Frederick Madison Allen

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Frederick Madison Allen

Frederick Madison Allen (1879–1964) was a physician who is best remembered for his carbohydrate-restricted diet for sufferers of diabetes mellitus.


Born in Iowa, he later studied medicine in California. He was employed in a poorly paid position at Harvard University, before working in New Jersey and in Boston, Massachusetts, around 1919. Diabetes captured his interest. He discovered that a reduction of food intake, espectially carbohydrates, reduced or eliminated glycosuria, the principal clinically measurable manifestation of diabetes at that time. This improved some of the complications of diabetes in some of his patients, especially overweight adults. At that time, though doctors recognized differences in course and prognosis of patients with juvenile and adult-onset forms of diabetes, treatments were few and typically tried with patients of all ages. Allen opened the Physiatric Institute in Morristown, New Jersey, the world's first clinic for sufferers of diabetes mellitus, on April 26, 1921.[1][2] By 1929, Allen had opened facilities in Rye, New York and was opening a new location on 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan.[3]

Elizabeth Hughes Gossett, daughter of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, was kept alive with Allen's techniques until she became one of the first patients treated with insulin when it became available as a therapy.[4]

Before Frederick Banting first used insulin to treat diabetes, in 1922, Allen was recommending a diet which could prolong the lives of sufferers of diabetes mellitus, a fatal illness at the time. This diet involved drastic reduction of calorie, especially carbohydrate, intake, sometimes involving as little as 8% of calorie intake coming from carbohydrates. Although this could reduce incidence of glycosuria in people with diabetes mellitus, it did not typically prolong life by more than a few months. As Williams and Pickup (2004) note, the advances made in our understanding of diabetes in the late nineteenth century were not matched by great advances in treatment until Banting's isolation of insulin; these authors note how people with diabetes mellitus who did act for active treatment would opt to go on the starvation diet recommended by Allen.

Allen was not the first person to recommend treatment of diabetes by diet; as Ramachandran and Viswanathan (1998) point out, dietary treatment of diabetes mellitus was used in ancient Egypt as long ago as 3,500 B.C., and was being used in India about 2,500 years ago. These authors note that in the eighteenth century, John Rollo had observed that glycosuria in diabetics could be reduced if sufferers of diabetes mellitus reduced the quantity of their food consumed. However, Allen became famous in his own day for his recommendations, and Allen and his co-workers published their work on the diabetic diet in 1919, in a work entitled "Total Dietary Regulation in the Treatment of Diabetes". Today, however, diabetologists would take quite different views on this subject to those promoted by Allen. Indeed, Joslin, in 1922, suggested different diet recommendations to those of Allen, suggesting a reduction of fat rather than carbohydrate, with the overall goal of reduction in calorie intake (Hockaday, 1981). Allen has been named as one of the two leading diabetologists, along with Elliott P. Joslin, in the period 1910 to 1920, and later worked at the Rockefeller Institute.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bunn, Austin. "THE WAY WE LIVE NOW: 3-16-03: BODY CHECK; The Bittersweet Science", The New York Times, March 16, 2003. Accessed January 28, 2012. "Allen's starvation diet was a particular cruelty.... But nobody had a better way than Allen to extend lives. If the fasting wasn't working and symptoms got worse, Allen insisted on more rigorous undernourishment. In his campaigns to master their disease, Allen took his patients right to the edge of death, but he justified this by pointing out that patients faced a stark choice: die of diabetes or risk inanition, which Allen explained as starvation due to inability to acquire tolerance for any living diet. The Physiatric Institute became a famine ward."
  2. ^ "NEW MEDICAL INSTITUTE.; Jersey Institution for Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders Opens.", The New York Times, April 27, 1921. Accessed January 27, 2008.
  3. ^ Staff. "OPEN HOSPITAL HERE FOR METABOLIC ILLS; Dr. Frederick M. Allen and Group of Associates Will Treat These Cases Exclusively. PLANNED IT FOR A YEAR Specialists Under the Medical Foundation on Staff of Self-Sustaining Sanitarium. ANNOUNCED TO PHYSICIANS Institution in West 57th St. to Be Allied With Physiatric Hospital in Rye, N.Y.", The New York Times, November 30, 1929. Accessed January 28, 2012.
  4. ^ Zuger, Abigail. "Rediscovering the First Miracle Drug", The New York Times, October 4, 2010. Accessed January 28, 2012. "The other great authority on diet therapy was New York’s Dr. Frederick Allen, now long forgotten, who founded a residential hospital for diabetics, first on East 51st Street in Manhattan, and then in rural New Jersey. It was to Dr. Allen that the eminent American jurist and Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes turned when his daughter Elizabeth was diagnosed with diabetes in 1919, at age 11."


  • Hockaday, T.D.R. (1981). Should the diabetic diet be based on carbohydrate of fat restriction? In M. Turner & B. Thomas (eds.). Nutrition and Diabetes. London : Libbey, 1981. pp23–32.ISBN 0861960084
  • Ramachandran, A. & Viswanathan, M. (1998). Dietary management of diabetes mellitus in India and South Asia. In K.G.M.M. Alberti, R.A. DeFronzo & P. Zimmet (eds.). International textbook of diabetes mellitus. pp773–777. Chichester : Wiley, 1997.
  • Williams, G. & Pickup, J. (2004). The handbook of diabetes (third edition). Oxford : Blackwell Science, 2004. ISBN 1-4051-2052-5