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The Hunger Project Bolen Report
Ohm Society
Short History of Vitamins Print E-mail
by Ron Kennedy, M.D., Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Kennedy From about 1500 BC it was known that various diseases could be treated with specific foods. In 1880 Christian Eijkman produced vitamin deficiency conditions in animals on an experimental basis and then reversed the condition with an appropriate feeding regimen. Frederick Hopkins said in 1906 that foods contain a small amount of "growth factors" needed to sustain growth, and life itself. The general category of "vitamins" was defined as (1) substances found to be absolutely necessary for life (i.e., "vital") and which (2) the body cannot synthesize on its own. In 1912 Cashmir Funk named these growth factors "vitamines" because they were required for life ("vita") and because he found that thiamine isolated from rice husks contained nitrogen (called an "amine" - i.e., containing a nitrogen bound to three hydrogen atoms -NH3).

Funk's original term "vitamine" was changed to "vitamin" when many scientists identified, purified, and synthesized all of the vitamins and discovered they did not all contain nitrogen. In the 1930s a flurry of scientific discovery demonstrated the biochemical functions of the vitamins and established the body's requirements for them. From that time to the present vitamins have been commercially produced and made available to the public to the chagrin of the pharmaceutical industry.

Since 1955, and up to the present, research into the functions of vitamins has shown that some go beyond the simple prevention of deficiency diseases. For example, niacin in pharmacological doses can lower blood cholesterol levels. Many vitamins have roles as coenzymes and in regulation of gene expression.  

Vitamins were given letters to go with their chemical names to simplify discussion about them. Not many people know what to say about "d-alpha tocopheryl succinate" but most people have some idea of what "vitamin E" is all about. When the "B" names were being handed out, several substances were give "B" names, which turned out not to be vitamins after all. Therefore, you have heard of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 but not 4, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Those latter substances lie in the scrap heap of nutritional history.

So a vitamin is a substance which the body cannot synthesize on its own, yet which is necessary for life. Therefore, by definition, it is necessary to obtain all vitamins from outside the body. If a molecule can be synthesized in the body, it is not a vitamin. The single exception to this rule is vitamin D which can be synthesized in the skin, but only when exposed to sunlight and Niacin (B3) which itself can be synthesized in the liver in small amounts. Technically these are "conditional nutrients," but we will continue to call them vitamins.

There are thirteen vitamins in all, divided into the four fat soluble (A, D, E and K) and the nine water soluble (eight B vitamins and vitamin C). The fat soluble vitamins can be stored in the body and do not need to be ingested every day. Because they can be stored, it is possible to store too much and thus become toxic on these vitamins. The water soluble vitamins cannot be stored, with the exceptions of B12 and Folic Acid and must be consumed frequently for optimal health. However, these vitamins can be taken in large amounts without toxicity, because they are not stored and are easily eliminated.

"Nutritional supplements," which includes vitamins, is a term applied to substances extracted from foods or manufactured in the laboratory, to be presented to the body in concentrations which are not to be found in foods. The difference between those vitamins extracted from food sources and those manufactured by chemical processes in the laboratory is an important distinction because vitamins manufactured in the laboratory, using artificial synthetic techniques, come without trace substances which make them work at their highest potential. They also come in the dextro- and levo- forms (so-called "right" and "left handed" molecules, which are the mirror images of each other), and the body can only use the levo- forms.

Some people think that if you consume a healthy diet, you have nothing to gain from vitamin supplements. If you are a young adult (under 24), and you eat a diet of fresh, raw, organically grown complex carbohydrates in great variety (with a balance of protein), and never stray from that diet, in my view, you have little to gain from supplements. However, if you are an older adult (24 or over), or if you sometimes stray from that kind of diet, you have a lot to gain from supplements. It is true that you can survive without supplements, even if you are on a diet of average nutritional value. However, I expect that you want more from life than mere survival. You want absolute health and vitality.

Even at that, it is still necessary to be very well educated about each supplement you take or you will be wasting your money on supplements you do not need. Also, if you are not very well educated about the purpose of each supplement, you will forget to take them — and supplements sitting in a bottle on your shelf give no benefit to your body.

Each vitamin should become a personal friend of yours. Since there are only thirteen of them this is not an impossible task. Here is a good place to supplement your knowledge: Ultra Longevity Formula.

The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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