Who Discovered Vitamins and How?

The 1929 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Christiaan Eijkman and Frederick Gowland Hopkins for their contributions to the discovery of vitamins. It all started when Dr. Eijkman noticed that hens fed with leftover rice from a military hospital in the Netherlands were suffering from a disease called polyneuritis. Once the birds started eating unprocessed rice, they recovered quickly.

This led Eijkman to realize that something essential to life must be in the outer layer of rice, which was later identified as vitamin B1 (also known as thiamine). In 1912, the Polish-born biochemist Casimir Funk called this mysterious compound a “vital amine”, which was shortened to vitamin. Later, researchers discovered that the outer layer of rice is rich in vitamin B1. While vitamin supplements may not be of much use in countries where malnutrition is not a serious problem, vitamin deficiency remains a threat in many places. Billions of people depend on basic vitamin-poor crops, such as rice and cassava.

Vitamin A deficiency, for example, deprives the eye of its light-sensitive molecules and is estimated to cause 500,000 cases of blindness in children around the world. It also weakens our defenses against infections and causes 700,000 deaths. Kevin Saliba, a biochemist at the Australian National University, and his colleagues are developing compounds that mimic vitamins. Plasmodium grabs them as if they were real vitamins, but once it tries to use them, it fails to carry out the chemical reactions on which the parasite depends.

In Saliba's recent experiments, published in the journal Plos One, this trick leads to the death of Plasmodium. In 1937, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries related to vitamin C. In 1913, Lafayette Benedict Mendel (1872-1893), of the Sheffield Scientific School (affiliated with Yale University) and Thomas Burr Osborne (1859—192), from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, discovered a “soluble accessory” food substance in fat” which clearly differed from the “water-soluble factor” revealed in studies on beriberi. McCollum and Davis were credited with discovering the first accessory food substance recognized as a vitamin, which they called “fat-soluble A.

Frederick Gowland Hopkins 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”. Vitamin supplements should not be taken without consulting a doctor first. Lifestyle changes that experts say help us sleep better should also be considered first, from limiting alcohol consumption to exercising regularly. A better variety of foods could reduce vitamin deficiencies but experts don't think this is the best strategy.

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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