Biography of Dr Alan Howard 1929-2020

This biography expands upon the entry in Wikipedia


Following his MA in Natural Sciences and PhD in Immunology at Downing College Cambridge, Alan Howard trained as a nutritionist at the Medical Research Council’s Dunn Nutritional Laboratory, also in Cambridge. His lifelong research interests are in the field of nutrition, initially in the nutritional relationships associated with coronary heart disease and the treatment of obesity, and latterly into eye and brain nutrition. His inventions and patents related to Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCD) enabled him to establish the Howard Foundation which has made significant donations to Downing College Cambridge, the Waterford Institute of Technology and in sponsoring continued academic research. Howard became one of the first five Wilkins Fellows inducted on 14 October 1999

Early life and education

Howard passed the Eleven-plus exam in 1939 and gained a place at the City of Norwich School where he specialised in Chemistry. While at school he played Chess for the Norfolk and Norwich Club and in 1946, at aged 17, won the newly created Junior Championship Cup. He was a keen photographer with his own darkroom and also enjoyed both ballroom dancing and cycling. In 1946 , he also cycled from Norwich to Venice via Paris, Marseille and Geneva, before taking the train back to Calais and London, finally cycling back to Norwich. He repeated a continental cycling trip two years later from Hamburg to Salzberg and back.

Academic Career

Howard won a place to Downing College Cambridge in 1948 to read Natural Sciences. In June 1949, following his results in the Part 1 examination (Chemistry, Physics, Metallurgy and Mathematics), he was awarded an exhibition. For Part II, Howard specialised in Chemistry. After graduating in 1951, he worked with Dr Frank Wild in the Dept of Medicine from October 1951 ‘on the cross-linking of proteins and the possible application of this reaction to serological problems’ and was admitted as a research student in January 1952 under Dr Wild’s supervision. He was elected to the Arthur Paul Saint Scholarship at Downing College in July 1952, which he held for 1952-1954. He also worked with Robin Coombs, a notable immunologist. In June 1954, the title of his research was changed to ‘The reaction of diazonium compounds with amino acids and proteins and its application to serological problems’  and his PhD was approved on 30 Nov 1954. He took both his MA and PhD on 22 Jan 1955.

Howard’s academic career covered periods:

  • from 1951 to 1959 demonstrator in practical classes, Part I Organic Chemistry, Chemical Laboratory, Cambridge
  • From 1954 to 1966 Supervisor in Chemistry, Downing, Peterhouse and Newnham colleges, Cambridge
  • from 1954 to 1960 at the MRC Unit in Nutrition in Cambridge (known then as “The Dunn” and now the MRC Human Nutrition Research department)
  • from 1960 to 1973 in the Department of Pathology at Cambridge University under Austin Gresham, then Professor of Morbid Anatomy and Histopathology. (From 1962 to 1964, Howard was awarded an Elmore Research Studentship and from 1964 to 1966 a British Heart Foundation Fellowship).
  • from 1965 to 1969 Lecturer on ‘Lipid Metabolism’ in Comparative Pathology, Part II Course, Cambridge University
  • from 1973 to 1984 in the Department of Medicine at Cambridge University under Professor Ivor Mills, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians
  • from 1983 to 1992 he was a College Lecturer in Nutritional Research at Cambridge University.

Early work on atherosclerosis

While working at the MRC Unit, Howard discovered that the scurvylike lesions seen in Leukemia are in fact due to a Vitamin C deficiency, since healthy white cells contain a huge amount of Vitamin C. Using an American formulation, he was able to produce Coronary Thrombosis in rats using butter as the dietary fat, but Atherosclerosis using peanut oil. He subsequently became an expert in experimental atherosclerosis and for finding antidotes. He collaborated with Bernard Matthews Ltd, the main producer of turkeys in the UK, where a large number of male turkeys died at 12 weeks from aortic rupture. It was found to be due to copper deficiency and a change of diet solved the problem.

Howard was secretary and organising committee member for the first International Symposium On Atherosclerosis held in Athens in 1966 and was an editor of the proceedings. The Proceedings of the XIIth International Symposium on Atherosclerosis held in Stockholm 25-29 June 2000 contain two papers reviewing the significance of the first symposium: “The First International Symposium on Atherosclerosis in Athens 1966” by Alan N. Howard and “The significance and importance of the Athens Symposium” by M. Daria Haust.

