Ava Helen’s Role in the Nephritis Story

Ava Helen Pauling serving food at the Caltech Chemistry Department picnic, 1941.

[Part 4 of 5]

“This is the record of the diet which Linus ate when he was ill with nephritis. I kept the record and noted everything that he ate. Dr. Thomas Addis of the Stanford Medical School was his physician.”

-Ava Helen Pauling

While Thomas Addis is rightfully credited with Linus Pauling’s recovery from nephritis, Addis himself preferred to place the acclaim elsewhere. Addis knew that he was not alone in his efforts to prevent the early demise of the great Linus Pauling and he recognized that he had a female cohort who was essential to Pauling’s care. Her name was Ava Helen Pauling.

Over the course of his practice, Addis relied heavily on the support of his patients’ families and was convinced that their efforts were vital to his patients’ care. In fact, Addis once said that it is the “…wives, mothers, and sisters who, with our patients are our true colleagues with whom we work and for whom we work.” Ava Helen was clearly no exception.

It did not take long for Addis to acknowledge Ava Helen as his colleague. Throughout Linus’ recovery, Ava Helen and Addis sent correspondence back and forth updating one another on Pauling’s status. Addis even signed his letters addressed to Ava Helen as “Your ever faithful collaborator, T. Addis,” and Ava Helen often referred to Pauling as “our patient” in her responses back to Addis.

Ava Helen Pauling to Thomas Addis, May 20, 1941, pg. 1

Ava Helen Pauling to Addis, pg. 2.

As soon as Pauling began the low protein, low sodium diet that Addis had prescribed, Ava Helen diligently kept a record of Pauling’s diet. This journal can now be found in the OSU Library Special Collections.

The notebook is meticulous and thorough. Occasionally, Ava Helen even includes small notes about Pauling’s health and daily activities.

Ava Helen began the record of Pauling’s diet on April 9th in 1941. In each of her entries, Ava Helen documented what and how much her husband ate, as well as the protein content (grams), the salt content (milligrams), and the calories in all that he consumed. She totaled the amounts after each meal and recorded final totals at the end of each day.  With the support of his loyal and dedicated wife, Pauling was able to stay on this strict diet for fifteen years.

The following is a brief summary of Pauling’s low protein, low sodium diet, based on Ava Helen’s record.

Each day while on his special diet, Pauling consumed between 2,000-3,000 calories (usually closer to 3,000), around 55 grams of protein, and approximately 1.2-1.6 grams of salt.

His breakfasts typically consisted of a citrus fruit or glass of fruit juice, a cereal (shredded wheat, pancakes, or crepes suzette), milk, cream, and a cup of coffee.

For lunch he generally ate various combinations of the following:  eggs, vegetables, water biscuits, apple sauce, potatoes, cheese, fruits, and vegetables.

Lunch was often followed by a chocolate bar. From April 9th-June 30th, 1941 Pauling consumed some 65 chocolate bars.

In the evenings he would dine on fruits and vegetables, cheese, water biscuits, baked potatoes, and milk.

Below is an example of a typical day on Pauling’s nephritis diet.

Meal record kept by Ava Helen Pauling for April 23, 1941.

Wednesday, April 23, 1941


  • 1/2 Grapefruit
  • 6 Pancakes
  • 2 Squares of Butter
  • 6 Tbs Syrup
  • 2 Tbs Cream
  • 1 Cup of Coffee

Breakfast Total: Protein 11 g; Calories 1,050; Salt 259 mg


  • 1 1/2 Cup Eggnog
  • 1 Piece of Coconut
  • 1 Medium Orange
  • 1 Medium Pear
  • 1 Chocolate Bar

Lunch Total: Protein 20 g; Calories 858; Salt 543 mg


  • 1 Baked Potato
  • 1 Square Butter
  • 2/3 Cup of Cabbage
  • 1 Cup of Milk
  • 1/2 Cup of Gelatin
  • 1/4 Cup Cream (30%)
  • 4 Cookies

Dinner Total: Protein 19 g; Calories 830; Salt 510 mg

Daily Total: Protein 54 g; Calories 3,020; Salt 1312 mg

It is apparent that Pauling had a sweet tooth as his dietary record is littered with notes of sugary treats such as custards with chocolate sauce, sponge cakes, meringues, ice cream, fruit tarts and pies, puddings, cookies, Coca Cola, and strawberries with cream.

This dietary record is a unique window into an important chapter of the life of Linus Pauling.

One Response

  1. […] Pasadena where first we met, the Ranch, Portola Valley. In the early days, at Oxford.  She was so troubled about your health and then, so much involved with you in efforts for world peace.  I cannot think of her as old, she […]

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