Papers of Hugh Macdonald Sinclair

Hugh Macdonald Sinclair was born in 1910 and came from a well connected family. He was educated at Winchester and Oriel College. He continued his studies at University College Hospital and obtained his Oxford DM in 1939. Sinclair was elected as university demonstrator and lecturer in biochemistry at Oxford, and a fellow of Magdalen College, in 1937. Sinclair was the Director of the Oxford Nutrition Survey (ONS) from 1942-7. The ONS carried out surveys for the Government on a wide range of groups in the UK, such as pregnant women, students and manual workers. The surveys were used to help ensure that ration levels were sufficient for maintaining a healthy population. The ONS also carried out survey work in the British occupied areas of Germany and the Netherlands after the war where the people were suffering from malnutrition. The ONS became the Laboratory of Human Nutrition (LHN) in 1946. Sinclair was appointed Reader in Human Nutrition at Oxford in 1951. However, by this time the study of nutrition as a separate subject was not viewed by many in the medical profession or academia to be necessary; it was felt all significant research on the subject had already been done. Sinclair lost his position at Oxford in 1958. The loss of Sinclair's post was also contributed by other factors. One was his interest in the relative deficiency of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (EFAs) which he felt was the main cause of various 'diseases of civilization' such as heart disease. In 1956 he wrote a long and controversial letter outlining his views to The Lancet (6 April 1956, 381). He was widely disagreed with. We now know that Sinclair was ahead of the times and take for granted that EFAs play an important role in human nutrition. Another factor was Sinclair's unfortunate manner of dealing with authority, something that many remember him for. Although he lost his readership he remained a fellow at Magdalen. Sinclair spent the next few years teaching abroad and raising money to set up an independent nutrition institute. Largely with independent means, he set up the International Institute of Human Nutrition (IIHN) in 1972 and spent the rest of his life trying to raise funds for what he saw as a key research institute for the study of nutrition. Sinclair continued to research the role of EFAs and particularly studied population groups such as Eskimos who had little instances of heart disease but had a diet high in fat. His interest in this area had first occurred during the War when he visited Canada to assist the Air Force in investigating snow-blindness. He made his initial observations about the Eskimo population and their diet during his time in Canada and in 1976 when he gained funding to study Eskimos in Greenland. In 1979 Sinclair set out to prove the importance of EFAs by living off of an Eskimo diet for 100 days. He ate only seal and fish and tested his blood clotting times. This self-experiment was controversial and he did not receive any external funding as no ethics committee would approve the diet. Sinclair believed that self-experimentation was key and that testing animals alone was not enough to further research on human nutrition. His results were never properly written up but he did find that his clotting time extended greatly. No other major research was undertaken by Sinclair although much work was carried out at the IIHN. He sat on many committees, attended a great number of conferences and advised on areas such as fluoridation of water and EFAs. He was a visiting lecturer at the University of Reading (1970-80) and oversaw many students at Magdalen. By the 1970s his ideas on EFAs had become much more widely accepted and the importance of his contribution acknowledged which he greatly enjoyed. He died in 22 June 1990.

Records of Hugh Macdonald Sinclair covering his early life, academic career and work on the importance of human nutrition. Includes papers relating to early life, study at university and early career 1910-1936; papers relating to research including reprints of published articles, conference papers, copies of speeches, records of Eskimo study 1979, papers relating to Multiple Sclerosis and fluoridation research; papers relating to teaching at University of Oxford and Magdalen College 1934-80 and University of Reading 1970-80 including lecture notes and handouts; correspondence with academics and industry 1930s-1990; papers relating to Lady Place including plans and sale of contents 1934-94; books edited or authored by Sinclair; records of the Sinclair family 1800s-1990 including accounts, memoirs, letters, diaries and photographs; records of the Oxford Nutrition Survey (ONS) 1941-44 relating to UK and overseas activities including correspondence, notes, papers relating to clinical examinations, survey forms, cope-chat cards, test results, photographs, reports on individual studies, notebooks, Hollerith cards and notes on visits to Netherlands and Germany for Control Commission for Germany; records of the Laboratory of Human Nutrition (LHN) 1945-58 including correspondence, memoranda and committee minutes, records of experiments and results and papers relating to closure; records of the International Institute of Human Nutrition (IIHN) 1972-1994 including annual accounts, correspondence, papers relating to staff, minutes, memoranda and staff notices; records of the Association for the Study of Human Nutrition, later known as the International Nutrition Foundation (INF) 1972-94 including minutes, correspondence, papers relating to closure after Sinclair's death; records of Courtenay Nurseries 1942-90 including accounts and correspondence.

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