Diabetes Remedies Before Insulin

A number of proprietary medicines claiming to treat or cure diabetes were available in the United States throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Many of these remedies were intended for a host of kidney and urinary related problems, although some, such as Warner’s Safe Diabetes Cure, were marketed specifically for diabetes.  The formulas were generally kept secret, but ingredients often employed for diabetes included opiates, bromides, ergot, and arsenic. In the late 19th century, after scientists began to understand the connection between the pancreas and diabetes, products containing pancreatic extracts became widespread. 

The most effective treatments for diabetes involved highly restricted diets which included very few carbohydrates.  In the early twentieth century the so-called starvation diet, or under-nutrition treatment was devised.  Some of the patients kept alive on these diets were among the first to receive insulin after its discovery in 1922. 

Starvation Treatment Diet

 Starvation Diet Detail, from The Starvation Treatment of Diabetes by Lewis Webb Bill, M.D. and Rena S. Eckman, Dietician. 1915.