Early Work on Obesity

While at the Department of Pathology and through working with another local company, Spillers Ltd, who were the main supplier of turkey food, Howard started doing clinical trials on the high-protein “Cambridge Formula Loaf”. Collaborating with several local GPs and using brown bread as a control, he found that people lost more weight while on the Cambridge Loaf together with a low calorie diet. This work was published in a paper in The General Practitioner (the forerunner of the current British Journal of General Practice) and was used commercially until Spillers closed its manufacturing plant due to financial difficulties.

This work made Howard an expert on Obesity and led to him becoming secretary to the newly formed Obesity Association (aka The Obesity Society of Great Britain and now the Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO)). Founded in 1967 to promote obesity research in the UK, the association was chaired by Ian MacLean Baird from the West Middlesex Hospital. In 1968, the Society held its first International Symposium in London. The Proceedings were edited by Baird and Howard.

Howard became Secretary and later Chairman of The Food Education Society from 1970 until 1990. Howard was invited to take part in the B.B.C series “Don’t just sit there” in July 1974 and co-authored a book “Don’t just sit there” which was published by the BBC in 1978. The society continues to promote the value of very low calorie diets.

Howard and George A. Bray (from the University of California) organised the first International Congress on Obesity (ICO), which was held at the Royal College of Physicians in London in October 1974, and attracted over 500 attendees from 30 countries. They were also the founding co-editors of The International Journal of Obesity (IJO), which began in 1977. These early initiatives led in 1985/86 to the formation of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, which since 2014 is now known simply as World Obesity.

The Story of the Cambridge Diet

Howard’s team ran a longstanding “lipid clinic” at Addenbrookes Hospital between 1973 and 1980. This was one of six European centres where the Dutch company Organon International sponsored research and clinical trials. Howard collaborated with Dr Baird, then a consultant at West Middlesex Hospital, to devise a low calorie diet formula designed for morbidly obese patients. This was initially named “Howard’s Diet”. Once safety and efficacy was demonstrated at outpatients clinics and trials across Europe, use was broadened to generally obese patients on a non-prescriptive basis, subject only to medical supervision for pre-existing medical conditions.

Also in 1973, Howard began to direct Dr Dennis Jones, a nutritionist and specialist in food chemistry from Organon, to convert the research concept into a commercially-viable formulation. They designed and implemented a development plan including formal clinical studies to full drug-testing standards. Howard’s aim was to turn the original breakthrough research into a product that would be accessible to the public,  transcending its medical research beginnings. In 1979, it emerged in the USA as The Cambridge Diet.

Howard’s patents (submitted in 1975 and granted in 1977) were initially licensed to a Californian company, Cambridge Plan International (CPI), who, from 1980, marketed the formula in the USA as the ‘Cambridge Diet’. This was sold initially by mail order and subsequently through network marketing and a “Cambridge Counsellor” system. Whilst this led to rapid growth, CPI encountered issues which led to it filing for Chapter 11 administration in 1983.

In 1982, Howard and his son Jon formed the Howard Foundation, an English Charitable Trust, and in 1984, together with Howard’s brother Roger, they formed the Cambridge Manufacturing Company Ltd followed by other commercial entities, all owned by the Howard Foundation.

As a result, from 1984-6 there were thus two competing “Cambridge Diets” in existence, as CPI had separately launched in various countries internationally, including a pre-launch in UK.

In 1986 a Howard Foundation company bought out CPI’s international rights and the ‘Cambridge Diet’ has remained a separate organisation in the USA.

In 1985 Howard had his book, “The Cambridge Diet” published as a hardback by Jonathan Cape Ltd, containing details of the diet’s discovery, efficacy and applications.  It was updated and republished as a paperback by Corgi Books in 1985, and a further updated 20th Anniversary Edition was published by Cambridge Manufacturing Company Ltd in 2004.  This book was translated into Danish as “Cambridge Kuren” for use in the Scandinavian market.

