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Mr. Shirref tells the detailed case study of a young woman with diabetes who abused sweetmeats and fruit and got better on an all-meat diet by visiting Dr. Rollo. "I directed a diet, consisting chiefly of animal substances"

February 23, 1798

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Cases of the diabetes mellitus : with the results of the trials of certain acids

John Rollo

Facultative Carnivore
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
Carnivore Diet

From Mr. Shirreff, Deptford. February 23d, 1798.

A YOUNG LADY, who has lately completed her 12th year, of a thin habit of body, tall of her age, of a docile disposition, and who has a regular flow of spirits, subject, however, to sick headaches, and accustomed to eat much fruit, sweetmeats and pickles, has become affected with Diabetes.The months of June, July, August, and September, 1797 were passed in Devonshire, near the sea-coast, where she bathed in the sea, and used exercise on horseback. She returned to this neighbourhood early in October with apparently an improved constitution. About the latter end of November she had an attack of angina; the left tonsil became enlarged, as well as the submaxillary and other glands of the same side. The angina went off; but such a state of glands remained as indicated a scrofulous constitution. After the indisposition, she did not recover her usual appearance of health; the wings of the nostrils became enlarged, the upper lip tumified, and the infide of the left nostril red, and excoriated; she had alfo flight herpetic eruptions. Early in the month of January her spirits became deprefled, her disposition indolent, and equally indifferent to study and amusement. She complained of headache and flight cholics; she became thinner though her appetite remained unimpaired. About the middle of February she had an intense thirst, and frequent calls to void urine. These were attributed to an improper habit; and she was retrained from the former, as the latter was supposed to be the consequence. The restraint, however, was impracticable.


At this time I was made acquainted with the circumstances. I desired the urine to be preserved; and on examination, it was evidently characteristic of the Diabetes Mellitus. I sent a portion of it, with an account of the case, to Dr. Rollo (it furnished the purest saccharina extract he had met with, and which granulated by keeping). I directed a diet, consisting chiefly of animal substances; an opiate combined with an antimonial at bed-time; the extremities to be anointed with a liniment of hog's-lard and camphor.


February 24rd. Her thirst was great; her appetite was keen; she had frequent headaches; a costive habit of body; a bitter taste in her mouth, with frequent nausea; her nights were good, but when obliged to get up to void her urine, which was frequent, her skin was cool; no rigors, or local affection in the kidneys; the abdomen was not enlarged, but there was an evident hardness above the pubis, embracing the region of the bladder; her skin, however, put on an appearance which requires a little more attention. Upon her arrival from the seacoast, I have observed she was much improved in her looks, as well as in general health, which was nowhere more conspicuous than in the appearance of the surface of the skin. Being subject to herpetic eruptions, I was accustomed to remark the lingular dryness upon the surface, and particular feel, which seemed inconsistent with health; but after her arrival from sea-bathing; these irregularities had disappeared, and the skin of her arms and neck had a natural look; but now appearances were worse than before, and such as struck me forcibly: the skin was dry, harsh, void of elasticity, shrunk, of a leaden hue, and seemed to adhere to the muscles; one would have supposed that there was no cellular membrane, being not only void of fat, but the motion of the skin was also trifling; in a word it seemed to be what is called hide bound. An emetic was directed in the evening, and the body was to be rubbed with the liniment, to which had been added a solution of the sulphuret of potash. 

February 25th.

The urine is of a deeper colour, and less sweet; an abstinence from liquids was recommended, so far as it was practicable. With my patient I called on Dr. Rollo; we agreed on the plan of treatment, which was to consist of an entire use of the animal diet; as drink, a dilute solution of the sulfurated potash in water, and two grains of the extract of hemlock, with one grain of the antimonial powder at bed-time. February 26th.

Yesterday she ate voraciously at dinner; was put into the warm bath in the evening, and the skin afterwards anointed with a preparation of hog's lard and pure ammonia. She had a good night, and without any occasion to void urine. This morning the urine is high coloured, and saltish to the taste; indeed it might be considered as natural urine.


February 27th. 

I was informed that the urine voided yesterday at one o'clock was free from sweetness, and perfectly insipid; some time after it appeared natural; but two hours after dinner was sweet, and in the evening again apparently natural. She was directed castor oil, being costive : the bath and injunction to be continued, and likewise the diet.


February 28th.

Has had a good night; the urine this morning is evidently urinous, though of a pale colour; her thirst diminishes, and her appetite is less keen; the skin feels softer. Yesterday she ate bread at breakfast, which I was informed of immediately afterwards in paying my morning visit. I was determined not to lose this opportunity of watching through the day any changes in the urine. That which was voided until dinner time, was sensibly sweet. I evaporated three pints of it, and it yielded of a saccharine extract a quantity amounting to 8 ounces 3 drachms. Her dinner was entirely animal food, and what (he passed afterwards deposited a lateritious sediment, and in colour, smell, and taste, differed very little from natural urine.


March 1st. 

She had a good night; the thirst diminished; urine more natural in appearance. She continues the regimen, See. and is ordered to try small doses of the powder of ipecacuanha.


