The year 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of vitamins. In 1912, a scientist named Casimir Funk coined the term “vitamins” to describe bioactive substances essential for human and animal health. In the years that followed, a series of scientific breakthroughs were made that identified 13 vitamins and explored many of their functions in the body.
The last century has witnessed remarkable discoveries and research that have advanced understanding of vitamins and their vital role in health and wellness.
In 1912, the Polish biochemist Casimir Funk isolated the first vitamin (B1) from rice bran. At that time, European rice hulling machines were brought to Asia to process rice.
However, the hulling process stripped the rice of its vital nutritional elements. As a consequence, new health problems began emerging among the people and animals who relied upon rice as a staple food.
Symptoms included weakness, fatigue, and as the condition progressed, apathia, polyneuropathy, paralysis, cardiomyopathy and heart failure. This dietary deficiency disease is now known as beriberi.
Funk realized that a compound inside of the rice bran that had been removed in the hulling process could in fact cure patients. He gave the substance he discovered the name “vitamine” — a combination of “vita” (Latin for “life”) and “amine” (= nitrogen compound).
For 100 years the word “vitamin” has been an umbrella term for a group of essential, organic micronutrients that play a range of vital roles in the body.
The majority of vitamins cannot be directly produced by the body and must therefore be obtained through dietary means (exceptions: niacin and vitamin D).
If vitamin intakes are insufficient, it can result in serious health problems. Despite extensive knowledge now available on the crucial role of vitamins in the body, vitamin inadequacies are not yet merely the topic of history books: even today, billions of people do not have sufficient intakes of essential micronutrients compared to recommendations.
In many developing countries, people do not have access to vitamin-rich foods, which leads to high mortality rates and serious health problems.
However, even closer to home, in the world of abundant and modern lifestyles, inadequate vitamin intakes are also surprisingly common.
DSM works in partnership with other organizations, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), to help close up the gaps in essential micronutrient intakes and promote the essential role of micronutrients in promoting health.
Vitamins are also vital for animal nutrition and health. A diet rich in vitamins and essential micronutrients is vital for animal production and ensures that animals remain healthy throughout their lifecycle, which is central to the sustainability and efficiency of the food chain as well as to the welfare of the animals themselves.
In a world facing growing global demand for animal protein, DSM works with leading institutions worldwide researching and developing optimum animal nutrition, and it delivers essential vitamin premix solutions to its customers to support the increasing demand for animal protein, as well as to benefit the health and sustainability of the food chain as a whole.
Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer, Senior Vice-President Nutrition Science & Advocacy at DSM commented: “At DSM, we are proud to have been part of the vitamin journey for human nutrition and health, animal nutrition and health, and personal care, and we are committed to further scientific advancements in these fields for generations to come.”