By Alex P. Vidal
“Faith and prayer are the vitamins of the soul; man cannot live in health without them.” –Mahalika Jackson
TO ward off flu, among other winter season-related diseases, we sought refuge in vitamins for support aside from the flu vaccine we received in December.
It is imperative that we also do a research and check the proper vitamins our body needs and what is best for our defense and protection.
Amid the advent and sudden mushrooming of food supplements that claim to help strengthen our immunity system, we may be wondering if vitamins are still essential in our day-to-day life.
For a start, where did they originate, how were they discovered, and why do we need them?
One of our most reliable sources on the subject matter is Alexander Fried’s High Points in Biology.
During the 18th century it was discovered that orange and lemon juice, taken in small quantities, would cure the disease scurvy, which sailors often contracted during long voyages.
It was gradually realized that this disease was caused by a lack of something in the diet, and was not the result of germs, poisons, or similar causes.
Later, beriberi and rickets were also found to be deficiency disease.
Many experiments performed about 1900 proved that there must be certain substances in food that scientists knew nothing about.
In one such experiment, an artificial mixture of all the nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals) that were then known to be present in milk was fed to mice.
The mice weakened and many died.
Mice fed on natural milk behaved and grew normally. This demonstrated that other things, in addition to the above nutrients, must be present in milk.
By 1910, most scientists agreed that foods contained unknown substances.
Dr. Casimir Funk, a Polish nutrition scientist, suggested in 1911 that these new substances be named vitamins (vita means “life”).
At first, scientists knew nothing about the chemicals of which vitamins were built, so they named them according to the letters of the alphabet (vitamin A,B,C, etc.).
A vitamin is a chemical substance needed in small amounts by a living thing in order to function properly.
We know today the exact chemical elements that make up many vitamins.
It is possible to test for the presence of some vitamins in foods, just as we test for other nutrients. Many are now manufactured and sold in pure form. We have learned much about the part played by vitamins in the functioning of the body.
During the World War I, Denmark exported nearly all of its butter. Margarine (without vitamin A added–it was unknown at the time) was substituted in the diet.
So many children became victims of a disease called dry eyes that the US government cut down its exports of butter and gave it instead to its own people.
The disease disappeared.
The food factor needed to prevent dry eyes was called vitamin A.
When experimental animals are tested on diets completely lacking in vitamin A, they acquire the disease dry eyes. Restoring vitamin A to their diet helps the condition.
Why is vitamin A needed?
According to health authorities, it helps fight off infections (colds, etc.) by keeping the membranes of the body in good condition; it prevents dry eyes (xerophthalmia); and prevents certain types of night blindness.
Vitamin A deficiency results in xerophthalmia.
The tear glands dry up so that the eyeball cannot be washed and kept moist.
Infection and permanent blindness may result.
It will also result in night blindness, where it is difficult for the eye to adjust itself to a change from bright light to darkness.
Example: When a person with night blindness enters a darkened movie, it may be a long time before he can make out subjects.
Normal eyes begin to see properly within a few minutes.
Dairy products (butter, cream, milk, and eggs), liver, yellow or green vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, parsley).
The body manufactures Vitamin A from a chemical called carotene which is present in the vegetables just mentioned.
The discovery of vitamin B1 (Thiamin) is due largely to the work of Dr. Christiaan Eijkman, a Dutch physician.
He was greatly affected by the sight of many of the natives of Java dying of disease called beriberi (meaning, “I cannot, I cannot”).
It began with muscular weakness and ended with paralysis of the arms and legs, and death.
No one could cure it.
One day, Dr. Eijkman noticed that some chickens were staggering drunkenly about.
In fact, they were acting very much like natives who had beriberi.
Eijkaman’s investigations showed that these chickens had been fed a diet of polished rice.
When brown rice (rice with the outer covering on it) was substituted in their food, the chickens quickly recovered their health.
The same wonderful results were obtained when brown rice was substituted in the food of the natives. The cause of this startling cure was called vitamin B, present in the outer covering of the rice.
It was later shown that vitamin B consisted of several vitamins; the one which cured beriberi was then called vitamin B.
Later, the American chemist R.R. Williams discovered the exact chemicals that make up vitamin B, now called thiamin.
Vitamin B1 is needed to help our body oxidize starches and sugars and to stimulate appetite and vigor.
Vitamin B1 deficiency results in lack of appetite; appearance of various digestive disorders; showing of nervous upsets; beriberi. Vitamin B1 is found in whole cereals and grains (not refined), yeast, pork, eggs, liver, legumes, milk. Vitamin B is stored in the human body.
Like vitamin B1, Vitamin B2 helps the body oxidize nutrients to provide energy for the body.
Vitamin deficiency can cause skin trouble around the mouth, nose, and cheeks. Vitamin B2 has same sources with Vitamin B2 except the cereals.
An English doctor named James Lind experimented (1757) with the treatment of scurvy aboard his ship. As was usual in those days, many of the ship’s crew had come down with scurvy.
Livid divided his patients into groups and tried a different method of treatment on each group.
The group that received lemons and oranges made startling recoveries.
The British government then ordered that all sailors, while at sea, be given daily rations of lemon juice. Although lemons were used, the juice was called lime juice; hence the name “limey.” In 1932m ascorbic acid (vitamin C) was separated out in pure form, and in 1933 a method of manufacturing it was discovered.
Vitamin C is needed to build strong blood vessels (especially in the gums and joints).
It is needed to keep the parts of the teeth just under the white enamel, in healthy condition.
Vitamin C deficiency will cause bleeding of gums, poor tooth formation, sore and stiff joints, and finally, in bad cases, scurvy.
Sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits and their juices (lemons, oranges, grapefruit), tomatoes, cabbage, bananas.
Vitamin D is an unusual one because it is not found in many foods, as are other vitamins.
However, we have present in our skin certain substances which the sun helps to change into vitamin D.
Those of us who haven’t the opportunity to be out in the sun much, may use ultraviolet lamps to stimulate the body to produce vitamin D.
Scientists have also learned how to put vitamin D into certain foods, such as milk and bread.
Foods to which vitamin D has been added by exposure to suitable rays are known as irradiated foods.
Vitamin D is needed to help the body make proper use of the minerals calcium and phosphorus, which aid in building sound bones and teeth.
Vitamin D deficiency results in the disease called rickets, which shows itself in bowed legs, soft bones, and bad teeth.
Vitamin E has been known and recognized for almost 80 years, yet its action in humans is still much of a mystery.
Rats and mice must have this vitamin in order to have young.
Its need in humans is not proved, however.
In rats and mice, a lack of vitamin E results in sterility (inability to have young).
Wheat germ oil, meat, dairy products, lettuce, peanut oil are good sources of vitamin E.
Vitamin K is needed to help the clotting of blood under certain conditions of excess bleeding.
Vitamin K deficiency may result in severe loss of blood.
Green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, and alfalfa are good sources of vitamin K.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)