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Congress recognizes 100th anniversary of the vitamin

By Hank Schultz , 27-Sep-2012

If only Casimir Funk were alive today to see what he hath wrought.  A resolution in the U.S. Congress on Wednesday recognized the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the vitamin, a discovery—attributed to Funk—that set the stage for the 21st century’s multiple-billion dollar supplement and functional food industry.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, read a statement into the Congressional Record recognizing Funk, a Polish-American scientist, and his first use of the term “vitamin” in 1912 to describe a group of bioactive substances vital to health.

Rep. Pallone said in his statement: “Because of [Casimir Funk’s] work, we know that vitamins are essential for good health through every stage of [the] human life cycle and that our bodies require vitamins to grow, to function, to stay healthy and to prevent the onset of disease.”

Rep. Pallone is co-chair of the Dietary Supplement Caucus and is considered on of the champions of the industry on Capitol Hill.

Thiamine discovered

Funk, who lived from 1884 to 1967, isolated thiamine, or vitamin B1, from brown rice after reading in the literature that beriberi, a vitamin B1 deficiency disease, was more prevalent among those who ate an exclusively white-rice diet as opposed to brown rice.   Funk was able to isolate this vital element present in brown rice that was polished away to make the white version.  He called it a  “vital amine” for the amine group it contained; the “vitamine” contraction was later shortened to vitamin after it became clear that not all of these vital substances found in food contained amine groups.

Funk’s work was presaged by Kanehiro Takaki, a Japanese naval medical officer, who investigated cases of beriberi on naval ships in the 1880s.  Beriberi became a serious problem in the Japanese Navy around that time as it was the era in which the country’s ships began to regularly undertake long overseas voyages and the reliance on white rice to make up the lion’s share of calories for the crew first started to have observable effects.

A press release from the four leading industry trade associations—the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the Natural Products Association (NPA), and the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA)—joined Rep. Pallone in recognizing the anniversary of Funk’s achievement.

To read a biographical sketch of Casimir Funk (1884–1967) from a 1972 edition of the Journal of Nutrition, please click here

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