Howard and John Marks wrote  “The Cambridge Diet – A Manual for Health Professionals”, published by MTP Press in 1986 with a forward by Ivor H Mills, then Profesor of Medicine at the University of Cambridge. The forward to the later edition in 1997, published by Cambridge Export Limited, was written by John Butterfield, formally Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge.

From 1985 to the late 1980s, the Cambridge Diet was strongly promoted in the UK by Howard using direct marketing and thereafter, mainly through distributors in various Northern European countries and around the world.

In the early 2000s the manufacturing company at Corby, Northants became the group headquarters for the U.K. and export functions.

Howard organised several satellite meetings on Very Low Calorie Diets in Ischia (1980), in Cambridge (1989) and in Kyoto (1992).

In 2005 Howard directed that the remaining business be sold through a management buyout. The company changed its name to the Cambridge Weight Plan and continues as a successful company, owned by an employee trust. The diet is now marketed as the 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan.

Later Research into VLCD and Coronary Heart Disease

Howard established Howard Foundation Research (HFR) in 1986 to carry out scientific research into low calorie diets under the direction of Dr Stephen Kreitzman. HFR has published numerous scientific papers, most notably a 1993 monograph “The Swansea Trial : Body Composition and Metabolic Studies with a very low calorie diet (VLCD)” edited by Dr S N Kreitzman and Dr A Howard. In 2000 Howard directed Howard Foundation Research Ltd be sold under licence to managers who devised the Lipotrim programme to allow the formula to be prescribed privately by health practitioners in UK and Ireland. This continues to be offered by Lipotrim UK.

In 1991, Howard established the COAG Trace Elements Labratory. Based at Papworth Hospital, near Cambridge, the COAG Laboratory ran until 2000 carrying out research into aspects of nutrition and health, especially the prevention of coronary heart disease. When the laboratory closed, the equipment was transferred to the University of Ulster and the Poznan University of Medical Sciences for the continuation of research programmes.

Research into Macular Degeneration and Carotenoids

In 1995, Howard started work with Dr Richard Bone and Dr. John Landrum at Florida International University (FIU). Together they patented a formulation containing Meso-zeaxanthin, lutein and zeazanthen, manufactured by IOSA in Monterey, Mexico and currently sold in Europe as Macuprime and in North America as Macuhealth. Its purpose was to prevent Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

In 2009, Howard began working with the Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG) at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland. In 2015, the Howard Foundation established Prof John Nolan, Principal Investigator at the MPRG, as the Howard Chair in Human Nutrition with tenure. In 2018, this group became the Nutrition Research Centre, Ireland.

Research into Alzheimer’s disease

In 2018, Howard and others published the results of a study into the use of
certain nutritional compounds to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. See the News items:

Click here to read an interview with Dr Howard who discusses the sequence of events that led up to this latest discovery.

The follow-on study from the 2018 paper, the ReMIND trial, is due for completion in 2021.

After a lifetime of academic and commercial achievement, Dr Howard died in June 2020 at the age of 91, as reported here and in subsequent news items.

The scientific papers of Alan Howard from 1960 to the early 2000s, including his development of the Cambridge Formula Loaf and the Cambridge Diet, have been deposited at the University Library, Cambridge.


  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC) 1968.
  • Honorary Fellowship of Downing College Cambridge, 13 March 1987
  • Honorary DSc University of Ulster, 1996
  • Wilkins Fellow at Downing College Cambridge, 14 October 1999
  • Doctor Honoris Causa en Ciencias Medicas de la Habana, Cuba, 24 January 2000
  • Companion of The Guild of Cambridge Benefactors, 12 November 2001
  • The Chancellors 800th Anniversary Medal for outstanding philanthropy from the Guild of Cambridge Benefactors, 2009
  • Honorary Fellowship from the Waterford Institute of Technology, 2019

