Five Great Vitamin Mysteries
abridged from the Five Great Vitamin Mysteries by Marvin Martin

Overview
  • 1. The Case of the Night-blind Fishermen - vitamin A
  • 2. The Case of the Wobbling Hens - vitamin B1, thiamin
  • 3. The Case of the Volunteer Victims - vitamin B3, niacin
  • 4. The Case of the Pine Needle Soup - vitamin C, ascorbic acid
  • 5. The Case of the Invisible Rays - vitamin D
  • Vitamin enrichment
  • Conclusions

 

The Great Vitamin Mystery

Most everyone likes a good detective story. It is fun to match wits with master sleuths as they uncover clues, unravels mysteries, and tracks down killers. If you like mysteries, you will enjoy the science of nutrition.

Food scientists have unraveled one baffling puzzle after another as they have tracked down killers more ruthless than any the mystery writer has ever created. A clever detective acting fast can stop a criminal before he reaches his next victim. A biochemist, working in a laboratory, might track down a killer in time to save countless thousands of lives.

Marvin Martin

1. The Case of the Night-blind Fishermen - vitamin A

In Denmark during World War I, many children developed eye trouble which often resulted in blindness. Eyeballs became dry, the tear glands did not act, the eyelids became inflamed and swollen and finally, blindness resulted.

cover imageDr. C. E. Bloch, a Danish physician, was working in the government charity hospitals at this time. He set to work to find a cure for this terrible malady that was handicapping the children of his country. In his search, he came across a paper written by an American scientist, Dr. E. V. McCollum of the University of Wisconsin. Dr. McCollum described diet experiments he had conducted on white laboratory rats. Though he fed the animals what scientists at that time considered to be a good diet, they became sick and ceased to grow. Among other things, they developed a serious condition of the eyes. Dr. McCollum added a variety of foods to the diets of the rats. When butterfat was added to the animals' food supplies, the health improved. If it was added in time, the eye conditions began to clear up. Butterfat seemed to contain something necessary to the health of the rats. Finally, after many months of research, this special substance in butterfat was determined. It was vitamin A, the first individual vitamin to be identified.

Dr. Bloch knew that he had stumbled upon something important when he found Dr. McCollum's report. Because Denmark, at that time, was selling all of her butter to England, there was definitely a lack of butterfat in the diets of Danish children. They were living mainly on skim milk. The doctor added whole milk and butter to the diets of his young patients. In a short time many of them were cured. Following the war, the Danish government limited the amount of dairy foods that could be exported. As a result, the eye disease has practically disappeared in that country.

Fishermen working off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador encountered another type of eye ailment. All day long they would work the seas, casting their nets and pulling in hauls of fish. Yet as darkness settled on the water, something strange happened to them. Their eyes were unable to accustom themselves to the dim light. The fishermen suffered from night blindness.

We have all experienced the temporary loss of sight that results when we go suddenly from bright sunlight into a darkened room. Yet we know that in a short while our eyes will accustom themselves to the darkness and we will be able to see again. But the Newfoundlanders were not so fortunate. Their eyes did not adjust.

A few lucky fishermen stumbled upon a cure for their handicap. They discovered that by eating fish livers or drinking fish liver oils that would cause their night vision to return. Quite by chance they had come across one of the richest sources of vitamin A, the same substance in butterfat.

Earlier, in a laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Dr. McCollum and his associates had discovered still another important source of the vitamin. In the College of Agriculture at the University, Dr. McCollum was trying to determine the best diet for dairy cattle. He tested wheat, oats, corn and a combination of the three. The cattle fed wheat and oats grew thin. Many became blind. The young calves died. Meanwhile, the corn group grew sleek and plump. Next, McCollum was given permission to try a similar experiment with laboratory rats. These animals did not thrive on any of the grains, not even the corn. Yet when he added green leaves to their diets, the rats grew healthy. Dr. McCollum was later to realize something that had not occurred to him before. The cattle fed a corn diet had been eating the leaves and husks of the corn as well as the kernels. It was the green leaves that supplied them with vitamin A, the missing substance their diet required.

In many parts of the world, people today eat diets lacking in vitamin A. Night blindness and other eye conditions resulting from a deficiency of vitamin A are common throughout Asia, the Middle East, India, Malaysia, and parts of Africa, South America, and Latin America. Even in the United States studies have shown that many of our people have diets that are low in vitamin A. This need not be so. A quart of whole milk a day supplies a large part of the daily vitamin A recommended for children and young adults. The rest can be obtained from other dairy foods such as butter, cheese, cream, and ice cream; organ meats such as liver; and eggs. Dark-green, leafy vegetables and deep-yellow fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, peaches, cantaloupe, and apricots contain a yellow pigment called carotene. The human body is able to change carotene chemically to vitamin A.

Today we know that vitamin A aids in the building of body cells. It is essential for the growth of children and the development of babies before birth. It is needed for bone growth and healthy tooth structure. Vitamin A maintains the normal structure and functioning of the membranes which line the nose, mouth, ears, lungs, digestive tract and other parts of the body. As we already know, it helps our eyes see in conditions of dim light, and it prevents certain eye diseases which could lead to blindness.

Vitamin A is one of the vitamins that is stored in our bodies. For this reason, it is possible for a person to get too much vitamin A by taking it in too high a potency. Too much vitamin A, although it is a rare occurrence, can cause sickness. Adults may suffer from weakness, headaches and vomiting. Young children may experience skin disease, loss of hair and a speeding of bone growth which causes pain. Recovery from these conditions takes a long time. A well-balanced diet will normally supply all the vitamin A needed daily.

2. The Case of the Wobbling Hens - vitamin B1, thiamin

How do you measure a hero? Perhaps you would agree that a man who saves the life of another is a hero. Suppose that man saved not one life, but thousands. That surely would classify him as a hero, wouldn't it? Christiaan Eijkman was such a man. So was Dr. K. Takaki, a highly ranked medical officer in the Japanese navy.

During the 1880's, the Japanese navy was attacked by a ruthless enemy. Silent and unseen, the killer slipped aboard ships and left his victims paralyzed and dying. This menace was no stranger to the peoples of Asia. For years this killer had been known by the name beriberi.

Beriberi is a serious disease of the nervous system which was known in the Orient as early as 2600 B.C. The word beriberi means "I cannot." Victims of the disease cannot move easily. Feet and legs become paralyzed. Leg and arm muscles wither and there may be swelling of the legs. Often the heart becomes enlarged. Extreme cases result in death.

In the early 1880's, beriberi was running rampant among the Japanese sailors. The fleet was kept at a strength of 5000 men, yet every year between 1000 and 2000 sailors were afflicted with the disease. Dr. Takaki decided to wage war against the dread killer.

Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch had recently proved the germ theory of disease. Medical people around the world then blamed microbes for all diseases. Yet the Japanese ships were new and clean. Dr. Takaki made even greater efforts to improve sanitation aboard the ships. But beriberi raged on and the toll was rising.

Several questions perplexed the doctor. Why was beriberi more common in Oriental cities than it was in the villages? Why did it never strike British ships? Why was it found only among rice-eating people? Takaki began to suspect that something was lacking in the rice diet of his people. In 1882 he was given permission to conduct an experiment.

Two ships were equipped for a 9-month voyage over the same route through the South Seas. There were 276 men aboard each ship. One ship was supplied with the traditional rice diet of the Japanese sailor, clean white rice that had gone through the milling process. Aboard the other ship, sailors were fed the same diet that the British navy supplied its men. These sailors received less rice and more whole grain barley. Milk, meat and vegetables were added to their diets. Aboard the ship with the Oriental rice diet, there were 169 cases of beriberi and 25 men died. On the other vessel, there were only 14 cases of the disease. It was discovered that all 14 men had refused to eat the British diet. They had smuggled along the food to which they were accustomed, rice!

Takaki was placed in charge of the diet of the Japanese navy. He added wheat and bread, meat, fish, vegetables and milk, and decreased the intake of rice. The incidence of beriberi among the sailors dropped at a spectacular rate. Dr. Takaki was convinced that beriberi was a nutritional disease, but others at that time preferred to hold to the germ theory.

About this time, a Dutch physician named Christiaan Eijkman was working in a prison hospital on the crowded island of Java in the East Indies. Dr. Eijkman was also interested in finding a cure for beriberi. One thing in particular puzzled him about the disease. Wherever the colonization of Dutch rule had extended its influence the incidence of beriberi was high. Yet in the native villages, without colonial influence and where sanitation conditions were poor, the disease did not appear. Influenced by the work of Pasteur and Koch and their germ theory, Eijkman searched for the beriberi "germ." In fact, he thought that he had found such a germ. He injected the germ into the blood streams of several chickens. After a few days, the chickens began to walk with a wobble, just like beriberi victims. The doctor thought for awhile he had isolated the cause of the disease, but he hadn't, yet.

Soon Eijkman noticed that all of the chickens were wobbling when they walked, including those that had not received the injection. And then the chickens began to recover with no help from him, while the doctor's human patients continued to die. It was then that he made a vital discovery. A change had recently been ordered in the diet of the chickens. They had been switched from polished white rice to the cheaper brown unmilled variety. This change in diet seemed to have brought about their recovery. Thrilled with his discovery, Dr. Eijkman set up an experiment. He fed white rice to one group of chickens and brown rice to another group. The chickens living on the milled white rice contracted beriberi. Those living on the unhusked brown rice remained healthy. When the ailing chickens were returned to a diet of brown rice, they were cured almost overnight. Dr. Eijkman had produced a vitamin deficiency disease in an animal and demonstrated its cure.

Dr. Eijkman wrote a report of his findings, but communications being what they were, some time elapsed before his discovery was generally known. Several years later, members of the U.S. Army Medical Corps had not yet read his report. As a result, a group of Americans unwittingly caused hundreds of deaths in the Philippines. Assigned to a prison hospital, they replaced the "dirty" brown rice with white polished rice. Shortly thereafter, the number of beriberi patients in the hospital had risen sharply. After a few months there were even more cases and many people had died. Then one of the American doctors read Eijkman's report. The patients were returned to a brown rice diet. Immediately, the incidence of new beriberi cases dwindled. Clearly there was something in the brown husk of the rice kernel which prevented beriberi.

It was a Polish scientist, Casimir Funk, who named this mysterious substance. Working at the Lister Institute in London in 1911, he sifted through hundreds of pounds of rice outer coatings. Removing impurities, he ended up with about 6 ounces of white powder. A tiny portion of this powder could cure a pigeon suffering from beriberi. He called this substance vitamine meaning a chemical substance vital to life. Funk had discovered an impure form of vitamin B1. The word vitamine was later changed to vitamin. Known for some time as vitamin B, the antiberiberi substance was renamed vitamin B1 when it was discovered that there were other vitamins in the B family. Today vitamin B1 is commonly known by its chemical name, thiamin.

Thiamin is very important in human diets. The best source of thiamin is pork. In addition, other meats, fish, poultry and eggs; enriched or whole grain bread and cereals; dried legumes such as peas and beans; and potatoes, broccoli and collards are important sources of this vitamin.

3. The Case of the Volunteer Victims- vitamin B3, niacin

History holds a prominent place for men like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon. But who can name the countless thousands of "little people" who won Alexander's battles, spread Caesar's power and conquered Napoleon's empire? The achievements of one great people are made possible by innumerable acts of individual heroism by forgotten and unsung heroes. The science of nutrition has its unsung heroes also. Their collective deeds are remembered, but their individual names are long forgotten.

There is a disease called pellagra which was, and still is in many parts of the world, a serious threat to the health of society. The disease begins with a reddening of the skin resembling sunburn, especially on parts of the body not covered by clothing. This redness develops later into dark, rough, red or brown blotches. The digestive system is weakened and there are symptoms which include indigestion, diarrhea and soreness and irritation of the tongue. The body becomes very thin. In severe cases, the nervous system is disturbed. Insanity and death may result.

Pellagra is mentioned in medical writings dating back at least to 1735. It was described by a court physician of Spain's King Phillip V named Don Gasper Casal. The Italian scientist, Jujati, wrote about the same disease in 1740. It was named by another Italian scientist, Frapoli, in 1771. In Italian pelle agra means "rough skin." The disease was prevalent in many parts of Europe for 200 years. Pellagra developed in the United States around the time of the Civil War and reached serious proportions in the South during the early 1900's.

In 1915, Dr. Joseph Goldberger of the United States Public Health Service was confronted with an epidemic of pellagra in the southern states. Over 10,000 Americans had died. After searching for two long years for the "germ" that caused pellagra, Goldberger had become convinced the disease was not caused by a germ. In his investigations. Dr. Goldberger learned that several southern hospitals many of the patients had the disease, but doctors, nurses and other hospital workers who handled the pellagra victims, and even slept in the wards with them, remained healthy. It seemed unlikely the disease could be contagious. Then Dr. Goldberger made a valuable discovery. The staffs of the hospitals did not eat the same food as the patients. In many instances they ate a far richer and more varied diet.

Dr. Goldberger became convinced that a poor diet was the cause of pellagra. He was able to wipe out the disease in a Mississippi orphanage by adding milk, meat and eggs to the children's diets of corn pone, salt pork, hominy and molasses.

Dr. Goldberger then went to the governor of Mississippi for permission to conduct an experiment on one of the state's prison farms. Twelve convicts volunteered to participate in the experiment in return for a promise of a pardon from the governor if they survived! Goldberger fed his subjects an experimental diet of cornmeal and grits, cornstarch, white flour, sweet potatoes, cane syrup and sugar, pork fat, and small amounts of greens, collards and cabbage. These were the foods on which many poor southerners lived. After 6 months, 6 of the 12 had symptoms of pellagra. No one else on the prison farm did. These 12 men had taken quite a gamble to win back their freedom and to advance medical science. Their names have been forgotten, but their deed is remembered.

In 1937, Dr. Conrad Elvehjem and associates at the University of Wisconsin demonstrated the effectiveness of nicotinic acid (niacin) in treating pellagra. Just 30 milligrams of the pure nicotinic acid cured a pellagra-stricken dog. Shortly thereafter niacin was shown to be effective in curing pellagra in humans.

A question continued to perplex the scientists. It was discovered that milk did not contain much niacin, yet infants who lived on milk never got pellagra. Why, they wondered, was this? Then it was discovered that people of all ages can manufacture their own niacin if their diets contain tryptophan, an amino acid that is abundant in animal protein such as that found in milk, meat and eggs.

Pellagra has not been wiped out completely. There are still some cases in the south, especially in the summer months, and most often among poor people. The disease also is found among people whose food intake is restricted or whose bodies fail to absorb or utilize nutrients. It is often associated with diseases such is alcoholism and certain liver disorders. There are also cases in other parts of the world where corn is the staple cereal, and the people are not able to get enough niacin in their diets.

4. The Case of the Pine Needle Soup - vitamin C, ascorbic acid

In 1497, the Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, rounded Africa's Cape of Good Hope enroute to India. Many of the men who sailed with him were destined never to reach journey's end. They would die at sea, victims of the dread disease, scurvy.

This terrible killer had been known since biblical times. Some scholars believe the affliction from which Job suffered was scurvy. Though found on land, as well, it was more common at sea, where it claimed the lives of a large number of sailors annually.

Victims of scurvy became weak. They developed sunken eyes, bleeding gums and ugly skin sores. Teeth became loose, bones broke easily and small blood vessels burst under the skin. The majority of the scurvy victims eventually died a painful death.

No one was certain what caused the disease. Some blamed cold damp air. Others thought the cause was some mysterious substance generated by the bodies of people who were living in crowded conditions. There were even those who believed the disease resulted from feelings of hopelessness and unhappiness. It was noticed that if the ailing sailors survived until they reached shore, they were cured. Careful observers noticed that fresh herbs, grass and fruit (especially lemons) brought about miraculous cures.

After their voyage from France in 1535, the French explorer Jacques Cartier and his men wintered on the shores of Newfoundland. The explorers became victims of scurvy. By the end of the winter, 25 men had died, and all but three or four were seriously ill. Then Cartier learned that an Indian shaman cured scurvy with a broth made from boiled evergreen needles and twigs. The Native Indians brewed some of this "pine needle soup" for the ailing crew. Within 6 days, those who who ate the broth were cured.

In 1747, the British warship Salisbury was patrolling the southern coast of England. Aboard was a man who would make history as the first important figure in the science of nutrition. He was a 31-year-old Scottish medical officer, James Lind. Scurvy broke out among the sailors. Lind remembered his past experiences in the West Indies and the Mediterranean. He also recalled the many things he had read about the disease. He felt the cause of scurvy was some how related to the diet of the seamen. In those days, transportation was slow and methods of food preservation were primitive. Fresh fruits and vegetables would not keep over the long voyages. The men were forced to live on salted meat, dried beans, wormy dried biscuits, slimy water and rancid cheese or butter. Lind suspected this diet was unhealthy as well as unpalatable. He noticed that the officers who stocked a better diet for themselves (including fruits and vegetables purchased in ports enroute) rarely contracted scurvy.

Lind planned a controlled experiment. He selected 12 scurvy patients. To their regular diets, he added a variety of dietary supplements. Two men received cider with their meals. Vinegar was added to the diet of two others. A medicine made if diluted sulfuric acid, alcohol and extract of ginger and cinnamon was given to a third pair. Two other patients received a medication made from garlic, mustard and herbs. A pint of sea water was added to the menu of a fifth pair. The final couple received two oranges and one lemon a day for 6 days. The first five pairs showed no progress, but the two men who ate the oranges and lemons were cured.

Lind published the results of his experiment, but many could not trust such a simple cure for such a terrible disease. Lind fought to add lemon juice to the sailors' rum. Yet Lind's superiors resisted his advice. It was not until 1795, a year after Lind's death, that the British navy ordered daily rations of lemon juice. When they did, the dread killer scurvy was wiped out aboard British sailing vessels. And the British sailors received a new nickname. Lemons in those days were often called limes, and a British seaman became known as a "Limey."

Today we know that oranges, lemons, limes and other citrus fruits contain an antiscurvy vitamin called vitamin C or ascorbic acid. It is the same vitamin which was present in the pine needles that cured Carrier's men. Some laboratory animals are able to manufacture their own vitamin C from other chemical substances. Humans cannot. Nor are they able to store much vitamin C in their body. Meaning their dietary needs must be met by the continual addition of foods containing this vitamin to their diet. Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, cantaloupe and strawberries are good sources of vitamin C. Raw cabbage, raw turnips and other raw vegetables and fruits add vitamin C to our diets. Vegetables such as potatoes, green peppers and broccoli also supply vitamin C. Cooking fruits and vegetables reduces their content of this vitamin. Black currants and rose hips, the fruit of the rose, are other rich sources of vitamin C. During World War II, when shipments of citrus fruits were cut off, many Englishmen used rose hip tea or jelly to supply vitamin C. One of the richest sources known is the acerola fruit, a cherry grown in Puerto Rico. Vitamin C does more than prevent scurvy. It is essential for healthy blood vessels and for sound bones and teeth. An adequate intake of vitamin C speeds recovery from operations and certain diseases.

In 1932, vitamin C was isolated as a powder. Dr. Charles G. King of the University of Pittsburgh who removed the pure vitamin from lemon juice. Earlier Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, a Hungarian scientist, had isolated the same substance, though at that time it was not recognized as vitamin C and was not tried in the treatment of scurvy. Today scientists are able to make their own ascorbic acid from other chemicals. Tons of this synthetic vitamin are produced each week in this country.

5. The Case of the Invisible Rays - vitamin D

Civilization has brought many blessings to humankind, but it has brought some curses as well. We have already learned how the introduction of the milling process in the preparation of rice brought suffering and death to rice eating peoples of the world. As the Industrial Revolution brought people together into crowded cities, they were exposed to many health hazards they had not faced in rural areas. In the overpopulated slums of British cities, a certain disease became so common that it was called the "English disease." It is more commonly known by another name, rickets. Though it did not kill its victims, rickets left them with weakened and misshapen bones. Children were most often the victims of rickets. It left them with spindly arms and legs and weak chests. They were very susceptible to colds and other respiratory ailments. Many died from pneumonia. Though rickets itself was not a fatal disease, many of its victims died young from respiratory infections.

Uncertain as to what caused the disease, people blamed it on dirt, filth, crowded living conditions, lack of sunlight, poor diets and cold, wet climate. Several of these explanations constituted very good guesses.

In Scotland and the fishing villages along the English seacoast, the people had a home remedy for rickets. They drank oil from the livers of fishes they caught, especially cod liver oil. Though they claimed that this prevented them from contracting rickets, the "enlightened" doctors of the time looked down on their cure as superstitious nonsense. It was unfortunate they did. Fish liver oils are a rich source of an antirickets substance known today as vitamin D.

In the early 20th century, the scientific world began to give attention to the problem of rickets. The disease crippled thousands of European children during World War I. In Vienna, Austria, where near famine conditions existed, and where people were living on bread alone, even elderly people developed rickets. It was discovered they could be cured with daily doses of cod liver oil. In 1917, one scientific study revealed that within 6 months, cod liver oil was able to cure 30 out of 32 babies who were suffering from rickets. Seven out of 12 babies who received cod liver oil for 4 months were cured, and 16 other patients to whom the oil was not administered were not cured.

Meanwhile, an Englishman, Dr. Palm, sent a questionnaire to colleagues in China and Tibet. He discovered that rickets was not present in these countries despite the fact that there was greater poverty and filth and more severe food shortages. The Chinese and Tibetans, however, lived in a drier climate with much exposure to sunlight.

In 1922, Dr. E. V. McCollum and his associates working then at The Johns Hopkins University discovered the specific substance in cod liver oil which helped so much in the cure of rickets. McCollum named his discovery vitamin D. He was able to induce rickets in laboratory rats and then cure them by varying their diets.