March 3d. The urine differs little, either apparently in quality or quantity, from what is natural. Allowed her boiled milk and bread for breakfast this morning. At 1 o'clock this forenoon, the urine not sweet. She is to be indulged with a biscuit at dinner, and another at tea in the afternoon. The urine was examined at bed-time, and it was found very sweet. 


March 4th. The urine voided in the night was insipid, this morning saltish. Visited Dr. Rollo with my patient. Continuance of the animal food recommended, and occasionally a trial to be made with a small quantity of bread.


March 6th. Urine very sweet; complains of thirst and headaches. I suspected she had been deviating, which was acknowledged; she promises a more ready adherence. 


March 9th. She is able to take three biscuits in the 24 hours, without the production of sweet urine; but if this quantity is exceeded, the saccharine matter is perceptible. Therefore the assimilating powers are now able to convert a certain proportion of bread with animal food into proper chyle, which is capable of being applied to the purposes of nutrition.


March 10th. The appearance of the skin is much altered for the better. Medicines and diet to be continued. The weight of the body was this day found to be 64 pounds.


March 15th.

Nothing particular has occurred these five days past. She has been cautiously increasing and diminishing the quantity of biscuit, according to the effects produced; the number of biscuits has not exceeded three or four, and the fourth generally produces sweet urine.


March 23rd. From the 15th to this day nothing material has happened. The urine voided in the interval of her meals is insipid, and is falter and more urinous the farther distant from the meal. On the night of the 22d the body was covered with a general moisture. 


March 24th. This morning the weight of the body was found to have increased, since the 10th, five pounds and upwards.


March 28th This day I have augmented the quantity of biscuit, The patient's health now improves daily.


March 29th. The additional quantity of biscuit has reproduced the sweet urine, though in a less degree. The number of biscuits to be diminished.


April 9th. During the holidays there has been a great deviation from the plan. On Good Friday she ate sweetened bread; on the Sunday following, sweet cakes and sweetmeats. These were repeated yesterday, with sugar to her tea. In the evening she voided 7 ounces of urine, highly saturated with sugar. The above irregularities were carefully concealed; but thirst, headache, and sweet urine, betrayed the deviation. Being alarmed at such a relapse, she promises more steadiness in future,


April 12th. The urine natural. She takes the biscuit.


May 4th. The whole plan now consists in regulating the quantity of bread; when a large proportion is used, sweet urine is still reproduced, and of the saccharine matter she is sensible, by the peculiar feel of uneasiness about the meatus urinarius. The skin is very soft, and appears different from what it did at the commencement of the disease, and for a long time afterwards; her appetite is good, but not particularly keen; she is not troubled with third; her sleep is undisturbed; no headache, nor any local pains about the kidneys—the tension of the region of the bladder is removed; her spirits are good; her strength returns, and she practices her juvenile studies with alacrity; the disposition, however to the disease is not yet removed.


May 6th. After having returned to the diet she has been accustomed to, before her illness, fweet urine was again reproduced, and which I apprehended before its examination, from the change in the appearance of the skin, of the neck, and arms.


May 16th. Since the 6th, her diet has been very strictly attended to, and the injunctions particularly so; the urine is not sweet.


May 31st. Since the 16th, our patient has been progressively increasing the quantity of biscuits and farinaceous substances; she can with impunity this day confume six biscuits, and the whole produce is disposed of by the assimilating powers. The urine is natural, but on Tuesday the same quantity of bread produced six ounces of water, highly saturated with sugar. The bulk of the body is increased; she is active and capable of using exercise without fatigue. I still persevere in the use of frictions, and anointing the body; the cold bath is recommended, and will be used, for the first time, on Monday next. She has been for some time using bitter and chalybeate medicines.


June 3d. The patient ate some green peas without producing sweet urine. The skin looked florid, the muscles strongly marked, and fuch a general appearance of health as had not before been observed for many months. The bread was this day diminished, lest the usual quantity added to the peas might be more than could be disposed of.


June 4th. Evaporated some of the urine; less animal substance in it than what has hitherto been observed. No sweetness in her urine, which in flavour and colour does not differ from what is natural.


June 6th. Quantity of bread considerably increased without any inconvenience occurring. Medicines, frictions, and injunctions continued; moderate exercise is recommended and used. Formidable as the Diabetes Mellitus has been hitherto found, it can now be moulded to the wish of the practitioner. To remove the disposition to the disease may be difficult, but an important advantage is gained, as we now can cure the unpleasant and most distressing symptoms, and bring the disease into a mild state, which may ultimately be eradicated by regimen and medicines. What may be the extent of time before my patient can get free from the disposition, it may be impossible to ascertain; I have no doubt, however, of its accomplishment, though it may remain until after those changes in the system have taken place, which are brought about at the age of puberty. While the case continues under my charge, every attention shall be followed, and the event shall be communicated to you. 


In the management of this curious disease many reflections on its nature have arifen, but as, these have led me to adopt your opinions generally on the subject, I shall for the present reserve them. In the meantime it gives me some satisfaction to have contributed my share, so far as one case extends, towards elucidating some points in the history and progress of the disease, especially in the changes the urine undergoes at different times after eating, and according to the substances eaten.