John Harvey Kellogg was a medical doctor and director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, a hospital, spa and expensive hotel that helped to heal sick people primarily by getting them to eat a plant-based diet. To help people eat more plants, he and his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, invented "Corn Flakes" by putting whole grains through rollers and toasting them. In 1897, the brothers started the Sanitas Food Company to produce these whole grain breakfast cereals, which made them more money than they made from the sanitarium. However, the brothers couldn’t get along, so in 1906 Will left the sanitarium to establish Kellogg’s of Battle Creek, the same company that today is one of the world's major manufacturers of breakfast cereals and other foods. The Kellogg brothers never spoke to each other again and sued each other repeatedly over many years.
John Harvey Kellogg left the cereal business and continued to manage the sanitarium until he died in 1943. He also helped to establish the American Medical Missionary College, which was merged into Illinois State University, and wrote extensively on science and health. Some of his ideas were based on solid science but much was utter nonsense. He was a prophet who correctly believed many diseases are caused by germs and gut bacteria, and could be prevented or treated by
• eating a plant-based diet
• sun bathing
• not smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol or eating animal protein
However, he was also a quack who used enemas to treat most diseases and claimed that sexual activity shortens lives. In his many lectures, he claimed that he and his wife had never had sex in more than 40 years of marriage.
Medical Training and Theories
In 1876, at age 20, Kellogg went from his home in Battle Creek, Michigan to study medicine at Cornell Medical School in New York. Four years later, he became the staff physician at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, which had been founded by Seventh Day Adventist leader Ellen G. White in 1866. Kellogg remained there for 62 years. He preached a healthful lifestyle and served his patients what we consider today to be a very healthful diet: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and seeds. However, he had some incredibly eccentric ideas and prescribed some horrible and abusive treatments.
He became obsessed with elimination and claimed that ninety percent of all illnesses originate in the stomach and bowel, and that indigestion was the leading cause of death in America. He wrote so much and was so famous that he single-handedly made the bowel not only an acceptable subject for polite conversation, but a national obsession. Guests who arrived at the Battle Creek Sanitarium learned that their bowels were sewers of auto-intoxication, full of poisons. He wrote that the "bowel has to be cleaned daily because it doesn’t clean itself".
The Enema Machine
Kellogg invented an enema machine that ran fifteen gallons of water into the bowel. He claimed that the water washed out bad bacteria. Then he fed his patients yogurt so the good bacteria could attack the bad bacteria from the front. However, he felt that wasn’t good enough, so he gave them yogurt enemas to attack the bad bacteria from the rear. He claimed that the yogurt enemas produced sparkling clean intestines.
If yogurt feeding and enemas didn’t cure the patient, he would remove the colon. He believed that he was removing the home of the bacteria so they would have no place to stay. This was in the early 1920s and sterilization techniques were less than ideal, so many of his patients died.
The Bowel Does Not Need Cleaning
Kellogg claimed that by cleaning the bowels, he cured cancer of the stomach, ulcers, diabetes, schizophrenia, manic depression, acne, anemia, migraine headaches and premature aging. Now, we know that there is no need to have enemas to clean the bowel. The bowel is a tube and stool is pushed forward by peristalsis, the natural contractions of the intestines. Stool behind does not pass by the stool in front of it. Nobody needs to have the stool cleaned from his intestinal walls. You can prevent and treat constipation by eating a high fiber, plant-based diet; avoiding refined carbohydrates such as foods made from flour — bakery products, pastas and many dry breakfast cereals; drinking plenty of fluids; and exercising.
The Colon and Red Meat, Cigarettes and Alcohol
Kellogg repeatedly claimed that the bowel is poisoned by eating meat, but he claimed incorrectly that meat cannot be digested in the bowels. He wrote that meat passes to the colon where bacteria ferment the meat to form poisons that are absorbed into the bloodstream to causes cancers and shorten life. He was a prophet in his belief that eating meat is associated with many diseases, and today many studies associate colon cancer with eating red and processed meat. Kellogg also claimed that cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol could cause colon cancer. Research shows that colon cancer is associated with drinking even small amounts of alcohol, and smoking cigarettes. However, causation has not yet been proven and researchers are still searching to explain the associations between red meat and various diseases.
Sex Causes Diseases
Kellogg wrote that, "Any use of the sexual act other than for procreation is a waste of vital energy! Wasted seeds are wasted lives!" Kellogg preached celibacy and encouraged everyone to abstain from sexual relations since "virtually all diseases can be caused by sexual intercourse." He specifically wrote that making love could cause colon cancer, which proved to be true because the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus has been shown to cause colon cancer. However, he must have suffered from his obsession with the harmful effects of making love. He married Ella Ervilla Eaton in 1879, and they followed the Adventist beliefs in the benefits of celibacy, slept in separate bedrooms and did not have any biological children. However, they did become foster parents to 42 children and legally adopted at least seven.
Harm from Caffeine, Vinegar, Spices and Salt
He claimed that coffee was bad for the liver. This has been refuted in hundreds of studies that show that coffee drinkers have a reduced chance of suffering diabetes or heart attacks. He claimed that vinegar and spices, particularly mustard, are harmful, but data show that vinegar is harmless and that spices are full of antioxidants that are healthful. He correctly claimed that too much salt can cause high blood pressure, but only in those who are salt-sensitive and today we know that usually means those that have a high rise in blood sugar after meals.
Evolution of Breakfast Cereals
The healthful whole grain cereals invented by Kellogg, his brother, and their arch-rival, C.W. Post have multiplied into so many brands and varieties that they take up whole aisles of today's supermarkets. Unfortunately, all but a few dry breakfast cereals are now made with refined flours instead of whole grains and are loaded with added sugars, so they cause an immediate high rise in blood sugar that is quickly converted to fatty triglycerides that end up in the liver to cause a fatty liver and are therefore associated with increased risk for diabetes, obesity and heart attacks. Adding sugar to any food increases the rise in blood sugar that normally follows eating that food.
He Was Right About Some Things
I can’t think of John Harvey Kellogg as a complete quack because he advocated lots of beneficial things. He recommended high-plant diets and eating “good” bacteria, which is a hot topic in research today. Kellogg developed peanut butter, granola, and whole-grain flake cereals. He warned that smoking causes lung cancer decades before anyone else did. He recommended exercise for everyone.
He was right about many things and wrong about others, but he must have suffered most from preaching celibacy. Imagine proclaiming proudly that he and his wife of 40 years had never had sex.
February 26, 1852 – December 14, 1943