A Brief History of Vitamins

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 2 minutes

Throughout the course of human history, we’ve always had the natural instinct to fulfill our hunger. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that we began to isolate and identify specific nutrients that could support healthy function of the body.


Although he didn’t know it at the time, Scottish naval doctor James Lind was the first to discover the benefits of vitamin C. It was the mid 1700s and long sea voyages were taking a toll on the British navy, particularly in the form of a nasty disease known as scurvy. Lind found that citrus fruits and juices helped cure and prevent scurvy. Years later, it was finally mandated that all sailors take a daily dose of lime juice.


In the 1880s, Dutch scientist Christian Eijkman discovered that those who ate unpolished rather than polished rice could avoid beriberi, a rampantly growing disease at the time.  Eijkman and chemist Sir Frederick Hopkins later received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of several vitamins.


But it was Hopkins and Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk who developed the Vitamin Hypothesis of Deficiency, which theorized that the absence of vitamins in the diet contributed to disease. Funk was also responsible for the name “vitamin”, which came from “vitalis,” meaning vitally important, and “amines,” a compound found in unpolished rice. 


Thus, the vitamin was born. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that scientists learned how to isolate and concentrate each nutrient in pill form to supplement dietary intake. Even today, vitamin knowledge of usage, importance, diet and supplementation is constantly growing and evolving.