A vitamin is an organic substance found in many foods for normal functioning of the body and must be obtained through the food we ingest. Excluding trace minerals there are thirteen of these essential substances. Only small amounts are required for good health, eleven vitamins have to be supplied by diet these are vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, E, K, folate, biotin, and pantothenate. The remaining two are niacin and vitamin D and created by the body if there is enough of the amino acid, tryptophan, and sunlight in the order given. They are comparable to enzymes in that they are both organic compounds essential in small quantities for the normal functioning of the body. At first scientist speculated that they were accessory factors and part of incidental “ingredients” in food. Almost all vitamins are converted into coenzymes and these act similar to the way enzymes do in the body by changing the location of groups of atoms. This process is understood as a donor-acceptor exchange because of the way vitamins move them from one type of molecule to another. This is important in the for the storage and generation and energy needed for the body’s normal functioning and growth.

A Polish-American biochemist Casimir Funk coined the word in 1911. Trying to find the cure for or a way to prevent the nerve damaging illness known as beriberi and what he knew was a closely related disease scurvy . At the time he called the substance vitamine meaning “live amine.” From Latin vita for "life" and amine, a word formed from am(monia) meaning it is of a nitrogenous base, he then added the suffix ine because he thought they contained amino acids. An amine is a simply generic term for compound ammonias. Even though it was later determined that many vitamins do not contain an organic group known as an amine, the name stuck. Studying in England, Funk wrote an article on The Etiology of Deficiency Disease. In his submission to the widely read Journal of State Medicine in 1912, he first introduced and explained what he meant by his catchword, "vitamine."

    It is now known that all of these diseases (beriberi, polyneuritis, epidemic dropsy, scurvy, experimental scurvy in animals, infantile scurvy, ship beriberi, pellagra), with the exception of pellagra, can be prevented and cured by the addition of certain preventive substances; the deficient substances, which are of the nature of organic bases, we will call "vitamines;" and we will speak of a beriberi or scurvy vitamine, which means a substance preventing the particular disease (Funk 1912a, p. 164).
In his 1912 essay he collected data and formed his theory. He noted that with the grouping of humans and experimental beriberi, scurvy, and ship beriberi he put them under the general category of "deficiency diseases," and shrewdly argued that pellagra and possibly rickets as well belonged to this class although the vitamines involved were probably not the same as those with regards to beriberi and scurvy. He founded his ideas with what he already knew from the experiments by Osborne and Gregor Mendel and by Frederick Gowland Hopkins with simplified diets supplemented by milk, Funk postulated "that the substance facilitating growth found in milk is similar, if not identical, with the vitamines described by me." (Funk 1912a, p. 169).

A few weeks later an article appeared in the Lancet which confirmed Funk's theories about vitamins and their relation to specific diseases. A German explorer in New Guinea had successfully prevented beriberi among the members of his expedition by eating a thick soup of red rice and Katjang idjoe beans cooked together every day.

However, Funk's ideas raised a lot of controversy and he spent the next ten years campaigning for support for this word he coined and its use as a scientific expression. In 1916 the term was gaining some acceptance as evidenced by this article from Science

    The word "vitamine" has come into our vocabulary since the latest dictionaries were published. Etymologically it means an amine that is essential to life, and it was coined by C. Funk as a generic name for a group of substances, of unknown chemical composition, small quantities of which appear to be a necessary constituent of a wholesome human diet . . . An absence or insufficiency of vitamines in the diet brings on diseases now known as "avitaminoses" or "deficiency diseases," of which scurvy and beriberi are the principal representatives. Science already recognizes two vitamines - viz., antiscorbutic vitamine, which prevents scurvy, and antineuritic vitamine, which prevents beriberi in man and polyneuritis in birds. There may be others:

    The investigation of the vitamines has made great strides in the past two years. The subject is beginning to crop up in the newspapers and in general literature, not to mention the small talk of the dinner table, where everything on the menu invites classification from the point view of the "vitaminologist." (Science 1916 p. 453)

