The benefits of eating certain foods for general health were recognized long before vitamins were discovered. The following are chronologically arranged time periods in which the vitamin enigma was revealed.
- The Egyptians knew that eating liver in the diet could help treat night blindness, a disease now known to be caused by a deficiency of vitamin A.
- During the long ocean voyages in the Renaissance, they resulted in prolonged periods without the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables which led to vitamin deficiencies characterized mostly by scurvy.
- In 1747, the Scottish surgeon James Lind discovered that citrus fruits helped prevent scurvy, a debilitating disease caused by improperly formed collagen, bleeding from wounds, gingivitis, severe pain and death.
- In 1884, in Japan, Takaki Kanehiro, a physician in the Japanese navy, noticed that beriberi only occurred in low-ranking sailors who ate nothing but rice (polished), as opposed to senior officers who ate a Western-oriented diet.
- Later in 1897 Christiaan Eijkman discovered that a diet with whole (unpolished) rice prevented the onset of beriberi.
- In 1912 Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk (Casimir Funk) suggested that these micronutrient complexes be named as vitamins (Vitamins) because of the biochemical structure of amines he isolated from vitamin B1. The term has remained in use to this day although it was later determined that biochemically not all vitamins are amines.
- In 1920 Sir Jack Cecil Drummon suggests omitting the last “e” in order to reduce the importance of the “amine” reference after researchers began to suspect that not all “vitamins” (especially vitamin A) have the “amine” component.
- In 1935 The first artificial vitamin C was synthesized in Zurich, and Linus Pauling in the 70’s popularized the intake of this vitamin as a prevention for colds and cancer.
- During the 90s, the era of finding and isolating certain types of vitamins began, along with understanding their biochemical functions, setting daily needs and commercial production.