Vitamins are essential elements for health today. It was the Polish-born biochemist Casimir Funk who first revealed the vital role played by vitamins in human metabolism. His work opened up a new field of medicine aimed at preventing and curing illness through diet.
In 1911 the young biochemist Casimir Funk was working at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine in London. He was particularly interested in beriberi, a serious disease of the nervous system and heart that was then ravaging the Far East. Casimir Funk also conducted much research on hormones, ulcers, diabetes, peptic, and the biochemistry of cancer.
In some parts of Asia, half of all infants were dying of this mysterious illness. Some physicians took the view that it was an infectious disease. Funk, though, was intrigued by research conducted in the late ANA 19th century by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Eijkman during his time as a prison doctor on the island of Java in the Netherlands East Indies.
Eijkman had shown that in both chickens and humans beriberi could be combated by a diet of unpolished rice. This differed from polished rice in that the grains retained the hull of rice bran. This led Eijkman to conclude that polished rice contained a toxin, whereas the bran coating contained an antidote. Funk would demonstrate that Eijkman’s assumption was wrong: in fact, the substance that cured beriberi was present within the bran itself. Casimir Funk died November 19, 1967, at the age of 83 in Albany, New York.
The First Vital “Amine”
Casimir Funk discovered that an amine (an organic compound derived from ammonia) was the element within the rice husk that countered beriberi. He named it ‘vital amine’, which was soon shortened to ‘vitamin’. The particular vitamin in question was B1, or thiamin, which would not be definitively isolated until 1927 and was finally synthesized in 1936.
Casimir Funk may not have known the specifics, but he had nevertheless opened up new horizons for the understanding of human metabolism. From 1912 on, he developed a theory that other illnesses such as scurvy and pellagra, long since identified as particularly prevalent among certain groups of people, might be attributable to dietary vitamin deficiencies.
Many Building up Knowledge
In around 1913 vitamin A was identified by two groups of American researchers working independently. They showed that this substance, which is found in fatty foodstuffs such as milk, butter, and cheese, was essential for good nocturnal vision. Their findings vindicated the Greek physician Hippocrates, who some 2,000 years earlier had treated eye problems by prescribing calves’ liver, which was also rich in vitamin A.
Meanwhile, two Norwegians, Axel Holst, and Theodor Fröhlich had discovered that guinea pigs could be cured of scurvy by a diet of fresh vegetables and fruit. Two centuries had passed since Dr. James Lind of the Royal Navy had established the curative effect of high doses of citrus fruit juice for sailors suffering from the disease was still common among sailors and others with no access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin C was synthesized in 1932 when the link between its deficiency and scurvy was finally established. Gradually, 13 vitamins were identified, enabling doctors to treat and prevent several serious illnesses through simple dietary regimes.
Vitamins, which are with only a few exceptions, can only be obtained from fresh food. Moreover, this had been shown to be indispensable for the healthy functioning of the human body. Investigations into the properties and effects of vitamins are still ongoing today, as these substances continue to yield new findings.
Some research has shown that vitamin D whose efficacy in combating childhood rickets is well known – can also help to prevent certain cancers, type 1 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Scientists have also found that large doses of vitamin D, which is formed in the sunlight, can reduce the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis in older people.
Water-Soluble and Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamins are categorized by the materials in which they dissolve. There are two types of water-soluble and fat-soluble The water-soluble group includes the B-complex (thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B12) and vitamin C. The body only stores these to a limited extent, with any excess being excreted in the urine so they need replenishing on a daily basis through food. The body can store reserves of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.
The Nutritious Drink
The French chocolate drink Banania introduced in 1912 was rich in vitamin B2 (riboflavin), which promotes growth. It was given to children and also promoted as a pick-me-up for troops at the front in the First World War.
It is based on the sound fact apples are a good source of vitamins A, C, E, and B. Even in many countries the government encourages eating five pieces of fruit or vegetables a day.
A Helping Hand for Health
A nurse distributing vitamin supplements to children in a hospital in the south of France in 1941. In Europe during the depression and the two world wars of the 20th century, vitamin deficiencies in children were usually the result of insufficient food intake. Nowadays they are often caused by a preference for junk foods, which contain excessive fat and sugar, over fruit and other fresh produce. Read More – Is the Keto Diet Bad for You?
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