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Vitamins Celerate 100 Years in 2012
This year, 2012, is the 100th anniversary of the first-ever use of the term “vitamine”; later shortened to vitamin.  That word vitamine, referring to “vital amine”, was first suggested by Polish scientist Casimir (Kazimierz) Funk in a scientific journal a century ago this year to describe the complex that he had isolated from rice bran.  Vitamine was later shortened to vitamin in 1920 after additional vitamins were discovered that did not contain amines, a chemical designation for certain organic compounds including thiamine (vitamin B1), amino acids, and TMG. 

Vitamins are defined today as “any of various organic substances that are essential in minute quantities to the nutrition of most animals and some plants, act especially as coenzymes and precursors of coenzymes in the regulation of metabolic processes but do not provide energy or serve as building units, and are present in natural foodstuffs or sometimes produced within the body.” –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The initial discovery of most vitamins is attributed to others, including Japanese scientist Umetaro Suzuki, who discovered a thiamine complex in rice bran and dubbed it aberic acid; later changed to Orizanin.  But the German translation of Suzuki’s work somehow omitted his claim of discovery and he missed getting widespread public recognition for it. 

By contrast, Casimir Funk’s work was treated as an important discovery.  He isolated thiamine, coined the term vitamine, and decades later was the first to determine thiamine’s chemical structure. He was also the first scientist to isolate nicotinic acid; better known as niacin and vitamin B3. 

Without the scientific contribution of Casimir Funk, and his role in naming vitamins, today we might all be taking dietary supplements that are instead called something other than vitamins.  (Did you take your orizanins today?)   

We can be grateful to Casimir Funk and all of the vitamin researchers over the past century for their important contributions to human nutrition.