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Dr. Richard Koch – The Main Catalyst For “Low Protein Diet For Life” Policy

Dr. Richard Koch was born on November 24, 1921. in Dickinson, a small town in North Dakota, USA. His parents Valentine and Barbara raised nine children and Richard was among the youngest, as he was born as the sixth child in Koch family. When Richard was seven years old, the family moved to Petalua, California, where he eventually earned a scholarship for the prestigious Berkley University.

Start of World War II, however, disrupted his plans – instead enrolling to college, Richard joined the Army Air Forces. In April 1944., after several successful missions, Richard Koch and his fellow soldiers were shot down over Germany in their B-24 Liberator. After the capture, they spent 13 months in German POW camp. As the legend says, Richard has chosen his future profession while reading “The Doctors Mayo” medical biography in captivity.

In 1951. Richard Koch earned his medical degree from the University of Rochester in New York. He then returned to California, where he worked as an pedicatrics intern in LA Pediactrics Children’s Hospital. Several years leater, Dr. Koch became a Professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Travelling clinics revolution

In the following years Dr. Koch founded travelling clinics, which were designed to help children with developmental disabilities. Thanks to Dr. Koch, his clinics would soon become regional medical centers, and children throughout southern California could stay home with their parents and still get adequate health care.

Dr. Richard Koch was one of the biggest proponents of mandatory newborn sreening in America, especially when he learned that Phenylketonuria (PKU) disorder can be treated with the proper low protein diet and timely diagnostics. Finally, after many long years of wating, California Governor Pat Brown pushed through a law in 1966. on mandatory screening of all newborn babies in California.

By the end of the 60’s, PKU disorder was under control. However, in the early 80’s doctors began noticing that female patients with PKU, who ate “normal” food, started to give birth to children with various mental disorders.

Low protein diet for life

Even before this official confirmation, Dr. Koch advocated a “low protein diet for life” for PKU patients, which later became the medical standard for this disorder. Dr. Koch was the main investigator of the original (The Collaborative Study of Children Treated for Phenylketonuria (PKUCS)) study designed to answer an question whether is it safe to stop the low protein diet in childhood or not. The study was conducted from 1967 to 1983, and as the answer was negative, it ultimately pave the road for universal “low protein diet fot life” policy.

Dr. Koch soon invested all of his knowledge to educate PKU patients in importance of maintaining the low protein diet. In 1998. he conducted follow-up study on his original PKUCS study and found that only nine of 70 located study subjects remained on the diet. The adults who stopped eating low protein food had much more medical symptoms – such as higher hyperactivity, lethargy, headaches and various nurological signals – than the ones who remained on the diet. Also, the subjects who stopped the diet, had lower IQ scores, as well as overall education results.

By the end of his career, Dr. Koch, or as many called him – Dr. PKU – dedicated his efforts to research PKU disorder. He will also be remembered as the man who perfected the treatment for PKU patients who were born before standardized newborn screening. Dr. Richard Koch died in 2011 in Los Angeles, leaving behind his wife Jean, five children (daughters Christine, Jill and Lesslie; sons Tom and Martin), ten grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He was 89 years old.

Want to learn more?


“The PKU Paradox: A Short History of a Genetic Disease” by Diane B. Paul and Jeffrey P. Brosco.

“Robert Guthrie–The Pku Story: Crusade Against Mental Retardation” by Jean Holt Koch.

“Low Protein Cookery for Phenylketonuria” by Virginia E. Schuett.

“Low Protein Food List for PKU” by Virginia E. Schuett.

“Low Protein Bread Machine Baking for PKU” by Virginia E. Schuett.

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