but if I’m planning a longer run, I’ll have a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Not a race, since they invariably start at the crack of dawn but for long, weekend runs, having a heap of carbs definitely feels better.

Looking at the entire chart in the article is even more instructive and I just posted an easier-to-read version HERE (so, sorry, since it wouldn’t format, you’ll have to follow the link):

One thing the chart shows is that even though Allen cut carbs substantially to try to extend the lives of those suffering from diabetes, it made very little difference in life expectancy in comaprison to his predecessor, who I will presume did not cut carbs nearly as much. The only exception is for those 60 and older, for whom the cut in carbs increased life added 2 years to their life expectancy. Even for people 40-59, the extremely low carb diet advocated by Allen only improved outcomes by 1 year. Were I to run some statistical analyses on this data, my suspicion is that the largest and most significant increases come after the advent of insulin, whereas any “improvement” seen before insulin would be statistically non-significant – i.e. not really an improvement and a number obtained due to chance.

I am not trying to say that you should eat all the carbs you want. I am trying to advocate reasonableness in diet, exercise, and medication – and that obviously, diabetes is not caused by what you eat!

Oh, BTW, note that in Allen’s era, children under 10 only lived on average 2.9 years after diagnosis. Would you rather be a child under 10 back then or an adult over 40, who would have an average of 8 years post dx?

Essentially, the problem with Fred is (1) he violated TOS on the ADA boards when he tried to sell his books and services. For whatever reason, he has not been banned (I would have banned him); (2) when people tried to have a reasoned conversation with him, trying to engage him on the level of ideas, he responded by nastily slamming people or twisting the conversation, claiming he didn’t say things when he actually did; and (3) he makes claims that cannot be validated, such as he’s been on the Today Show (I looked and can’t find him, but I haven’t checked the Wayback Machine, either). He appears to be a liar and fraud, based on what he has written.

My other complaint about him is more basic. Imagine I came to your house, ate your food, used your computer, slept on your furniture, etc. Then imagine I complained loudly about you, about everything you were doing, telling anyone and everyone who came to your house or work that what you were doing was wrong, incorrect, bad, etc. Well, that’s essentially what Fred is doing. He’s entered the ADA’s electronic “house” and he’s using the service that the people who donate money to the ADA have paid for and he’s calling the ADA names in their own home. You wouldn’t tolerate that sort of behavior in your home; why should the ADA?

Lastly, to address the issue of the purported type 1 who “cured” herself by eating low carb…that is an anecdote, and anecdotes are not proof. It is also in a consumer source (I’d be inclined to call most books and magazines directed at consumers these days to be less than tertiary sources). There is no way to validate the story, therefore, as a piece of scientific evidence and as something on which I’d want to bet my life (which is what I would be doing if I were to follow her lead), as a former PhD student, I would say it’s less than acceptable. And if you were writing a paper for me when I was teaching, and I’d asked you to use only professional sources, I’d reject that as a source. Why? Well, let me tell you about my neighbor’s boyfriend. He had a massive heart attack this year – the one they call “the widowmaker”. He was lucky to survive. His doctors have increased his dose of a blood pressure medication (don’t know which one). Over the past few months, though, he’s started finding himself increasingly tired, sick to his stomach, and dizzy. He heard from a friend that it “has” to be the blood pressure medications and he should take only half of his pill. It worked for his friend, so of course, it should work for him, right? Oh, and he didn’t consult his dr before doing this. Think that’s a smart move?

Because people hear/read information on the net that is wildly incorrect, and because there are people who do act upon one or two wildly incorrect things (like my neighbor) or who take an anecdote as proof (like my neighbor), IMO, it is incumbent on the people who do have knowledge of a topic to try to ensure that the knowledge is properly disseminated. At least that’s my opinion. You’re always free to disagree.

im curious as to what they actually did eat, it sound a lot like a low everything diet.