The L Ron Hubbard Baby Formula (Pt 3) and Five Cases of Infantile Malnutrition

failure to thrive1981 |  The American Journal of Diseases of Children
Malnutrition Associated With a Formula of Barley Water, Corn Syrup, and Whole Milk Raymond J. Fabius, MD; Russell J. Merritt, MD, PhD; Paul M. Fleiss, MD, MPH; Judith M. Ashley, MSPH, RD | Download as .pdf

This paper describes the cases of five children (aged between one and seven months) admitted to a children’s hospital in Los Angeles suffering from malnutrition. This was found to be due to their parents feeding them with a baby formula based on barley water, which L Ron Hubbard claimed to have discovered in a previous life as a citizen of Ancient Rome.

Hubbard further claimed that this formula was superior to both modern breast and formula milk. It is, in fact deficient in iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. The details are available in part one of this series. A case study case study of a case of infantile scurvy in a two-year-old, also caused by use of the same formula is described in part two.The doctors demonstrate that they have done some in-depth research by noting that they have

[..] observed five infants who were brought to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles for problems potentially related to a formula of barley water, whole mild, and corn syrup (Karo) or honey, recommended in an article by LR Hubbard (“Processing an New Mother”, Ability, 1959, p1).

Their references are impeccable, and they trace the barley water formula back to several of Hubbard’s texts. A scan of Hubbard’s 1959 article can be downloaded here, and several other Scientology publications which describe and advise the use of this formula are quoted in part one of this series.

The case histories follow. As I am not medically qualified, I will concentrate here on the gross symptoms – which were extreme enough to motivate the parents to bring the child to a hospital instead of the Scientologists who recommended the formula.

I will omit the investigations undertaken to eliminate other causes. For those who are interested in the details, the paper can be downloaded here. Suffice it say that these included some stressful procedures, such as a lumbar punctures,  barium enemas and x-rays.

Case 1 – A Six-week-old Baby Boy

A six-week old male infant was admitted to the hospital because of a 60-hour history of projectile bilious vomiting and a 12-hour history of diarrhoea […]. The infants diet from birth had consisted of one week of breast-feeding followed by a formula of barley water, corn syrup and whole milk.

[…] The anterior fontanelle was sunken; his abdomen was tense, and hyperactive bowel sounds were heard. He was estimated to be 5% to 10% dehydrated

The baby spent nine days in hospital before he could be stabilised. He was subsequently discharged after he began taking a suitable baby formula designed to restore his body to a normal pH value (the barley water formula had caused acidosis). He was taken to a clinic two days later where his parents were told to continue feeding him the conventional formula. Then, incredibly,

[…] Six days later the patient was returned to the hospital with symptoms of lethargy, pallor, and weak cry and appeared dehydrated. The parents has re-started the original barley water, corn syrup, and whole mild formula.

The doctors put him back on the recommended formula, and investigated his “persistent diarrhoea”. This time it took 13 days to stabilise him. When he was discharged, the parents were, once again, told to use the hospitals baby formula. He needed to take this for one month before his body returned to normal, and he could tolerate a soy formula. This experience clearly retarded the patients growth – the doctors report that:

By 7 months of age, his weight had reached the 25th to 50th percentile for age, and at 19 months it had reached the 50th to 75th percentile.

We can only speculate as to why the parents went back to Hubbard’s formula after it had been demonstrated that caused such extreme symptoms, which are potentially lethal in one so young. Was this due to their own faith in the word of L Ron Hubbard, and external pressure?

 Case 2 – A Five-month-old Baby Boy

A 5-month-old male infant was hospitalized because of a three-week history of intermittent fever and one week of coughing,  poor feeding, vomiting, and diarrhoea. […] The infant had been breast-fed for one week. After that time he was fed a formula of barley water, corn syrup and whole milk. During this three-week illness, about 600mL of formula was consumed daily.

On physical examination he appeared wasted, but well hydrated. […] A roentgengram [x-ray] of the chest demonstrated a lower lobe pneumonia.

It took 16 days of care, including antibiotics and intravenous fluids before this child could be discharged, taking a conventional (cow’s milk) formula. The effect on his growth was remarkable.

He demonstrated a weight gain of 740g during the 16-day hospitalization and weighed 6.92 Kg (fifth to tenth percentile) at a follow-up visit at 7 months of age.

At least parents got the message first time, in this case.

Case Three – A Five-month-old Baby Girl

A 5-month-old female infant was admitted to the hospital after a five- day period of upper respiratory tract infection complicated by coughing and wheezing during the preceding 48 hours. The baby had also vomited several times on the day prior to admission. […] The infant was given a barley water, corn syrup, and whole milk formula.

