McCarrison Society

Health Through Nutrition, A Birthright


Sir Robert McCarrison

C.I.E., M.A., M.D., D.Sc., LL.D., F.R.C.P.
Major-General I.M.S. (Ret’d.)
Formerly Director of Research on Nutrition, India

Honary Surgeon to the Viceroy of India, Lieutenant-Colonel Indian Medical Service

Portrait held by National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) (India) with very grateful thanks to them.

The Mccarriosn Society was set up to recognise celebrate and further the work and observations of Sir Robert McCarrison.

Sir Robert had a very distinguish career.  E V McCullum in Hugh Sinclairs book ‘The Works or SIr Robert McCarrison’ said of him:

Sir Robert possesses in enviable measure qualities which are admirable in the eyes of his many friends and admirers. Intellectual honesty, enthusiasm, curiosity, studious attention to interpreting his observations in the full light of the work of others, courage of conviction in unusual measure in defending his considered conclusions are characteristic of him. He possessed not only knowledge but wisdom.

The writer cannot forbear ending this account on a personal note, by mentioning his genial disposition, fine sense of humour, obvious interest in people, and charm in conversation which made for him a host of friends and admirers in many lands. It is a pleasure to one who marched with him through two decades toward the distant watch-fires of truth to express high regard for him as a man as well as an invesigator.”

Some details of his life can be found on wikipedia. Iis hoped to add to these including as to his time as a doctor in Gilgit to the Hunza, and other northern ‘tribal’ groups, as time permits.

Of the Hunza Sir Robert observes

Early in his career in the early 1900s, as part of the Indian Medical Service, Sir Robert found himself acting as the doctor to the Hunza, of whom he said:

Amongst these people the span of life is extraordinarily long; and such service as I was able to render them during some seven years spent in their midst was confined chiefly to the treatment of accidental lesions, the removal of senile cataract, plastic operations’ for granular eyelids, or the treatment of maladies wholly unconnected with food-supply.

J.I. Rodale book The Healthy Hunzas Link  includes a contemporaneous view of Sir Robert’s work, particularly on the effects of produce grown on land enhanced with compost in comparison to ‘artificials’, when fed to livestock.  See Lost wisdom Link

The very readable 1938 book ‘The Wheel of Health’ Link by Wrench G. T. MD, is an excellent book containing a wealth of fascinating material on the role of diet in health, which also refers to the work of McCarrison with reference to the Hunza.

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur) wrote: ‘As in the case of most achievements of enduring value the development of this laboratory into an institution with its outstanding position in the field of nutrition research in the East is due, to a considerable extent, to the impetus given to it by its Founder-Director, Sir Robert McCarrison, whose contributions to the study of nutrition problems and to the stimulation of interest in this sphere of research have earned for him the lasting gratitude of India.’

Creation of the National Institute of Research in India.

Sir Robert was instrumental in setting up nutritional research in India and worked at the the Nutrition Research Laboratories, at the Pasteur Institute at Coonoor, which now forms part National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) (Link):
National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) was founded by Sir Robert McCarrison in the year 1918 as ‘Beri-Beri’ Enquiry Unit in a single room laboratory at the Pasteur Institute, Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. Within a short span of seven years, this unit blossomed into a “Deficiency Disease Enquiry” and later in 1928, emerged as full-fledged “Nutrition Research Laboratories” (NRL) with Dr. McCarrison as its first Director. It was shifted to Hyderabad in 1958.”
NIN’s birth place at Coonoor, Tamil NaduSir Robert’s contribution to the foundation of the NIN in India, is recorded  in the introduction of Sinclair’s book ‘The Work of Sir Robert MCCarrison’ written by W R Aykroyd, a later Director of the NIN.:
The present Director, Dr. V. N. Patwardhan, has recently published a delightful history of these Laboratories, and he has pointed out that ‘It is no exaggeration to say that it was the genius and sustained efforts of McCarrison as also the foresight and generosity of the Indian Research Fund Association which sponsored McCarrison’s researches that resulted in the unit for nutritional research which gradually developed into a full fledged institution.’ And in a Foreword to Patwardhan’s history, the Minister of Health of the Government of India (Hon).

McCarrison’s Research

The essence of his conclusion from many years of research was:”I know of nothing so potent in maintaining good health in laboratory animals as perfectly constituted food; I know of nothing so potent in producing ill-health as improperly constituted food. This, too, is the experience of stock breeders, is man an exception to a rule so universally applicable to the higher animals.”,

a related conclusion to that reached independently by Albrecht on plants “health is the birthright of plants“,

In humans terms, adequately nourished humans are highly resistant to  the onset and effect of most non-communicable  diseases: as a generality, paraphrasing Albrecht, health should be the birthright of humans.

As part of his research, in the hunt for a better understanding of the impact of nutrition on health, he looked a t regional Indian diets, their impact on population health, including as to stature, general health and prevalence of local disease. He fed those same regional diets to his laboratory rats, and found they showed similar trends in build and disease prevalence.

A photo of one or Sir Robert’s best known research posters by kind courtesy of the Wellcome Trust Collection

He went on to try and quantify the nutritional difference in these diets and identify what factors were essential to health, or conversely when absent produced ill-health .

The preface and introduction to his most important work “Studies in Deficiency Diseases” reproduced in 1945 by Hodder and Stoughton, but based on earlier research up to 1921, has  been abstracted by us and is included below. It would be counter productive to try and paraphrase his observations of almost a century ago, which so presciently, powerfully, and relevantly resonate with current nutrition, health and social issues.

A classic McCarrison poster, which compares the effects of a Sikh diet with a largely processed 1930s English diet, on the health and behaviour of rats, succinctly sums up the direction, fundamental importance, and conclusions of the work of Sir Robert and his Indian colleagues.

(By kind courtesy of the Welcome Trust Collection)

Sir Robert’s posters are held by the Welcome Trust. They include powerful images and data of great current relevance including a memorable vitamin D deficient dog with rickets(By kind courtesy of the Welcome Trust Collection)

and a example of vitamin D deficiency dependent osteomalacia in an upper human forearm.
(By kind courtesy of the Welcome Trust Collection)

MC Dog rickets1

I hope you will find the abstracts of his works correspondence and research posters as inspiring, thought provoking and prescient as I did.

Robert A Brown

Other links and material relevant to Sir Robert McCarrison

Studies in Deficiency Diseases – Robert McCarrison 1921

Some of the earliest research conducted into deficiency disorders and their effects on health – an academic publication.

Abstract, preface and introduction “Studies in deficiency diseases” Click here

Food – Robert McCarrison

“A primer for use in schools, colleges, welfare centres, boy scout and girl guide organizations, etc. in India” 1928 Click here


Letters and Correspondence Click here


The Welcome Collection houses historically very important material relating to Sir Robert McCarrison, including some of his research posters, a selection of which are reproduced from mobile phone camera photos that we were very kindly given permission to take. They contain original photographs and the text is pen and ink.

The originals are folio size a beauty to behold, and a powerful reminder of how the world has moved in in terms of technology, but those involved in science were no less dedicated or skilled than their contemporaries today.

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