Take Your Vitamins

Casimir Funk was born in Warsaw Poland when it was part of Russia. Schooling was difficult to obtain and largely ineffective. He eventually left Poland to continue his education. He received a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

Funk did research in Germany for 4 years but decided to leave Germany when his research results were disputed. Little did he know at the time, that his unexpected (and unaccepted) research results would lead to a medical breakthrough.

When Funk arrived in England, he was asked to investigate the causes of beriberi, a disease of the nerves that is very painful and can cause paralysis. At the time, it was known that a diet containing rice hulls could prevent beriberi, but the reason for this was not known.

Funk examined the rice hulls and discovered that there was a substance in the coating of rice that cured beriberi. This substance was removed when the rice was polished. This led him to theorize that there were substances in food that were essential to good health. He identified the substances that would cure beriberi, rickets, and scurvy.

Funk called these substances vital amines (amines are organic compounds derived from ammonia). The name vitamines was coined as a label for those substances. Later the letter e was dropped when it was found that not all of the substances came from ammonia.

Funk’s theorized the existence of substances that we now know as vitamins B1, B2, C, and D. Funk went on to study hormones, diabetes, ulcers, and cancer.

Imagine how one man’s curiosity and insight led to how we look at our health. Prior to Funk’s work, we tended to view our health as something best left to medical professionals. What Funk’s discovery of vitamins did was place many aspects of our health under our control. What essentially he did was to give us preventive measures to avoid diseases that did not need to occur.

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“By the proper intakes of vitamins and other nutrients and by following a fewer other healthy practices from youth or middle age on, you can, I believe extend your life and years of wellbeing by twenty-five or thirty-five years.” – Linus Pauling (Nobel Prize in both Chemistry and Race)

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