Selected Publications

  1. Nutritional Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease: Potential Benefits of Xanthophyll Carotenoids and Omega-3 Fatty Acids Combined. Nolan, John M, Mulcahy, Riona, Power, Rebecca, Moran, Rachela, Howard, Alan N.
    Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, vol. 64, no. 2, pp. 367-378, 2018
  2. Supplemental Retinal Carotenoids Enhance Memory in Healthy Individuals with Low Levels of Macular Pigment in A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Power R, Coen RF, Beatty S, Mulcahy R, Moran R, Stack J, Howard AN, Nolan JM. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;61(3):947-961.
  3. Phospholipid oxidation and carotenoid supplementation in Alzheimer’s disease patients. Ademowo OS, Dias HKI, Milic I, Devitt A, Moran R, Mulcahy R, Howard AN, Nolan JM, Griffiths HR. Free Radic Biol Med. 2017 Jul;108:77-85.
  4. Serum and macular response to carotenoid-enriched egg supplementation in human subjects: the Egg Xanthophyll Intervention clinical Trial (EXIT). Kelly D, Nolan JM, Howard AN, Stack J, Akuffo KO, Moran R, Thurnham DI, Dennison J, Meagher KA, Beatty S. Br J Nutr. 2017 Jan;117(1):108-123.
  5. Howard AN, Thurnham DI. Lutein and atherosclerosis: Belfast versus Toulouse revisited. Med Hypoth. 2017;98:63-68.

  6. Quantification of zeaxanthin stereoisomers and lutein in trout flesh using chiral high-performance liquid chromatography-diode array detection. Prado-Cabrero A, Beatty S, Stack J, Howard A, Nolan JM. J Food Compost Anal. 2016 Jul;50:19-22.
  7. Lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin content of eggs laid by hens supplemented with free and esterified xanthophylls. Nolan JM, Meagher KA, Howard AN, Moran R, Thurnham DI, Beatty S. J Nutr Sci. 2016 Jan 8;5:e1. doi: 10.1017/jns.2015.35.
  8. Assessment of lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin concentrations in dietary supplements by chiral high-performance liquid chromatography. Prado-Cabrero A, Beatty S, Howard A, Stack J, Bettin P, Nolan JM. Eur Food Res Technol. 2016;242:599-608.
  9. Macular response to supplementation with differing xanthophyll formulations in subjects with and without age-related macular degeneration. Thurnham DI, Nolan JM, Howard AN, Beatty S. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2015 Aug;253(8):1231-43.
  10. Sustained supplementation and monitored response with differing carotenoid formulations in early age-related macular degeneration. Akuffo KO, Nolan JM, Howard AN, Moran R, Stack J, Klein R, Klein BE, Meuer SM, Sabour-Pickett S, Thurnham DI, Beatty S. Eye (Lond). 2015 Jul;29(7):902-12. doi: 10.1038/eye.2015.64.
  11. Cognitive Function and Its Relationship with Macular Pigment Optical Density and Serum Concentrations of its Constituent Carotenoids. Kelly D, Coen RF, Akuffo KO, Beatty S, Dennison J, Moran R, Stack J, Howard AN, Mulcahy R, Nolan JM. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;48(1):261-77.
  12. The impact of supplemental macular carotenoids in Alzheimer’s disease: a randomized clinical trial. Nolan JM, Loskutova E, Howard A, Mulcahy R, Moran R, Stack J, Bolger M, Coen RF, Dennison J, Akuffo KO, Owens N, Power R, Thurnham D, Beatty S. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;44(4):1157-69.
  13. Supplementation with three different macular carotenoid formulations in patients with early age-related macular degeneration. Sabour-Pickett S, Beatty S, Connolly E, Loughman J, Stack J, Howard A, Klein R, Klein BE, Meuer SM, Myers CE, Akuffo KO, Nolan JM. Retina. 2014 Sep;34(9):1757-66
  14. Verification of Mezo-Zeaxanthin in Fish. Nolan JM, Beatty S, Meagher KA, Howard AN, Kelly D, Thurnham DI. J Food Process Technol. 2014 Jun 1;5(6):335.
  15. Macular pigment, visual function, and macular disease among subjects with Alzheimer’s disease: an exploratory study. Nolan JM, Loskutova E, Howard AN, Moran R, Mulcahy R, Stack J, Bolger M, Dennison J, Akuffo KO, Owens N, Thurnham DI, Beatty S. J Alzheimers Dis. 2014;42(4):1191-202.
  16. Serum response to supplemental macular carotenoids in subjects with and without age-related macular degeneration. Meagher KA, Thurnham DI, Beatty S, Howard AN, Connolly E, Cummins W, Nolan JM. Br J Nutr. 2013 Jul 28;110(2):289-300.
  17. Thurnham DI, Howard AN. Studies on meso-zeaxanthin for potential toxicity and mutagenicity. Fd Chem Toxicol. 2013;59:455-463.

  18. The impact of macular pigment augmentation on visual performance using different carotenoid formulations. Loughman J, Nolan JM, Howard AN, Connolly E, Meagher K, Beatty S. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2012 Nov 29;53(12):7871-80.
  19. Macular carotenoid supplementation in subjects with atypical spatial profiles of macular pigment. Nolan JM, Akkali MC, Loughman J, Howard AN, Beatty S. Exp Eye Res. 2012 Aug;101:9-15.
  20. Supplementation with all three macular carotenoids: response, stability, and safety. Connolly EE, Beatty S, Loughman J, Howard AN, Louw MS, Nolan JM. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2011 Nov 29;52(12):9207-17.
  21. Augmentation of macular pigment following supplementation with all three macular carotenoids: an exploratory study. Connolly EE, Beatty S, Thurnham DI, Loughman J, Howard AN, Stack J, Nolan JM. Curr Eye Res. 2010 Apr;35(4):335-51.
  22. Thurnham DI, Tremel A, Howard AN. A supplementation study in humans with a combination of meso-zeaxanthin, (3R,3’R)-zeaxanthin and (3R,3’R, 6′)-lutein. Brit J Nutr. 2008;100:1307-1314.

  23. Bone RA, Landrum JT, Cao Y, Howard AN, Thurnham DI. Macular pigment response to a xanthophyll supplement of lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006;65:105A.

  24. Howard AN, Chopra M, Thurnham DI, Strain JJ, Fuhrman B, Aviram M. Red wine consumption and inhibition of LDL oxidation. What are the important components? Med Hypoth. 2002;59:101-104.

  25. Chopra M, Fitzsimons PE, Strain JJ, Thurnham DI, Howard AN. Nonalcoholic red wine extract and quercetin inhibit LDL oxidation without affecting plasma antioxidant vitamin and carotenoid concentrations. Clin Chem. 2000;46:1162-1170.

  26. Howard AN, Williams NR, Palmer CR, Cambou JP, Evans AE, Foote J, Marques-Vidal P, McCrum EE, Ruidavets JB, NIgdikar SV, Rajput-Williams J, Thurnham DI. Do hydroxy carotenoids prevent coronary heart disease? A comparison between Belfast and Toulouse.Int J Vit Nutr Res. 1996;66:113-118.

  27. Albertifidanza A, Coli R, Genipi L, Howard AN, Maurizicoli A, Mielcarz GW, Rajput-Williams J, Thurnham DI, Williams NR, Fidanza F. Vitamin and mineral nutritional status and other biochemical data assessed in groups of men from Crevalcore and Montigiorgio (Italy).Int J Vit Nutr Res. 1995;65:193-198.

  28. Williams NR, Rajput-Williams J, Nigdikar SV, West JA, McGrath S, Foote J, Henderson B, Howard AN, Thurnham DI. Antioxidants in diabetes. Proc Nutr Soc 1994;204A.

  29. Thurnham DI, Williams NR, Evans AE, Cambou JP, Howard AN. Plasma antioxidant nutrients in Belfast and Toulouse. Proc Nutr Soc. 1994;53:261A.

  30. McLean Baird I, Littlewood ER, Howard AN, Safety of very low calorie diets, Int. J. Obesity, 1979, 3, 399
  31. Howard AN, Grant A, Edwards O, Littlewood ER, McLean Baird I, The treatment of obesity with a very-low-calorie liquid-formula diet: an inpatient/outpatient comparison using skimmed-milk protein as the chief protein source. Int. J. Obesity, 1978, 2, 321-332
  32. Howard AN, McLean Baird I, Very low calorie semi-synthetic diets in the treatment of obesity, Nutr. Metab. 1977, 21, 59-61.
  33. Howard AN, McLean Baird I, The treatment of obesity by low calorie diets containing amino acids, Nutrition and Dietetics, 1973.
  34. Howard AN, McLean Baird I, The long-term treatment of obesity by low calorie semi-synthetic diets, IX International Congress of Nutrition, Mexico, 1972.