The discovery of vitamins has been a long and fascinating journey. It all began in the early 1900s when an English biochemist named Frederick Gowland Hopkins discovered unknown factors present in milk that were not fats, proteins or carbohydrates, but were necessary to help rats grow. He called this concentrate a “vitamin” because it seemed to be vital to life and because it was probably an amine. In 1910, the Japanese scientist Umetaro Suzuki isolated the first vitamin complex, who managed to extract a water-soluble micronutrient complex from rice bran and called it aberic acid (later Orizanin).
This discovery was followed by the identification and synthesis of many of the known essential vitamins and minerals in the first half of the twentieth century. These vitamins and minerals were used to prevent and treat diseases related to nutritional deficiency, such as scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, rickets, xerophthalmia and nutritional anemias. Wisconsin workers discovered that when cod liver oil saponifies, the vitamin remains in the unsaponifiable fraction; therefore, it is a sterol. In East Asia, where polished white rice was the common staple food of the middle class, beriberi resulting from a lack of vitamin B1 was endemic.
The value of eating certain foods to maintain health was recognized long before vitamins were identified. It was considered appropriate to choose a name to dissociate nicotinic acid from nicotine, in order to avoid the perception that vitamins or niacin-rich foods contain nicotine or that cigarettes contain vitamins. The overuse of some vitamins, which is more common in prosperous societies, can cause a vitamin imbalance. Multivitamins are included in the total parenteral nutritional mix for patients who cannot consume food orally.
Manufacturers must indicate on packaging the vitamin content of processed foods, especially foods A and C. Dietary supplements usually contain vitamins, but may also include other ingredients, such as minerals, herbs and botanicals. It is assumed that most vitamins sold as dietary supplements should not exceed the maximum daily dose called the maximum tolerable intake level (UL or upper limit). When the determination of vitamin A was easily achieved by ultraviolet measurement in the range of 320 to 330 nm, at least five photometers were developed specifically for this test.
Milk is fortified with vitamins A and D, and breads and other wheat products are enriched with B vitamins. However, the small number of requests for these tests makes it appropriate to refer them to reference laboratories where vitamin A is analyzed by HPLC. As for Hopkins, he was knighted in 1925 and in 1929 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Eijkman “for his discovery of vitamins that stimulate growth”.