William Stark (1741–1770) was born in Birmingham, England, of Scottish parentage. He obtained his medical degree at Leiden, Netherlands, in 1769. Upon returning to London in June 1769, Stark began a series of dietary studies in which he was his own subject. At the start of his twenty-four experiments, he described himself as being a healthy, six-foot tall young man.
These experiments were performed in an effort to prove that a "pleasant and varied diet" was as healthful as simpler strict diets. Stark kept accurate measures of temperature and weather conditions, the weights of all food and water he consumed, and the weight of all daily excretions. Stark also recorded how he felt on a daily basis.
In his first experiment, Stark ate bread and water with a little sugar for thirty-one days. This experiment left Stark dull and listless. He consumed a more varied diet for a few weeks. When he felt better, however, the experiments resumed. Gradually, he added other foods to this regimen, one at a time. He added olive oil, milk, roast goose, boiled beef, fat, figs, and veal. After the first two months, his gums were red and swollen, and they bled when pressure was put on them. This was a symptom of scurvy, a disease
William Stark's self-sacrificing dietary research ended in his death from scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. Had he heeded the recent discoveries of James Lind, pictured here giving lemons to sailors, Stark would have known to include citrus fruits in his experimental diet.
caused by a lack of vitamin C that was fairly common at the time. By November, he was living on nothing but pudding, except for a pint of black currants in celebration of Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Stark did consider testing the effects that fresh fruits and vegetables would have on his health, but decided instead on honey puddings and Cheshire cheese.
After eight months of experimenting, Stark died on February 23, 1770, at the age of twenty-nine. He did not discover anything new about scurvy, but, through his experiments and record-keeping skills, he showed to what extent human scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet. Stark showed that simple diets that do not include fruits and vegetables are not conducive to health. He thus showed the value of a pleasant and varied diet by clearly demonstrating the consequences of a dietary regime lacking variety. James Carmichael Smyth published Stark's experiments eighteen years after his death.
Saunders, Alan. "Martyrs of Nutrition." Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Available from <http://www.abc.net.au/science/sweek/bites/comfy.htm>
Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Scurvy and Vitamin C." Available from <http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu>