Feature Christmas 2009: Diagnosis

Darwin’s illness revisited

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b4968 (Published 14 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4968

Re: Other Considerations

I am grateful to Clinton Bashore for his reflections on my article
and his
personal history. Patients with CVS frequently have a wide range of
allergic
reactions and many have atopic dermatitis ('eczema'). Foodstuffs, in
particular milk products and chocolate, may act as a 'trigger' to initiate

attacks of vomiting.[1]

Darwin almost certainly had allergies and eczema of his lips was one
of his
first symptoms. Furthermore, he was known to have a penchant for
puddings, particularly custards. However he did try many different diets;
the
only one recorded as being of value was the raisin diet prescribed by his
father, a diet that helped his sea-sickness.[2] Any milk consumed would
have been unpasteurized– brucellosis was an earlier proposed diagnosis for

Darwin's illness.[3]

Darwin may well have had allergy to milk protein but this was part of
his
primary disorder, not the cause of it.

References:

1. Abell, T.L., et al., Cyclic vomiting syndrome in adults.
Neurogastroenterol Motil, 2008. 20(4): p. 269-84.

2. Darwin, C., Letter 158 to R W Darwin. Darwin Correspondence
Project,
1832. 1(201).

3. Simpson, G.G., Charles Darwin in search of himself. Scientific
American,
1958. 199(Aug): p. 117-122.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 January 2010
John A Hayman
Pathologist
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Monash University, VIC, 3800