By Annell St. Charles, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N.
In 1912, Casimir Funk, a Polish biochemist, isolated a concentrate from rice polishings that cured polyneuritis in pigeons. He called the substance a “vital amine” or “vitamine” because it appeared to be vital for life. There was widespread interest in eradicating several prevalent diseases at the time, and, in an article published in 1912, Funk postulated the existence of four substances: one that prevented beriberi (“antiberiberi”), one that prevented scurvy (“antiscorbutic”), one that prevented pellagra (“antipellagric”), and one that prevented rickets (“antirachitic”). Funk was one of several researchers in the early 20th century investigating these and other substances and their connection to health.
Epidemiologists, physicians, physiologists, and chemists all worked on this puzzle through the mid-20th century; the work was slow and onerous and plagued by many setbacks and contradictions. Chemists were the ones ultimately able to identify and isolate the substances we call vitamins, leading to the development of synthetic forms that are available for wide consumption. The proposed benefits and risks of vitamins and vitamin supplementation continue to be hot topics today.
The vitamins needed by the body for growth and normal development are:
- Vitamin A
- B Vitamins (vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, and others)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Vitamins are divided into two groups:
- Water-soluble are easily absorbed by the gut and stored only minimally. These include Vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin,niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, B6, folic acid, B12, and others.
- Fat-soluble are stored in body tissues and excess accumulation can be toxic. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins.
Macrominerals & Trace Elements
These essential inorganic elements are categorized by abundance:
- Macro-minerals are present in the body over 100 mg: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfur.
- Trace elements are present in microgram or low-milligram amounts: iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, molybdenum, silicon, nickel, boron, arsenic, tin, and vanadium.