The History of Vitamin Discovery: From Umetaro Suzuki to Casimir Funk

In 1910, the Japanese scientist Umetaro Suzuki made a groundbreaking discovery when he isolated the first vitamin complex from rice bran, which he named aberic acid (later Orizanin). After feeding unprocessed rice to birds, he noticed that they recovered quickly, leading him to believe that something essential to life must be present in the outer layer of rice. This was later confirmed by the Polish-born biochemist Casimir Funk, who in 1912 coined the term “vital amine”, which was later shortened to vitamin. Funk's research revealed that the outer layer of rice is rich in vitamin B1 (also known as thiamine).

He also discovered that four chemicals - B1, B2, C and D - were vital for keeping the body healthy. He concluded that these chemicals belonged to the family of amines and thus named them “vital amines”. In order to maintain healthy teeth and gums, a variety of nutrients are needed, such as calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A, C and D. However, modern flour refining had stripped bread of its natural vitamins and minerals, leaving Americans deprived of the strength they needed.

Fortunately, bread and flour were pumped by the ton and distributed in millions of vitamin pills with names like Vimms, Stams and Benefax. On the eve of World War II, pharmaceutical companies had learned to synthesize vitamins on an industrial scale; production was measured by tons and the country was prepared to meet the nutritional needs of the whole world. Multivitamin and mineral supplements became available on the mass market, making it easier for Americans to meet their recommended daily amount of nutrients. Some nutrition scientists and educators believed that the best way to meet vitamin needs was through a balanced diet of healthy foods.

However, rats were used in controlled eating experiments to measure vitamin A in test foods, while human needs for vitamin A were based on studies conducted on people who measured the amount of vitamin needed to prevent night blindness. The discovery of vitamins has been a major breakthrough in nutrition science. It has enabled us to understand how essential vitamins are for our health and wellbeing. Today, it is important to talk to your doctor and dentist about whether you should take vitamins or supplements and, if so, which ones.

Ben Liebhardt
Ben Liebhardt

Amateur travel fanatic. General web buff. Certified travel junkie. Twitter nerd. Infuriatingly humble web practitioner. Certified beer nerd.

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