University of Minnesota

Helen Brown, PhD


Helen Brown was a pioneer nutritionist in CVD prevention research as a key investigator in the feasibility study for the National Diet-Heart Study in the 1960s. She designed the serum cholesterol-lowering diets for that pilot trial and coordinated the complex preparation of the foods blinded as to their fatty acid content. Time Magazine reported their effort in 1955:

“In a report written jointly with Dr. Helen B. Brown. Dr. Irvine Page notes that in the average U.S. diet today, 42% of calories are taken in form of fats, 14% as protein and 44% as carbohydrates. Of the fats, 85% are of animal origin or artificially hydrogenated, and therefore mainly saturated, while 15% are of vegetable origin and comparatively unsaturated.

As Drs. Brown and Page saw it, the trick was to reverse the animal-vegetable fat ratio while disturbing the eating patterns as little as possible. They did this by: 1) eliminating most of the saturated fat from the diet by cutting out fatty meats, butter, whole milk, cream, most cheeses, egg yolks, oleomargarine, hydrogenated shortenings, coconut and cocoa products; 2) adding cottonseed oil (though soybean, corn or peanut oil would have done as well) to make up the fat deficit.” (1)

The definitive National Diet-Heart Study was never done, despite the strong recommendations of the pilot investigators and their demonstration of the feasibility of cholesterol lowering and diet compliance.

Dr. Brown was the first full-time female staff person at the Cleveland Clinic, and devoted her career to the research and medical care programs of the clinic. She continued experimental work on breeding chickens and clinical work on eating patterns for cholesterol lowering including, “A Baedeker for fat-controlled diets” written with another pioneer nutritionist in CVD research, Marilyn Farrand. She was deeply involved in the sociological aspects of pediatric nutrition in the United States and abroad. (HB)