McCarrison Society

Health Through Nutrition, A Birthright


Sir Edward Mellanby GBE KCB FRS FRCP


Mellanby is best known for his fundamental work, synergistic with his wife’s equally important research, into the relevance of vitamin D to rickets and tooth formation, as well as the interactions and effects of phytates on the mineralisation of bones and teeth.

Their research was ground-breaking extensive, long running and detailed, and formed an important element along with work by Sinclair, McCarrison and others in formulating government nutritional advice and policy before and during WWII.

An extensive amount of his research and published material is held by the Wellcome Trust.  Link

Wikipedia entry Link

He clearly had contact with McCarrison, as McCarrison cites some of his research material and mentions him in correspondence.

Vitamin D importance to dental and bone formation.

The Mellanby’s did research on vitamin D, dental formation and decay, which was truly seminal, but appears despite its huge relevance and importance today, to have fallen out of the wider consciousness.

Their work showed that vitamin D, as well as being essential for the prevention of rickets, was central to optimal in-utero and later tooth formation, including the quality of the interior bone structure of teeth.

They (the work is primarily that of Mrs Mellanby) identified fat soluble vitamins particularly D but also vitamin A and potentially iodine (which is lipophilic) (and we now know K2) greatly improved formation, reduced and or halted decay, and induced remineralisation of teeth.

Adding a vitamin D supplement, to a diet that was likely mainly from fresh produce, but that included limited sugar in deserts, significantly reduced carrie rates. The best outcomes were seen in a grain free diet, where it was felt that decay had been effectively stopped. (See data and paper below.)

The grain included in the non-grain-free diet, was likely relatively highly processed, and may have been bleached. In contrast Weston Price (Link) included some fresh ground whole wheat products in his anti-decay diets, and also saw halt of dental decay. Grain processing and storage degrades a range of nutrients, which may be a factor helping explain the difference in dental outcomes. Addition of calcium in dairy also would reduce effect of phytates.

Consistent with Price’s observations, dental decay significantly improved during the second world war, when unrefined whole grain flour was mandatory. (Link) The flour included a form of ground limestone as a calcium additive; it would have also likely contained other minerals. Cod liver oil as well as orange juice was also given to children. Sugar intake did decline, but still formed a significant component of the diet. This comment is not to suggest refined sugar is a nutritious, only that it is not the only factor in dental decay.

Mellany dental decay vitamin D

Below is a chapter headed ‘Dental Structure and Disease’ digitised by us from the book ‘Nutrition and Disease’ by the Mellanbys written in 1934. The book is out of print, difficult to find, and of arguably significant importance, hence the decision to reproduce the relevant chapter here.

The Mellanby’s observed they could “produce at will in animals teeth of all grades of structure” and decay simply through manipulations of diet.

The nutrient status of the mother effects tooth development in utero, and the subsequent quality of the teeth and their ability to resist decay irrespective of nutrition post birth. This was demonstrated in dogs; see page 17 end of abstract .

The PDF, by accident as much as by design, is in three sections;

  • first the plates as a group at the front as they convey the importance of this work with greater impact than the text;
  • second the first three pages, the essence of the chapter and containing reference to the importance of dental  formation in utero (as they are otherwise split by the photographic plates, and it is easy to be diverted from the thread of the text);
  • thirdly the entire chapter.

The McCarrison Society would be delighted for you to copy share and propagate this seminal work, but would with thanks appreciate a link 🙂 🙂 🙂 .



Oats and Phytates

The issues of phytates vitamin D and dental health is helpfully discussed by Stephan Guyenet in his excellent Whole Health Source  posts on reversing tooth decay  (Link) (Link), which is where I first originally saw a link to the Mellanby’s work (Hat-tip)

Stephan now has a has a new site titled “The science of body weight and health” (Link) which looks primarily as might be expected at the biology of mechanisms and reasons for weight gain. Whole Health Source also has a number of fascinating posts on dietary strategies to reduce phytates including fermentation of foods, which is employed in a host of different ways by peoples all over the world to preserve and improve the nutritional content of food.

Whilst oats were used as a source of phytates, their effect was largely mediated in the Mellanby’s experiments by additional vitamin D, but the dosage is not stated. Tradition Scot’s diet would have included dairy, a source of calcium, and interestingly clotted cattle blood, a potential source of vitamin D as well as other nutrients.

The people of the Outer Hebrides, who ate significant amounts of oily fish, were recorded by Weston Price as having outstanding teeth. Oats were their only cereal and a dietary staple. (Chapter 4 Isolated and modernized Gaelics Link) This again suggests that high phytate grains, suitably cooked or fermented, as part of an appropriate diet, do not inhibit dental formation or wider freedom from decay.

There is limited information on their preparation, but oats for porridge traditionally were slow cooked for many hours, and possibly this would reduce phytate content. These Islanders then also had a very high intake of herring a good source of many nutrients including iodine and minerals.

McCarrison noted the Sikhs and Hunza ate fresh ground flour and did not report they had dental decay. This suggests dietary factors, including vitamin D, as well as methods of preparation, can compensate for phytates.

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