Francis M. Pottenger, Jr. was a physician who lived from 1901-1967. His father was also a doctor who co-founded a sanatorium in California for tuberculosis patients. After Dr. Pottenger graduated from medical school, he joined the medical staff at the sanatorium. Dr. Pottenger was interested in using extracts from the adrenal glands to improve health in people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, tuberculosis, allergies, and emphysema. He conducted studies using cats, who lived in open-air pens overlooking the San Gabriel Valley.
His studies with cats involved surgically removing their adrenal glands, then giving them the adrenal extracts he was testing so they could be standardized. Pottenger’s cats were fed cooked meat scraps (left over from the sanatorium), raw milk, and cod liver oil. In spite of their agreeable living conditions and diet, he found that they were frequently ill and didn’t do well after surgery. This puzzled him, but it wasn’t until he had amassed so many cats that he was forced to order raw meat, organs, and bones from a local butcher to feed them all, that he discovered why.
The group of cats fed an all-raw diet were thriving. Kittens were healthier, and cats undergoing surgery had higher survival rates. Dr. Pottenger then began a 10-year nutrition study involving some 900 cats:
The Meat Study:
- Diet A (Healthy): 1/3 raw milk, cod liver oil, 2/3 raw meat
- Diet B (Deficient): 1/3 raw milk, cod liver oil, 2/3 cooked meat
The Milk Study:
- Diet A (Healthy): 1/3 raw meat, cod liver oil, 2/3 raw milk
- Diet B (Deficient): 1/3 raw meat, cod liver oil, 2/3 pasteurized milk
- Diet C (Deficient): 1/3 raw meat, cod liver oil, 2/3 evaporated milk
- Diet D (Deficient): 1/3 raw meat, cod liver oil, 2/3 sweetened condensed milk
- Diet E (Deficient): Raw milk only (Group E1 – milk from cows eating dry feed; Group E2 – milk from cows eating green feed)
What Dr. Pottenger saw was various states of ill health in cats fed deficient diets in the meat and milk studies. By the third generation of cats eating deficient diets, kittens were born with soft bones and many of the male and female cats were unable to reproduce. When Dr. Pottenger fed second generation-deficient cats an all-raw diet again, he found that it took four generations of all-raw feeding to reverse the degenerative changes brought on by deficient diets.
At the time Dr. Pottenger conducted his cat studies, the amino acid taurine had not yet been discovered. Dr. Pottenger writes that he suspected there was an essential protein factor his cats needed that was sensitive to heat. Smart man! Today, we know that cats must have taurine in their diet, and it is added to highly cooked commercial diets.
I am just blown away by Dr. Pottenger’s work. In fact, it’s my favorite research study of all time (I know, it’s weird that I even have a favorite research study!). First of all, from everything I’ve read, he was concerned about the well-being of his research cats. They could take advantage of the lovely southern California climate and live outside in the sunshine. Their enclosures were cleaned daily, and they had a shelter with bedding in it. Secondly, this man’s inquisitive mind led him to complete TEN YEARS of brilliant nutrition research. Finally, the take away message from this research is crystal clear: food in its original, raw form is best. Period.
Dr. Pottenger developed dietary guidelines for human patients at the sanatorium as a result of the cat studies. You can read them here. The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation is Dr. Pottenger’s legacy, and you can read more about him and the work of the foundation at the PPNF website.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Dr. Pottenger. I’m rather fascinated by the work at the Sanatorium, but from my research on-line, it seems the building is gone and patient records have been destroyed. Too bad…a trip to the San Gabriel mountains would have been fun!