In 1933 the word became a widely used term metaphorically:
    "A book . . . . so full of the vitamines of literature," "The vitamines of the spirit and. . . true religion" (Oxford English Dictionary Supplement)
Still Funks vitamines were met with skepticism by the scientific community. It was perhaps because of this dispute over a simple word that more and more scientists became interested in the nature of vitamins and in the practical applications as "the newer knowledge of nutrition." The word vitamine, despite its wide adoption by 1920, was still hotly contested because "the termination '-ine' is singularly used to denote chemical nomenclature to marking them (vitamines in this case) as substances of a basic character. Because, they argued "there is no evidence which supports his (Funk's) idea that these indispensable dietary constituents are amines" Finally, in 1920 Jack Drummond arbitrated the disagreements and suggested that the final e in "vitamine" be dropped. The result, "vitamin," now fit under the Chemical Society's nomenclature rule, which allowed "(a) neutral substance of undefined composition to bear a name ending in '-in'." In spite of Funks objections to the change, "I still believe in the nitrogenous nature of these substances."(1922), he continued to call them by the name he had invented until 1937. Drummond 's spelling was quickly adopted and unfortunately for Casimir Funk another scientist, Frederick Gowland Hopkins went on to receive the Nobel Prize for his work in vitamin theory, his words to Funk were probably of small consolation, "(Funk) had "not received too much, but too little credit for his vitamin research as a whole."


The American Heritage® Book of English Usage:

Essays on Paths of Discovery in the Biomedical Sciences:

Take Our Word For It:


The Vitamins
Not Vitamins:

Etymological note: The term "vitamin" is short for "vital amine." It was coined when the first vitamins were discovered through chicken-malnutrition experiments in the 1890s. These B-vitamins were indeed nitrogen-containing organic molecules, or amines. Other vitamins, such as vitamin C, are not.

A vitamin is an organic molecule needed in trace amounts for normal growth and metabolic processes; vitamins usually serve as components of coenzymes.

Vitamins needed by humans:

Other vitamins:

From the science dictionary at http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/

Being a human being in general and a vegan in particular, the need for proper nutrition constantly asserts its boisterous presence. This is the sum total of my knowledge on the subject, assisted by some notes from a physical education class I was obliged to take some four or five years ago.

Vitamins are organic compounds required by the body for purposes of metabolism, health and especially for correct growth in children. They can also assist in forming hormones, blood cells, nervous system chemicals and genetic material. Vitamins usually act as catalysts in conjunction with proteins to produce these various reactions. The properties and actions of some vitamins are very intricate and so many functions are not entirely known. Thirteen vitamins have been well-identified.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a pale yellow alcohol derived from carotene which is used in the formation and maintenance of bones, teeth, skin and mucous membranes as well as preventing the atrophy of vision and reproductive systems. Vitamin A can be derived from vegetables (carrots, broccoli, squash, spinach, kale and sweet potatoes) or animal sources (dairy products, egg yolk or liver). Deficiency in the vitamin can cause desiccation of the skin, eyes (tear ducts) and lack of mucous secretion (reducing anti-bacterial defences), as well as night blindness. Excess of this vitamin, however, can interfere with growth, disrupt or halt menstruation, damage red blood corpuscles, cause skin rashes, headaches, nausea and jaundice.

