University of Minnesota

Ancel Keys’s Pioneer Contributions to Science

  1. Used mathematical regressions in biological sciences in analyses of growth and size of fishes vs. seawater temperature, oxygen and salt concentration (Scripps Oceanographic Institute, La Jolla, CA, 1920s)
  2. Discovered gill cells and mechanisms regulating osmolality of the blood of fishes migrating between sea and fresh waters (August Krogh’s Laboratory, Copenhagen, 1930s)
  3. Found that human adaptation to work at altitude is through changes in the oxygen-hemoglobin dissociation curve (International High Altitude Andes Expedition, Harvard Fatigue Laboratory,1930s)
  4. Developed and operated international multidisciplinary field studies in physiology and epidemiology (Cambridge University, Harvard Fatigue Laboratory, University of Minnesota Laboratory of Physiological  Hygiene (LPH), 1930s-60s)
  5. Developed compact, practical, nutritious survival rations for wartime (“K Rations,” LPH, 1940s)
  6. Studied physical and mental stress and starvation effects on human form and function (The Biology of Human Starvation, LPH, 1940s)
  7. Validated indirect radiographic measurement of cardiac output (LPH, 1940s)
  8. Conducted multidisciplinary assessment of human body composition in fat, bone, muscle, and water (LPH, 1940s)
  9. Validated and renamed Relative Body Weight indices and the Body Mass Index (BMI) (formerly Quetelet’s Formula (LPH, 1940s-50s)
  10. Conducted controlled study of Kempner Rice Diet to demonstrate lowered total serum cholesterol (TSC) in hypercholesterolemia (LPH, 1940s)
  11. Conducted the first prospective epidemiologic study of physical and behavioral factors and subsequent risk of CVD in a healthy cohort (Minnesota Business and Professional Men Study, LPH, 1947-62)
  12. With Paul Dudley White, proposed and piloted the study of the Diet-Blood Lipids-Heart Disease Hypothesis in contrasting cross-sectional cohorts of men in Naples, Madrid, Sardinia, South Africa, Finland, U.S., and Japan, 1952-56)
  13. Conducted controlled isocaloric metabolic-ward feeding experiments of the effects on blood lipid levels of change in dietary fatty acids and cholesterol in humans; the “Keys Equation” and an intrinsic serum cholesterol level. (LPH, 1957-65, published in Metabolism 1965)
  14. Initiated the Seven Countries Study (SCS), the first international epidemiological cohort study of biology and behavior and subsequent CVD and Cancer incidence, mortality, and survival, in and among total populations of middle-aged men contrasting in traditional diets, from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, and the U.S. (LPH,1957-present)
  15. Through the Seven Countries Study, documented significant population differences in CVD prevalence and incidence and mortality from heart attack and stroke and cancer and all-causes deaths, and survival among populations and cultures having clear differences in habitual diet. (Circulation 1970; The SCS. A Multivariable Analysis, Harvard Press, 1980)
  16. Documented significant differences in population prevalence, incidence, and mortality rates for CVD, cancer, and all causes according to diet composition in energy from saturated fatty acids and the ratio of mono- to saturated fatty acids, as well as to mean entry levels of blood total cholesterol, LDL, blood pressure, and cigarette consumption. SCS. A Multivariable Analysis, Harvard Press, 1980)
  17. Conducted multivariate analyses comparing southern and northern Europe and the U.S. cohorts of the SCS, documenting the universality of the risk attributes for individuals and whole populations, but with differing slopes of the multivariable correlations, thus, different “force” of the relationships in different cultures.  SCS. A Multivariable Analysis, Harvard Press, 1980) 

Commentary: Any one of these contributions would suffice for a notable career in science. In recent years, Ancel Keys and his work have been under attack by writers and scientists who failed to document his methods, results, and conclusions. False accusations against Keys and his science have been proposed without substantiation and widely spread by writers Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, and Paul John Scott; British Medical Journal (BMJ) editors Richard Smith and others; Lancet editors Stuart Spencer and others; Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steven Nissen; and Salim Yusuf, professor of medicine at McMaster University. 

We hope future scholars and writers will consult this list, legitimate source materials, and Keys’s collaborators, thereby producing more accurate historical accounts and useful criticism.
(Henry Blackburn)