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
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;
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
primary disorder, not the cause of it.


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
1832. 1(201).

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

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

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