Ragnar Berg (1873-1956) was a Swedish-born biochemist and nutritionist who worked most of his adult life in Germany. He is best known for promoting the importance of acid-base balance and inorganic minerals like calcium in the diet; later in life he endorsed vegetarianism and ways to prolong the human life span. He also invented the alkaline dietary supplement Basica, which Volkmar Klopfer manufactured and marketed from 1925.
Ragnar Berg was the son of the respected Swedish historian and archaeologist Wilhelm Berg (1839-1915) and his first wife, Ulrika Charlotta Emerentia "Emy" Gumaelius (1846-1902). He married Ella Buscher in 1902, and they had two sons, Gunnar Wilhelm Emil (1907-1974) and Alf Ragnar Wilhelm (1912-1994).
Berg was recruited by Karl Lingner to the Dresden Center for Dental Hygiene (Zentralstelle für Zahnhygiene) in 1902, where he met dentist Carl Röse (1864–1947), his long-time experimental partner. From 1909 to 1921 Berg headed the physiology lab at the homeopathic sanatorium founded by Heinrich Lahmann at Weisser Hirsch near Dresden, researching vitamins, trace elements and the metabolism of minerals. A fire damaged the laboratory at the end of December 1914.
In 1921, he was dismissed from Lahmann's Sanatorium, since business had dried up during World War One, and its new directors wanted to focus on the more lucrative fields of psychoanalysis and gynecology. Berg, personally stung, felt that "the directors did not value his scientific approach to nutrition." He continued conducting experiments on himself and analyzing foodstuffs from a home laboratory. From 1927 to 1932, he headed his own nutrition department at the Dresden-Friedrichstadt Hospital; in 1934 he was invited to the "Rudolf Hess Hospital in Dresden-Johannstadt. However, his funding ran out two years later. Only during the 1940s was he able to get federal funds for his "war-related" work.
In March 1945, Berg and his wife, Ella, fled bombed-out Dresden for Berlin and then to Stockholm, Sweden. (Neither their house nor his lab in the hospital had been damaged, however.) They lived in his native Sweden until her death from a heart attack at the end of 1954. Berg was very lonely, his health deteriorated, and he spent many months in the hospital before moving to his son's home north of Hamburg, where he died a few months later of old age and metastatic prostate cancer. He was nearly blind by this time.
Berg and Röse developed a theory of acid-base balance in the body that is affected by diet. They relied on the work of Ernst Leopold Salkowski, who published results in the 1870s that suggested inorganic acids could only be excreted by the kidneys if neutralized by inorganic bases. If the acids remained in the body, they would accumulate in areas of low blood flow (like joints), thereby obstructing normal physiological function. The model disease was gout, but Berg traced many other "diseases of civilization" to acid-base imbalance, including obesity, arthritis, and diabetes.
Because the body produces more acids than bases, concluded Berg, the best source of bases was the diet. If the diet was too acidic, then the body would break down proteins for the ammonia. This prevented the body from getting the full caloric and nitrogen value of the protein and produced abnormal intermediate metabolites. Moreover, a more basic diet reduced the need for protein. The following chart classifies foods according to Berg's theory and analyses.
|Acidic foods||Basic foods|
|meat, eggs, grains, bread, butter and other fats, beer, nuts, seeds||milk, potatoes, most fruits, most vegetables, coffee, tea, cocoa, soy|
When Berg made little headway among medical and scientific experts, after World War I he turned his attention to popularizing his theory directly. He was quite popular in the 1920s and 1930s, especially in alternative medicine and vegetarian circles. In the 1930s and 1940s, he teamed up with Are Waerland to promote vegetarianism and ways to prolong life.
- (with Martin Vogel) Die Grundlagen einer richtigen Ernährung, Dresden, 1907
- Der Einfluss des Abbrühens auf den Nährwert unserer Gemüsekost, Dresden, 1911
- Die Nahrungs- und Genussmittel, ihre zusammensetzung und ihr Einfluss auf die Gesundheit, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Aschenbestandteile, Dresden: Holze & Pahl, 1913
- Die Vitamine: kritische Übersicht der Lehre von den Ergänzungsstoffen, Leipzig: Hirzel, 1922.
- Eiweissbedarf und Mineralstoffwechsel bei einfachster Ernährung, Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1931
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2012-07-26.
- Christian Rummel, "Ragnar Berg: Leben und Werk des schwedischen Ernährungsforschers und Begründers der basischen Kost", Peter Land, 2003.
- William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Africa (1857-2009): Extensively Annotated Bibliography and Sourcebook, Soyinfo Center, 2009, p.200.
- Friedhelm Kirchfeld, Wade Boyle, Nature doctors: pioneers in naturopathic medicine, Medicina Biológica, 1994, p.148.
- David F. Smith, Jim Phillips, Food, science, policy and regulation in the twentieth century: international and comparative perspectives, Routledge, 2000.
- Eike Reichardt, Health, 'Race' and Empire: Popular-Scientific Spectacles and National Identity in Imperial Germany, 1871-1914, 2008, pp.126-7.
- Kristen Ann Ehrenberger, "The Politics of the Table: Nutrition and the Telescopic Body in Saxon Germany, 1890-1935," (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Dissertation 2014), https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/49722.