Meanwhile, in New York City biochemists working with rats came up with another fascinating discovery. Even when they were denied the foods which prevented rickets, rats would remain healthy if they were exposed to sunlight. It was recalled that rickets was not such a prevalent disease among children in India, where mothers held their naked infants on their laps and exposed them to sunlight.

Vitamin Enriched Foods

It was not long before scientists were able to solve the mystery. Vitamin D, as they had already discovered, was present in certain natural foods. Cod liver oil and other fish liver oils were rich natural sources. Some vitamin D is also found in butter, egg yolk, whole milk, cheese and salt water fish, but in small amounts.

Milk can be fortified by adding vitamin D to it. Most of the milk sold in the United States is fortified with vitamin D. But there are other chemicals called sterols, some of which produce vitamin D when they are exposed to sunlight. Olive oil and peanut oil contain such sterols, so they are able to be exposed to (irradiated) ultraviolet rays to produce vitamin D.

Scientists discovered sterols are present in human skin. This is why exposure to sunlight enables us to produce our own vitamin D. And this is why children, denied a proper diet, and cut off from sunlight by the concrete, steel, glass, dust and smoke of great cities fell victim to rickets.

In 1924, two American scientists working independently, Harry Steenbock at the University of Wisconsin and A. F. Hess in New York discovered that exposure to small ultraviolet rays, which is a small part of the spectrum of sunlight. It was now possible to expose sterols with this spectrum to make vitamin D, irradiation. They also discovered that milk or to feed irradiated substances could be given to cows that then produced milk with increased levels of vitamin D .

Today milk is fortified with the addition of a concentrated source of vitamin D. One quart of vitamin D milk supplies most children with the daily vitamin D recommendation.

Other foods are also enriched. Since 1943, much of the bread baked in the United States has been enriched with B vitamins and iron. Vitamin C is sometimes added to fruit juices. Rice and wheat flour may also be enriched.

Conclusions

These stories focus on the discoveries of five vitamins. Since these times, scientists have discovered more vitamins: 13 of which are currently recognized as essential by the National Institute of Health.

See Nutrition article with information on the human body, its nutritional needs, health activities, and notes on nutrients, vitamins, & minerals.

Who is the hero of our mystery story? Is it the elusive vitamin with its ability to save lives and restore health to many thousands of ailing people? Or is it the food scientist whose spend countless hours in their relentless search in solving the mystery of the vitamins and the other substances the body needs? Probably they must share the honors. Furthermore, this is not their story alone. Any good mystery story needs a supporting cast of characters. So it is with the mystery of vitamins. As important as they are, vitamins alone don't keep you healthy or save your life. They need the help of other nutrients: protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals and water.

In a few hundred years we have gone from not knowing vitamins existed to having vitamins available in tablet, capsule, syrup or injection forms. Vitamins that can be prescribed by physicians for patients whose diets require vitamin supplements. Vitamins for pregnant women to assure their and their child's vitamin needs are met. Vitamins for babies and young children who do not yet eat varied diets or have an usual need for a vitamin supplement in some form. Chronically ill or elderly people may have to eliminate certain foods from their diets, making it necessary for them to take supplementary vitamins. Additionally we have enriched foods with supplementary vitamins. Enriched flour, bread made with enriched flour, cornmeal and rice are a few of the enriched foods we buy.

Though each nutrient plays a special part in keeping us healthy, there are many body functions that require nutrients to work together. It is this, teamwork, of nutrients that provides good nutrition. Therefore, it is essential to eat a balanced diet and most people who do can get all the vitamins they need.

Thousands of Americans take extra vitamins unnecessarily. This can be costly and most often does not provide more value than what people can obtain by eating a well-balanced diet.

Since vitamins fall into two categories there are two possibilities when taking vitamins. If they are water soluble vitamins and more is taken that the body can use, then the extra will be eliminated in the urine. If they are fat soluble vitamins, the extra will be retained in the body's fat and may cause serious problems if too much is taken and can take a long time to recover. When people turn to the "quacks" instead of a qualified physician for medical advice, they fail to receive the medical attention they need.

The Food and Drug Administration has carried out many law suits to stop false advertising and misleading claims to the public.

There can be no doubt that increased knowledge about vitamins has helped to lengthen our life span and improve our general health. This along with an increased understanding of other areas of nutrition and advancements of medical science, we are more capable of living healthy lives than those who lived before us and struggled to understand what we now know. However, there are still many questions about the human body and nutrition that we don't know and our ancestors will probably look back at us and wonder.