Nathan Pritikin, 69, a self-taught nutritionist who won fame and followers as the charismatic, controversial prophet of a program for preventing and reversing heart disease through a revamped life style and a diet low in cholesterol, died Thursday night in a hospital in Albany, N.Y.
Albany police Sgt. Robert Grebert said Mr. Pritikin, who advocated his regimen in best-selling books, died in the Albany Medical Center of lacerations to both forearms and that the death was being considered a suicide.
A resident of Santa Barbara, Calif., Mr. Pritikin had been admitted to the hospital Feb. 11 suffering from an illness police described as "terminal." A spokeswoman in California for the Pritikin Longevity Center said Mr. Pritikin had been experiencing a flareup of leukemia, a cancer of the blood-forming organs.
"His leukemia had been diagnosed many years ago, but it had been in remission up until a few months ago," said spokeswoman Eugenia Killoran.
As a result of the leukemia, she said, he began a treatment program that within the past few months produced a series of side effects including anemia, kidney failure, and impending liver failure.
A Chicago native who listed himself for years as an inventor, Mr. Pritikin acquired his interest in diet after being told at the age of 40 that he had heart disease.
"I thought I was immune since I followed what everyone considered the good American diet," he said last year. That diet, he indicated, was rich in just those foods his program would later forbid.
"Eggs every morning, lobster Newburg every Friday, a pint of ice cream every night, cheese every day," he said.
Doctors in 1955, he claimed, "weren't aware of the relationship between nutrition and disease." Following their instructions, he said, "I only got worse. It took me two years of research to convince myself my diet was at fault."
In addition to his California center, Mr. Pritikin set up and operated longevity centers in Florida and Pennsylvania where he said thousands of patients came to submit themselves to a regimen that almost totally excluded the saturated animal fats believed a key cause of much heart disease.
Deposition of cholesterol, a component of these fats, is often seen as a vital agent in the process by which important arteries clog and harden, and in turn deprive the heart muscle of its needed supply of blood.
Besides cutting back on the meat, milk and eggs dear to the diets of many Americans, Mr. Pritikin urged those who heard and read him to all but ban from their dishes and glasses such common ingredients as salt and sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
In his books and at his centers, where patients typically paid fees of $2,000 or more for a two-week stay, Mr. Pritikin urged increased consumption of such items as high-fiber complex carbohydrates. He also preached the importance of exercise.
Mr. Pritikin whose lean, youthful appearance for years impressed visitors to his centers, "successfully conquered his own heart disease through the diet now known worldwide," said the spokeswoman for his center.
Criticisms and objections centered on three areas. Some experts felt his claims had not been verified by long-term monitoring. Others felt his diet could not be maintained and was sometimes needlessly restrictive. While some others agreed that his diet could help protect against heart disease, they questioned claims that it could reverse it.
Mr. Pritikin's survivors include his wife, Ilene, five children, and a brother, all of California.