The discovery of the vitamins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The discovery of the vitamins was a major scientifi c achievement in our understanding of health and disease. In 1912, Casimir Funk originally coined the term "vitamine". The major period of discovery began in the early nineteenth century and ended at the mid-twentieth century. The puzzle of each vitamin was solved through the work and contributions of epidemiologists, physicians, physiologists, and chemists. Rather than a mythical story of crowning scientifi c breakthroughs, the reality was a slow, stepwise progress that included setbacks, contradictions, refutations, and some chicanery. Research on the vitamins that are related to major defi ciency syndromes began when the germ theory of disease was dominant and dogma held that only four nutritional factors were essential: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals. Clinicians soon recognized scurvy, beriberi, rickets, pellagra, and xerophthalmia as specifi c vitamin defi ciencies, rather than diseases due to infections or toxins. Experimental physiology with animal models played a fundamental role in nutrition research and greatly shortened the period of human suffering from vitamin defi ciencies. Ultimately it was the chemists who isolated the various vitamins, deduced their chemical structure, and developed methods for synthesis of vitamins. Our understanding of the vitamins continues to evolve from the initial period of discovery

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-315
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research
Volume82
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2012

Keywords

  • Beriberi
  • Discovery
  • Pellagra
  • Rickets
  • Scurvy
  • Vitamins
  • Xerophthalmia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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