IV. A Brief History of the Development of Nutrition
Early scientific studies of nutrition: The discovery of vitamins
Christiaan Eijkman (1887) discovered how to ameliorate beri-beri.
Eijkman's scientific training almost led him astray in discovering the cause of beri-beri.
- He became a student of Koch's after his wife died, losing himself in his work. He was strongly influenced by Koch's pioneering discoveries in bacteriology.
- Eijkman got himself appointed to the beri-beri committee to look into this disease, which was ravaging the Far East, especially closed communities like the army, navy, and prisons.
- They thought they found a bacterium (they wanted to, because their mind set was on bacterial diseases) whose toxin caused beri-beri, but the disease couldn't be transmitted (failure of one of Koch's postulates).
- He resisted the very idea of the disease being nutritional, and accepted it only after the evidence was compelling.
The critical observations:
- The experimental fowl were living on leftover (polished) rice from the military mess. After a move of the flock to a different location, a different caretaker was placed in charge. He objected to giving military rice to civilian birds, so he gave them unpolished civilian rice. The disease disappeared. Eijkman discovered this change, and it was the key, although he continued to believe for a long time that the disease was caused by something in the polished rice, rather than a deficiency of something.
- Casimir Funk isolated the active principle from rice polishings, found it was an amine (thiamin), and proposed other diseases could be due to deficiencies in the diet.
- Since the active principle was an amine, and since it was essential to life, in 1912 he coined the term, "vitamine."
In 1929 Eijkman received the Nobel Prize for his work on beri-beri.