The B vitamins
B1 (thiamine) is colourless, crystalline and a catalyst in carbohydrate metabolism. It enables pyruvic acid to be absorbed and carbohydrates to release their energy. It also features in the synthesis of nerve-regulating substances. Thiamine deficiency can cause beriberi (characterised by muscle weakness, leg cramps and even heart failure) and is present in many foods, mostly the following: liver, heart, kidney, pork, brewer’s yeast, lean meats, green leafy vegetables, cereals (although milled cereal often lacks this vitamin), wheat germ, berries, nuts and legumes. Deficiency is rare due to this broad availability.
B2 (riboflavin) functions as a coenzyme (working with another to achieve its effect) in metabolising carbohydrates, fats and respiration-related proteins, as well as assisting to maintain mucous membranes. B2 is found in meats, dark green vegetables, cereals (whole or enriched), pasta and mushrooms. Oversensitivity to light and the outbreak of skin lesions can result from deficiency.
B3 (niacin) functions in the same manner as its predecessors (as a coenzyme) in the release of energy from nutrients. It can be gained from liver, meat, fish and poultry, cereals (whole and enriched), beans, peas and nuts. The body itself produces niacin from tryptophan. The first symptom of pellagra (which results from deficiency) is sunburn-like skin irritation which quickly forms upon exposure to sunlight, followed by reddening and swelling of the tongue, diarrhoea, disorientation (and accompanying irritability) and even depression and mental damage when the central nervous system is affected.
B6 (pyridoxine) is necessary for absorbing and metabolising amino acids, also playing a role in the use of fats in the body and the formation of red blood cells. It is found in whole grain, cereals, liver, avocadoes, spinach, green beans and bananas. Pyridoxine is needed only in proportion to the amount of protein consumed. Deficiency causes skin and mouth irritation/cracking, convulsions, dizziness, anaemia, nausea and kidney stones.
B12 (cobalamin) is one vitamin more recently identified. It is needed in miniscule quantities for the formation of nucleoproteins, proteins and blood cells and also in the function of the nervous system. Cobalamin can, to the best of my knowledge, be obtained in sufficient quantities only from animal sources such as meat (especially organ meats) and fish, eggs and dairy products. B12 can be produced synthetically, though, and is available in dietary supplements.
Other B vitamins are as yet unlabelled and may yet have unknown functions. Folic acid/folacin is needed far less than other vitamins (as a coenzyme in haemoglobin formation) and is found abundantly in vegetables, legumes, grains, yeast and nuts. Pantothenic acid plays a far-from-certain role in metabolising fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It is produced by intestinal bacteria, as well as being found in many foods.

Vitamin C
Known as ascorbic acid, it is important in the formation of collagen, which supports body structures, helps in absorbing iron from vegetable sources and in forming bones and teeth. Ascorbic acid is present most potently in citrus fruits, but also in strawberries, cantaloupe, pineapple, brussel sprouts, guava, tomatoes, kale, green chilli, turnip, cabbage and broccoli. Now, we have all heard of scurvy, and this is what happens in cases of vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy is characterised by haemorrhages, loosening of teeth and harmful changes in the bones of children. There is evidence to suggest that large vitamin C doses can aid in preventing the formation of tumour-causing compounds, although prolonged excess can cause bladder and kidney stones, calcium depletion from bones, interference with blood-thinning chemicals and destruction of vitamin B12.

Vitamin D
Required for normal bone formation, retention of calcium and phosphorus and the protection of teeth and bones thereby. When absorbed from foods such as egg yolk, liver, tuna and fortified milk (although available from non-animal sources as well), the sterols in those foods are irradiated (hence, the accurate reputation of this vitamin as being the product of exposure to sunlight). We are also familiar with rickets, I would hope. A common syndrome in cold climates where nutrition was inadequate, rickets causes bone deformities due to calcium and phosphorus loss. As vitamin D is fat-soluble, excess consumption can cause kidney damage, prolonged lethargy and appetite loss.

Vitamin E
We don’t really know a great deal about this one, save that it plays some role in forming red blood cells, bodily tissues and in preventing vitamin A oxidation. Present in vegetable oils, wheat germ, liver and green leafy vegetables, it is thought (on little scientific basis) to have curative properties against a number of diseases.

Vitamin K
Mainly used for blood coagulation. It aids in producing prothrombin (an enzyme) which in turn helps blood clotting. It occurs in leafy green vegetables, egg yolk, soy beans and fish liver. Digestive disturbances may lead to mild blood clotting disorders - a product of improper vitamin K absorption.

Edit: this writeup now feels less potent when contrasted with its company in the 'vitamin' node. It used to reside with 'vitamins.'

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