Adelle Davis

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Adelle Davis
Adelle Davis circa 1925
Born Daisie Adelle Davis
(1904-02-25)February 25, 1904
Lizton, Indiana, United States
Died May 31, 1974(1974-05-31) (aged 70)
Palos Verdes Estates, California, United States
Pen name Jane Dunlap
Genre Health and nutrition

Daisie Adelle Davis (25 February 1904 – 31 May 1974), popularly known as Adelle Davis, was an American author and nutritionist who became well known as an advocate for specific nutritional stances such as unprocessed food and vitamin supplementation. She gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s with widespread media attention and became the most recognized nutritionist in the country. Despite her popularity, she was heavily criticized by her peers for many recommendations she made that were not supported by the scientific literature, some of which were considered dangerous.


Adelle Davis was born to Charles and Harriette Davis in Lizton, Indiana, USA, on February 25, 1904. She studied Home Economics at Purdue University from 1923 to 1925 and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Household Studies from the University of California at Berkeley in 1927. After receiving dietetic training at Bellevue and Fordham Hospitals in New York, she supervised nutrition for Yonkers Public Schools as well as consulted as a nutritionist for New York obstetricians.[1]

From 1931 through 1958, Davis was a private consulting nutritionist in Oakland and Los Angeles, California. She received her Master of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Southern California.[1] In October 1943, Davis married George Edward Leisey, and adopted his two children, George and Barbara, though she never had children of her own.[2] She divorced George Leisey in 1953 and married a retired accountant and lawyer named Frank Sieglinger in 1960.[1]

Davis gained notoriety initially speaking on the lecture circuit on college campuses as well as in Latin America and Europe, and eventually became sought after for guest appearances on television talk show programming.

In 1973 Adelle Davis was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and later died of the same disease in 1974 in her home at the age of seventy.[1]

Health and nutrition work

Davis wrote a series of four books, starting with a cookbook in 1947, that ultimately sold over 10 million copies in total. Although her ideas were considered somewhat eccentric in the 1940s and 1950s, the change in culture with the 1960s brought her ideas, especially her anti-food processing and food industry charges, into the mainstream in a time when anti-authority sentiment was growing.[2] She also contributed to, as well as benefited from, the rise of a nutritional and health food movement that began in the 1950s, which focused on subjects such as pesticide residues and food additives,[1] a movement her critics would come to term food faddism.[3] During the 1960s and 1970s, her popularity continued to grow, as she was featured in multiple media reports, variously described as an "oracle" by the New York Times, "high priestess" by Life and was compared to Ralph Nader, the popular consumer activist, by the Associated Press. Her celebrity was demonstrated by her repeated guest appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, as she became the most popular and influential nutritionist in the country.[2]

A significant part of her appeal came from her credentials, including her university training, and her apparent application of scientific studies and principles to her writing, with one book totaling over 2100 footnotes and citations.[2] Some of her nutritional ideas such as the need for exercise, the dangers of vitamin deficiencies[1] as well as the need to avoid hydrogenated fat, saturated fat and excess sugar consumption remain relevant even to modern nutritionists.[2] U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy commended her views in 1998 as well, in remarks meant to support a law protecting free speech on food safety from the threat of lawsuits.[4]

Scientific criticism

Despite her celebrity, Davis received significant and strong criticism from fellow nutritionists, with one review commenting that her works were "at best a half truth."[3] While lauded for her ability to open the public to the concept of science in nutrition, she was nevertheless heavily criticized for misusing the science in her nutritional works to come to "ridiculous conclusions," especially in light of her scientific training. Amongst the many views not supported by nutritionists include her view that not only physical health but mental and social ills could be cured with the proper diet, stating alcoholism, crime, suicide and divorce were the product of mere poor diet.[2] Although she was very popular with the public in general in the 1970s, none of her books were recommended by any significant nutritional professional society of the time. Independent review of the superficially impressive large number of citations to the scientific literature in her books found that the citations often either misquoted the scientific literature or were contradicted by or unsupported by the proposed citation, and that errors in the book averaged at least one per page.[5] One review noted that only 30 of 170 citations in a sample taken from one chapter accurately supported the assertions in her book.[2] Additionally, the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health labelled her probably the single most harmful source of false nutritional information.[1][6]

Most concerning to physicians and nutritionists who reviewed her work were not only the scientific inaccuracies, but the dangerous and "potentially lethal" recommendations that appeared in her books. Her recommendation for vitamin A supplements was followed by the mother of a young girl who subsequently developed permanently stunted growth. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the child was ultimately settled out of court with Davis' estate for the sum of $150,000.[7] A separate case report in 1971 involving a child given vitamin A supplements and becoming significantly ill ended with a better outcome when those dietary supplements were stopped and the child recovered.[2] In 1978, the parents of a child with colic followed the advice of Davis, which was based on a misrepresentation of a study about hospitalized children with a different condition (gastroenteritis). These parents gave the child potassium supplementation for this condition and the child subsequently died. A lawsuit by the parents against Davis' estate, the book's publisher, and the supplement manufacturers ended with an out-of-court settlement of $160,000.[8]

Pioneering University of Minnesota physiology research professor Ancel Keys and the Mayo Clinic director of the metabolism division, Edward Rynearson, both opposed Davis' advice and the methods she promoted in her many diet fad books. Keys stated: And dieting can be dangerous, too. Diet fads are for the birds, if you don't like birds. My friend Ed Rynearson -- he was in charge of the division of metabolism at the Mayo Clinic -- pointed out that we're overridden with diet fads. His particular peeve was Adelle Davis. She's dead now, and I shouldn't speak ill of the dead. But her books are just full of hogwash. She has a variety of diets, but no great sense to them at all -- lots of natural things, which I suppose is all right. The health food stores have stacks of her books. She made a pot of money, I'm sure.[9]


Books on nutrition:

Other publications:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Young, James Harvey (1980). Notable American Women: the Modern Period : a biographical dictionary, Volume 4. Harvard University Press. pp. 179–180. ISBN 0-674-62732-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Hurley, Dan (2006). Natural causes: death, lies, and politics in America's vitamin and herbal supplement industry. Random House. ISBN 978-0-7679-2636-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 McBean LD, Speckmann EW (October 1974). "Food faddism: a challenge to nutritionists and dietitians". Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 27 (10): 1071–8. PMID 4417113.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Leahy, Patrick (April 29, 1998). "Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on The First Amendment and Food Safety". Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved 20 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Rynearson EH (July 1974). "Americans love hogwash". Nutr. Rev. 32: suppl 1:1–14. PMID 4367657.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Stephen Barrett, M.D. (October 13, 2006). "The Legacy of Adelle Davis". Quackwatch. Retrieved 20 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  8. Shils, Maurice (1999). Modern nutrition in health and disease. Williams & Wilkins. p. 1797. ISBN 0-7817-4133-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Earth Mother to the Foodists," Life magazine, October 22, 1971, p. 70

External links