Catherine Kousmine: a pioneer in the study of the relationship between health and food


Catherine Kousmine was a Russian physician who lived and worked in Switzerland. In the mid- 20th century, she was among the first researchers to work on the influence of food on health – and, more precisely, on medical treatments. Her works gained her fame, and some controversy too.


The relationship between health and food might seem obvious to us in our society today: we are constantly exposed to public health messages urging us to take care of our bodies through physical activity and by adopting healthy eating habits, and we follow them. But we have not always been aware of the link – or at least not with such a degree of accuracy. There was of course always a major element of common sense in understanding that a balanced diet helps keep us in better shape than excesses would. Also, this concerns the general public’s knowledge of the relationship between health and food: the much more precise and complex link between medicine and food has a lower public profile, simply because medicine as an area of expertise leaves the issue of medical nutrition to professional researchers, doctors and caregivers. But there are figures who have explored this issue and brought it into view of the general public.

One of them is Dr Catherine Kousmine (1904-1992), a pioneer in the study of the help that food can give to medicine. This controversial scientist mothered a method and a Foundation that now perpetuate her findings and teachings.


Curing cancerous mice with natural food


Catherine Kousmine was born in Russia in 1904. Her family was wealthy; in 1918, the Russian Revolution forced them into exile, and they moved to their holiday home in Switzerland. Catherine thus attended school in Lausanne, and later specialised in medicine and paediatrics. After having lost two young patients to cancer, she started to research the link between the disease and food… almost by accident. She said she was examining cancerous mice and that, in order to save money, she alternated the food she gave them; one day they received bread, milk, carrots, beer, etc. and the next nutrition pills, as are usually given in labs.

This proportion of 50% of good food and 50% of bad food coincided with the cancers dropping by 50%,

says the Kousmine Foundation’s website. She thus became convinced that some diseases that were thought to be incurable could be fought using a complementary healthy diet which provided elements required by the body. Retrospectively, Catherine Kousmine is now considered as one of the founders of orthomolecular medicine, an approach that favours substances naturally known to the human body over the use of molecules created by man for therapeutic purposes. In 1949, Dr Kousmine claimed to having cured a man suffering from generalised reticulosarcoma thanks to her complementary nutritional method – a result that has not been documented in any other case ever since. She also specialised in other diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and polyarthritis.

At the time, Kousmine’s findings were criticized for a lack of scientific rigour, especially in the testing methods used. She always claimed that her conclusions were based on consistent experience and that her recommendations showed results, but she was never recognized by the scientific community. Despite this, she achieved a degree of fame, notably through her books: Soyez bien dans votre assiette jusqu’à 80 ans et plus (“Eat Well and Be Well till 80 and Beyond”), La Sclérose en plaque est guérissable (“Multiple Sclerosis is Curable”) and Sauvez votre corps (“Save Your Body”). She died in Switzerland in 1992, and the people who had known her and worked with her decided to continue her work through a Foundation which undertook to teach her method all around the world. Whether Catherine Kousmine was right or wrong, it is still difficult to say with certainty. What is sure is that she opened the way for greater attention to be paid to the strong interconnections between food and health.

Photo © Shutterstock / Piotr Wawrzyniuk

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