You may be wondering how we discovered vitamins exist. The history of vitamins is not as old as you think it is. This is mainly because there used to be no good word for these nutrients, and the technology was not yet developed to be discovered.
In this article, we look at the history of vitamins and why we call them that now.

The history of vitamins

History Of Vitamins1Before we start with the discovery of vitamins, let’s first look at François Magendie, the pioneer of nutrition research. This happened in the early 1800s when researchers were looking for a way to feed the poor. They discovered that you could get gelatin from bones and use it to make a broth, which the poor could eat. When this was refused because it didn’t look good, the Gelatin Commission was set up. It was up to them to investigate gelatin.

Magendie asked two questions:

  1. Are Nitrogen-Free Foods Nutritious?
  2. Is gelatin a complete source of protein?

This study showed that gelatin did not provide enough nutrients and was therefore not suitable for giving to the poor. At the end of the 19th century, researchers had concluded that four main nutrients were important for health: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and minerals.

History of vitamins: The vitamin theory

After several studies and various illnesses, Frederick Gowland Hopkins came up with the so-called “vitamin theory” in 1906. His theory stated that no animal could survive on fats, proteins, and carbohydrates alone. There was too much scurvy and rickets. There was talk of an “unexpected food” that was important for our health.
The vitamin theory may have been discovered earlier by Jean Baptiste Dumas. Between 1870 and 1871 he discovered that small children died from artificial milk. When they drank cow’s milk or mother’s milk, they survived. So there were considerably small particles in this milk that was necessary for a healthy life.
It was only in 1912 that vitamins were first referred to as “vitamins” for Casimir Funk. He thought this was an appropriate term for the previously mentioned “associated factors” in foods.

Fat-soluble vitamins

History Of Vitamins2Even before the term “vitamin” was coined, researchers discovered that there was a fat-soluble compound in milk that allowed creatures to live. In several studies with mice and rats, it was found that they continued to grow when fed food with milk, as opposed to the animals that were fed no milk.

Elmer McCollum is thought to have discovered vitamin A in 1913. However, this turned out to be a different fat-soluble substance. Later it turned out that vitamin A was not the only vitamin in butter and egg yolk, but also vitamins D and E are said to be present in them. These had not yet been discovered at the time.

Research into vitamin deficiencies

Even before vitamin A was officially discovered, researcher Masamichi Mori had made observations of a deficiency of this vitamin in 1,500 children in Japan. Many children there suffered from diarrhea and eye injuries. He discovered that this disease was not contagious, but was caused by a lack of fats. When these children took cod liver oil, their complaints stopped.
The work of all these researchers has made tremendous progress for today’s scientists. Thanks to their experiments and theories, we now know which vitamins exist and how the history of vitamins affects our health.

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