The Discovery of Vitamins

The discoveries of the effective vitamins have upon human health developed further around 1905 when an English doctor, William Fletcher, experimented on asylum inmates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Beriberi was a nutritional deficiency disease common in the rice cultures of Asia back then. Fletcher believed that special nutrients contained in the husk of the rice could prevent beriberi. Fletcher showed that nearly 25 percent of those who received polished rice (white rice) devoid of B vitamins developed beriberi, while less than 2 percent of the 123 patients who received unpolished rice (brown rice) containing B vitamins developed beriberi. His experiments proved his theory, and this led to the discovery of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and other B vitamins.

In 1912, biochemist Casimir Funk demonstrated that vitamins were vital for good health. He formulated the hypothesis of vitamin deficiency diseases, which started that a lack of a particular vitamin could cause illness. He isolated the active substances in the husks of unpolished rice that prevented beriberi, and coined the term “vit-amine”, which he defined as important substances in food that are vital for life – vita meaning “life” and amine from nitrogen compounds found in the thiamine (vitamin B1) isolated from rice husks. (The nitrogen compounds were thought to be similar to amines, but the chemical parallel was later disproved). However, the name and concept of vitamins captured the public’s imagination, and later the “e” was dropped and the term vitamin was adopted.

The year 1913, however, marked a significant and simultaneously positive and negative turning point in the history of nutritional sciences, when an influential group of scientists turned their attention to finding, and isolating the vitamin factors in food.

Experiments at Yale University determined that butter contained a factor necessary for natural growth and development. This factor became known as fat-soluble vitamin A. Its chemical character was established in 1933, and a fractionated form of it was synthesized in 1947. Other vitamin discoveries soon followed. Cow’s milk was found to contain growth-promoting factors, which include the water-soluble multiple vitamin B family: Before the 1930s it was only known as “B” vitamins; now we know it as the “B-complex” family of multiple B vitamins.

In 1928, recognizing nutrition as a newly emerging specialty within the biological sciences, a group of visionary American biochemists and physiologist formed the world’s first scientific society focused on nutrition. All of its founding members were actively engaged in teaching and writing textbooks and academic articles defining the new discipline, and their new “Nutrition Society” brought much attention to the use of vitamins.

In the 1930s, a flurry of scientific discovery demonstrated the biochemical functions of various vitamins and established the body’s requirements for them. Since then, forms of vitamins have been widely available in thousands of processed foods produced on a massive commercial scale. These synthetic vitamins are fortified into many of our breads, cereals, pastas, and other grain products, as well as many dairy products, drinks and desserts. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find any fortified food product that does not contain some form of synthetic vitamins.

Although this early scientific community made many valuable contributions in understanding the role of individual vitamins in health, the process of identifying and isolating vitamins led to an incorrect assumption (now shared for nearly a century by a majority of nutritional scientists) that vitamins are as effective and health-promoting in their isolated state as in their natural whole-food state.

These scientists meant well, but they did not realize that their focus and work would help create a flawed foundation upon which the field of nutritional science is built. They simply lacked the understanding that a vitamin’s efficacy depended on its cofactors, which are only present when the vitamin is in its naturally occurring state in whole foods, or in the supplements made from them.

In spite of the abundance of nutritional knowledge, scientists still lack an ability to observe and understand how nutrients work. Quantum science has provided data demonstrating that multitudes of cofactors exist within and around these vital nutritional structures (vitamins) that are essential to its correct functioning. These microscopic and often invisible factors may be as nutritionally important as the vitamin itself. Even at the most basic level, vitamins and minerals will never perform fully without their cofactors. This is why isolated, manmade chemical supplements do not provide the nutrition the body requires. Sadly, they can also weaken the immune system, potentially fostering an environment for disease, which is why we refer to them as toxic.

Fortunately today more people are embracing a natural lifestyle that includes organic whole foods and naturally occurring whole-food supplements as the best path to health and happiness.

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