A brief history of Vitamins…..

Where did the word “Vitamin” come from?

The word “vitamine,” is a combination word made up by Polish scientist Casimir Funk from the English words, “vital” and “amine”, meaning “amine of life”.

Casmimir Funk reasoned in 1912 that certain food factors that prevented diseases like beriberi and perhaps other similar dietary-deficiency diseases might be chemical “amines”, which are chemical derivatives of ammonia. This later proved incorrect for the chemical class that these special nutrients really belonged to, and the word was shortened to:


The ancient Egyptians knew that to cure night blindness – you feed somebody liver. We now know that this is because liver has lots of Vitamin A.

A Scottish Surgeon named James Lind also found in 1749 that he could treat scurvy by feeding sailers Lemons and Limes (hence the word “Limey” to describe members of the British Royal Navy). The component in Lemons and limes that treated scurvy was later found to be Vitamin C.

This led to a more scientific process of eliminating nutrients from rats to see what diseases they would get. It was soon discovered through this process that Rickets was caused by a lack of Vitamin D.

Beriberi, a nervous system disease, was discovered about a 100 years ago to be due to Thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency. This was noticed when Japanese Navy Sailers ate a diet of polished rice – the polishing appeared to remove Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) from the rice.

There are two kinds of Vitamins: Water soluble and fat soluble.

The four fat soluble vitamins are “A, D, E, and K”.

The nine water soluble vitamins are the 8 B vitamins and Vitamin C.

Fat soluble vitamins can be dangerous if you take too much of them, because they can accumulate in the body. Water soluble vitamins don’t build up in the body and can be easily excreted in the urine.

Very, very few people in modern society suffer from deficiencies of Vitamin A, E and K.

However, an astonishing number of people appear to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency.

THIS IS IMPORTANT! Vitamin D is very important to your health, and there is a good chance that you may not have enough of it! I’m going to address Vitamin D in a separate post shortly!

Vitamins: what are they and where did they come from?

Dr. John Fernandes

B.Sc., M.Sc., M.D., LMCC, CCFP, FCPC Clinical Lecturer, University of Calgary I am a Physician with over a decade of experience in my own Private Clinic as well as a full admitting Physician to a Tertiary Care Hospital in Calgary. Married with two daughters that both want to be Physicians as well. Hobbies include skiing, golf, mountain biking and Karate.

4 thoughts on “Vitamins: what are they and where did they come from?

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