The History of Vitamins

In depth research on essential vitamins.


Vitamins are organic substances that usually are separated into water-soluble (such as B vitamins and vitamin C), and fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, K). Vitamins are necessary for normal health and growth in higher forms of animal and human life.

Vitamins are diverse in chemical structure and function. They were originally defined as organic compounds obtainable in a normal diet and capable of maintaining life and promoting growth. We know now that vitamins play a huge role in our daily well-being and nutrition. Vitamins are distinct from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in function, as well as in the quantities in which we require them. A number of compounds such as choline and carnitine once grouped with vitamins no longer are considered vitamins. If a vitamin is absent from the diet or we don't properly absorbed it, a specific deficiency disease may develop. This was first noted by the Englishman William Fletcher in 1905 while researching the causes of the disease Beriberi, which he observed was prevented by eating unpolished rather than polished rice. He concluded that there husk of rice must have special nutrients, which we know not today as vitamins.

In 1906, English biochemist Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins also discovered that certain food factors were important to health. The term vitamin originated from "vitamine," a word first used in 1911 by the Polish scientist Cashmir Funk to designate a group of compounds considered vital for life; each was thought to have a nitrogen-containing component known as an amine. The final e of vitamine was dropped when it was discovered that not all of the vitamins contain nitrogen, and, therefore, not all are amines. The term accessory food factor sometimes is used instead of vitamin to refer to these substances. The following is a brief history of the discovery of the different vitamins.

Vitamin A: Elmer V. McCollum and M. Davis discovered vitamin A during 1912-1914. In 1913, Yale researchers, Thomas Osborne and Lafayette Mendel discovered that butter contained a fat-soluble nutrient soon known as vitamin A. Vitamin A was first synthesized in 1947. Vitamin B was discovered by Elmer V. McCollum discovered sometimes around 1915-1916 and Vitamin B1 by Casimir Funk in 1912.

Vitamin B2 was discovered by D. T. Smith, E. G. Hendrick in 1926. Max Tishler invented methods for synthesizing the essential vitamin B2. Niacin was discovered by American, Conrad Elvehjem in 1937, folic acid by Lucy Wills in 1933. Vitamin BB6 was discovered by Paul Gyorgy in 1934. The Scottish naval surgeon James Lindin observed in 1747 that a nutrient in citrus foods, now known to be Vitamin C, prevented scurvy. Vitamin C was rediscovered by Norwegians, A. Hoist and T. Froelich in 1912. Vitamin C was the first vitamin to be artificially synthesized in 1935.

In 1922, Edward Mellanby discovered Vitamin D while researching a disease called rickets. Vitamin E was discovered in 1922 in green leafy vegetables by University of California researchers, Herbert Evans and Katherine Bishop discovered vitamin E in green leafy vegetables.

Most vitamins generally cannot be synthesized by animals or humans, and if synthesized, the amounts are insufficient to meet body needs and must be obtained from the diet or from some synthetic source. FOr this reason, vitamins are called essential nutrients because they are essential for life and optimum well-being.

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