"Research shows that diseases of almost every variety can be produced by an under-supply of various combinations of nutrients... [and] can be corrected when all nutrients are supplied, provided irreparable damage has not been done; and, still better, that these diseases can be prevented."
Davis is best known as the author of a series of books published in the United States between 1947 and 1965. One of her books, Let's Have Healthy Children (Signet 1981, revised edition) states that Davis prepared individual diets for more than 20,000 people who came to her or were referred to her by physicians during her years as a consultant. She was also well known for her scathing criticism of the food industry in the United States. In the early 1970s, she addressed the ninth annual convention of the "International Association of Cancer Victims and Friends" at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. After citing U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics about tens of millions of people in the United States suffering from afflictions such as arthritis, allergies, heart disease, and cancer, she stated, "This is what's happening to us, to America, because there is a $125 billion food industry who cares nothing about health".
Some members of the scientific and medical communities have criticized and discredited her published works both during and after her lifetime.
Adelle was born to Charles and Harriette Davis in Lizton, Indiana, USA, on February 25, 1904. She attended Purdue University from 1923 to 1925, and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1927. After dietetic training at Bellevue and Fordham Hospitals in New York, she became supervisor of nutrition for Yonkers Public Schools from 1928 through 1930.
From 1931 through 1938, Davis was a consulting nutritionist in Oakland and Los Angeles, California, did postgraduate work at Columbia University and the University of California at Los Angeles, and received her Master of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Southern California. In October 1943, Adelle married George Edward Leisey, and sometime thereafter they adopted their two children, George and Barbara. From 1948 onward she was a consulting nutritionist in Palos Verdes Estates, California, until she retired from consulting to devote her time to her family, writing, and speaking at medical seminars, universities and other venues. Adelle was a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on five occasions during 1972 and 1973.
In 1974 Adelle Davis died of bone cancer at the age of seventy.
Davis's popularity in the United States began with the release of the first in her series of "Let's" titles, Let's Cook it Right, published in 1947. This series would eventually include four titles, all of which became best sellers. In 1951 Let's Have Healthy Children became the second, followed in 1954 by Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit, and in 1965, the series ended with the final book, Let's Get Well. The series was published originally by Harcourt of New York. In some of these works Davis included numerous accounts of the dietary recommendations she had made during consultations, and the results that were obtained by those who followed her advice. Her personal analyses of the published reports of clinical studies of humans and laboratory tests of animals were also the basis for some of the dietary advice contained in her books, and she included a multitude of references to these reports.
Davis also wrote (under the pen name Jane Dunlap) a classic of psychedelic literature, Exploring Inner Space: Personal Experiences Under LSD-25, which Harcourt also published in 1961. According to the book's dust jacket, "Dunlap" volunteered to be the subject of a medically supervised study employing lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD-25, and to record in detail her visions while under the drug's influence.
"A 2-month-old 4.8 kg boy had 'colic.' The mother, following directions in a popular health book [Journal footnote: Davis A: Let's Have Healthy Children, ed 3. New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc, 1972, p. 242], mixed 3,000 mg of potassium chloride with her breast milk and administered it to the baby in two divided doses. The symptoms were relieved but recurred the next morning. In the same manner, 1,500 mg of potassium chloride was fed to the child. A few hours later the baby became listless and cyanotic, stopped breathing, and was rushed to a hospital. The initial serum potassium level was 10.1 mEq/liter and remained elevated until he died 28 hours later despite intensive treatment."
On page 242 of Let's Have Healthy Children, Davis had made the following statement:
"In a study of 653 babies, every infant with colic had low blood potassium. 'Improvement was dramatic,' and the colic disappeared immediately, when physicians gave 500 to 1,000 milligrams of potassium chloride intravenously or 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams by mouth. These doctors found that most babies needed 3,000 milligrams of potassium chloride (2/3 teaspoon) before colic was corrected. They suggested that potassium be given to prevent colic, especially during diarrhea, when much of this nutrient is lost in the feces."
According to Stephen Barrett, M.D., "Davis's recommendation of potassium for colic was based on misinterpretation of a... study of 653 hospitalized infants which found that the incidence of abdominal bloating and intestinal paralysis were higher among 67 who had low levels of potassium. The article noted that although potassium might improve these symptoms, giving it to a dehydrated infant could cause cardiac arrest [Barrett footnote: Potassium metabolism in gastroenteritis. Nutrition Reviews 14: 295-296, 1956]. (This is what killed Ryan Pitzer.) The article had nothing whatsoever to do with colic and did not state that 'most babies needed 3,000 milligrams of potassium chloride' to recover. The dosage was 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams administered over a 24-hour period, not all at once."
The parents of Ryan Pitzer filed a lawsuit, and settled out of court for a reported $160,000, which was paid by Adelle Davis's estate, the book's publisher, and the manufacturer of the potassium product. The book itself was removed from circulation, and subsequently revised by Marshall Mandell, M.D. and republished in 1981. In his introduction to the revised edition, Mandell strongly advised parents: "I wish to stress that you, the reader, must not make important decisions concerning your child's nutrition or medical needs without first consulting with your nutrition-oriented pediatrician, family practitioner, or internist."
"Adelle Davis was a pioneer in the health movement," according to Dr. Linus Pauling, recipient of two Nobel Prizes and author of several books on vitamin C. "She came to see me about 20 years ago. I had quite a good impression of her. She was essentially correct in almost everything she said."
Thus began a 1990 article in Natural Food and Farming magazine which examined Adelle Davis's teachings in the light of more recent medical research. The article concluded that "Today's scientific findings both substantiate and expand upon a number of her teachings", and that "Today's research shows that she was indeed ahead of her time... and largely right as well".
In support of consumers who raise questions about the safety of food in the United States, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry at the time, included the following statement in a press release in 1998:
"One of the pioneers of the movement toward healthier eating — Adelle Davis — raised many food safety and health issues based on her own research. Her views were not accepted by the scientific community at the time. Now the weight of medical evidence — including former Surgeon General Koop's Report on Nutrition and Health — has vindicated her views."
On January 10, 2000, the online magazine Insight on The News presented the results of a reader survey in which hundreds of thousands of people responded. Among the many categories was "Scientist of the Century". Adelle Davis placed sixth among such notables as Thomas Edison, Edward Teller, George Washington Carver, Albert Einstein, and Luther Burbank.
Adelle Davis has been applauded by The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (IAHP), an organization founded by Glenn Doman. Davis helped create the nutritional program for the IAHP, which primarily works with brain-injured children. Davis has been awarded by the IAHP with various commendations for her work.