Casimir Funk: The scientist who gave us the phrase ‘vitamin’

2NGGYHG Polish-born American biochemist Dr. Casimir Funk, who coined the term vitamin, is shown at work in his new research laboratory on W. 64th Street in New York City on Jan. 12, 1953. (AP Photo)

Casimir Funk in his laboratory in 1954

Related Press/Alamy

Casimir Funk, the Polish biochemist who coined the time period “nutritional vitamins” for the very important class of molecules that assist hold us alive, is the topic of in the present day’s Google doodle.

There have been theories of how meals impacts well being for millennia. In historical Greece and Rome, early physicians invented “humoral” idea, which said that meals should have the suitable steadiness of moist, dry, cold and hot to maintain the physique’s 4 important humours – hearth, earth, blood and phlegm – in test. A lot later, physicians made extra distinct associations, such because the statement that consuming citrus fruits like lemons helped to forestall the illness scurvy in sailors on lengthy voyages.

Within the late nineteenth century, scientists have been attempting to determine the reason for beriberi illness, which might have an effect on an individual’s nervous or cardiovascular system and is in the present day generally known as a vitamin B1 deficiency. In 1897, Christiaan Eijkman revealed a examine based mostly on experiments in chickens, proposing that diets containing brown rice have been protecting in opposition to beriberi, in contrast with these consisting of solely white rice.

Casimir Funk learn Eijkman’s paper and set himself the duty of discovering the chemical compound that gave brown rice its protecting properties. In 1912, Funk managed to isolate a chemical that he thought was accountable and located it contained a attribute nitrogen compound referred to as an amine, so he named it a significant amine, or vitamine. When scientists finally realised that nutritional vitamins didn’t essentially must comprise an amine group, they dropped the ultimate “e”.

Funk instructed that comparable compounds may exist for a lot of different “deficiency ailments”, as he referred to as them, writing: “We are going to communicate of a beriberi and scurvy vitamine, which implies a substance stopping that particular illness.” Funk additionally appropriately instructed that nutritional vitamins existed that prevented the ailments pellagra and rickets.

The compound that Funk remoted and dubbed an “anti beriberi issue” was what we now name vitamin B3, or niacin, which doesn’t truly forestall beriberi. Two years earlier, Japanese scientist Umetaro Suzuki remoted vitamin B1 from brown rice and appropriately recognized its position in stopping beriberi. Nonetheless, his work was revealed in a Japanese journal and the primary Western translation, in German, failed to notice that it was a brand new discovery.

Within the 35 years after Funk’s preliminary discovering, scientists found the remainder of the nutritional vitamins, which quantity 13 in whole, together with eight sorts of vitamin B and nutritional vitamins A, C, D, E and Ok. Funk continued working with nutritional vitamins, and for pharmaceutical corporations, for the remainder of his profession. He produced the primary extensively used vitamin focus within the US, referred to as OSCODAL, which comprises liquid vitamin A and D.

Whereas nutritional vitamins are recognised as serving to to forestall sure ailments, their use as dietary supplements is nonetheless debated by scientists. A latest meta-analysis discovered there isn’t good proof that dietary supplements and nutritional vitamins shield in opposition to most cancers or coronary heart illness for most individuals.


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