After a 10-day stay in hospital,  a course of antibiotics  – and a new diet of a cow’s milk formula, cereal and baby food she could be discharged. As with the previous patients, this little girl’s growth had been retarded.

The infant responded to a ten-day course of oral amoxicillin trihydrate and gained weight when given a cow’s milk formula, cereal, and baby food. At the time of discharge from the hospital, her weight was 3.88 kg. At 6 months of age, she weighed 5.2 kg (less than the fifth percentile) and her height was 60 cm (less than the fifth percentile) but there was some indication of catch-up growth.

Cast Four  – A Seven-Month-old Baby Boy

A  7-month-old male infant was admitted to the hospital with a five-day history of diarrhea and vomiting after outpatient therapy with a liquid diet that included a barley water formula and fruit juices was unsuccessful. […] The  infant’s dietary history was remarkable;  he was principally fed a barley water, whole milk, and honey or corn syrup formula, with occasional juices, raw milk with yeast, egg, and banana.

The doctor’s description of the child’s undernourished and stunted appearance is unsettling.

Physical examination showed a small, gaunt infant with a height of 66 cm (tenth percentile),  a weight of 6.46 kg (less than the fifth percentile), and a temperature of 37.5 °C. He had a weak cry.

Once again the patient responded to rehydration and proper nutrition – he put on 7kg in only 3 days of hospital treatment, and follow-up visits showed he had resumed normal growth when his parents started feeding him with a standard baby formula.

Case Five – A Six-month-old Baby Girl

By this, the final case, the symptoms are becoming familiar.

A  6-month-old female infant was seen because of a two-day history of fever, congestion, ear pain, vomiting, and  diarrhoea. […] She was breast-fed for the first three weeks of life and then was given a formula of barley water, corn syrup, and whole milk. […] There was a temperature of 41°C and obvious pallor. Both tympanic membranes were red and rhonchi were heard in all lung fields [indicating ear and chest infections].

It took 3 days to clear her lungs and restore her temperature to a normal range, and two weeks of iron supplements to restore normal levels in her blood.

Was L Ron Hubbard’s Baby Formula to Blame for the Babies Symptoms?

The doctors examined Hubbard’s recipe and method of preparation, made some up and tested it  (using both corn syrup and honey). They concluded that it was deficient in vitamin A, vitamin C and iron. The iron content was found to be even lower when honey was used. The doctor’s stated that,

It  is known that inadequate intake of vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron, as well as protein-calorie malnutrition can reduce resistance to infection. […] Honey, which is added to the formula by some persons has been implicated as a potential source of botulinus toxin. Dangerous errors in formula preparation are also possible.

Belief Verses Evidence

The first case, where the child is restored to health – but the parents then resume using the formula that caused his serious illness is perplexing. Freedom of belief is undoubtedly a basic human right – but some beliefs have serious negative consequences for others – in this case innocent babies.

Scientologists believe that every word L Ron Hubbard writings is absolutely reliable. They are entitled to this view – however, they should not be entitled to put Hubbard’s advice into practice when, according to the best current scientific and medical knowledge, it causes malnutrition and scurvy in children.

There are other examples of this dilemma – the most prominent is “Narconon” – a Scientology front group which provides drug rehabilitation ‘treatment’ based on the writings of L Ron Hubbard – treatment which is based on principles which contemporary science demonstrates to be just plain wrong, and often dangerous.

Appendix – The Real Nutritional Value of L Ron Hubbard’s Barley Water Formula

Malnutrition table


Part One | Part Two | Part Three


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One thought on “The L Ron Hubbard Baby Formula (Pt 3) and Five Cases of Infantile Malnutrition

  1. If anyone is wondering why babies fed with Hubbard’s formula become deficient in iron despite the fact that it contains more iron than human milk, there are a couple factors to consider.

    First, iron from vegetable or mineral source is typically very hard to absorb, even for an adult digestive tract. Iron from animal sources, including human milk, is complexed with organic molecules such as hemes which makes it easier to absorb (and much less harsh on the digestive tract, as anyone who has been ever taken iron supplements can tell you). If you get your iron from supplements or vegetable sources, you will need a lot more of it to get your body’s needs compared to what you need if you take it from animal source. Since a baby’s digestive tract isn’t yet mature, you can expect this effect to be even more important for them.

    Second, vitamin C is another factor which facilitates iron absorption from the diet. So, a diet that is deficient in vitamin C has a high risk or inducing iron deficiency as well.

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