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The History of Vitamins

By John Collins

It may seem that the significance of vitamins to nutrition health has been known for a significant amount of time. However, it wasn't until the 15th century that scientists began to realize that nutrients found in various foods could improve health. The classic realization is the one of sailors who suffered from scurvy and improved their condition by eating citrus fruits. To discover the exact benefits a particular food would provide, scientists simulated conditions of nutrient deficiency using animals. These experiments were carried out by feeding the animals one specific type of food for an extended period of time. In all cases the animals' health declined; some became seriously ill and some died. For those that became ill, the scientists fed them various nutrients until their health improved.

In the early 1900s, British chemist and Nobel Prize winner Frederick Gowland Hopkins concluded from his research that the human body needed a certain amount of specific substances to live. Casimir Funk, a biochemist from Poland who worked closely with Hopkins, conducted an experiment with polished and unpolished rice. The results of his experiments coupled with what Hopkins discovered led him to coin the term "vitamin" to represent the crucial supplemental substances necessary for growth. It would only take thirty years after their discoveries for chemists to begin synthesizing (commercially producing) the vitamins that we know today.

Since the early discoveries, there have been many developments in understanding the value of vitamins. The most recent development is that taking a multivitamin every day can decrease an individual's risk for conditions such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The vitamin industry is probably a multi-billion dollar industry. Just visit any nutrition center or grocery store that sells vitamins and you will see shelf after shelf of vitamins. There are vitamin preparations for just about ever type of health condition and nutritional need. The reports of the benefits of vitamins are outstanding, but indicate that there may be more to discover about vitamins and their benefits on human life.


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