How Vitamins Became "Vitamins"
Have you ever wondered why, though the highest-numbered of the B-vitamins is Vitamin B12, there are only eight official B vitamins? Or why the vitamin alphabet jumps straight from E to K, skipping F, G, H, I, and J in the process?
The answer, more or less, is an artifact of how vitamins were discovered, and in what order. The concept of a vitamin seems to have originated in 1898, when Frederick Hopkins proposed the existence of "accessory factors" beyond the major macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) that are necessary for proper human health.
However, the name didn't come until 1912, when Polish biochemist Casimir Funk was able to identify one of these micronutrients and gave them the name "vitamines," mixing the word vital (essential) with the biological amines.When it was later discovered that not all of these "vitamines" were indeed "amines" (amonia-based organic compounds, eg amino acids), the e was dropped, and "vitamins" as we now know them were born.
The next step in the creation of the vitamin came when University of Wisconsin student Cornelia Kennedy first classified vitamins by letter in her 1916 Master's Thesis. She was also the first to classify vitamins as fat-soluble (able to be stored in the body) or water-soluble (must be consumed on a daily basis).
She called thiamine Vitamin B because it had been found to prevent the deficiency disease Beri-beri, while another substance discovered by her mentor became Vitamin A. Vitamins C, D, and E were named in a linear alphabetical pattern as they were identified until riboflavin was discovered in 1920.
Since it was chemically similar to thiamine, it was given the name Vitamin B2, and the original Vitamin B (thiamine) became Vitamin B1. Other similar vitamins were given similar numerical designations, together forming the "Vitamin B complex."
Some of the missing numbers in the Vitamin B complex came about because the substances originally given those designations were later reclassified as non-vitamins: for example, adenine and carnitine.Meanwhile, the missing letter vitamins came about because they were similarly classified as non-vitamins or as part of the vitamin B complex. For example, the substances once known as Vitamin F were reclassified as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and the former Vitamin H, biotin, was reclassified as Vitamin B7.
Additionally, the German scientists who discovered Vitamin K skipped a few letters because of the substance's role in blood coagulation, which in German was called Koagulation.Today, there are only 13 official vitamins, but some non-vitamins are informally called by vitamin-like names, mostly by those marketing them as supplements.
The confusing part about this, even when it comes to nutrients that are relatively wholesome, is that these nicknames lack consistency. For example, Vitamin B4 could be adenine, choline, or pyroxidine.
Other interesting examples of occasionally cited non-vitamin vitamins include Vitamin V (Viagra), Vitamin B17 (laetrile, a cyanide releasing defunct cancer treatment) and Vitamin J (Jesus).Now, while there are plenty of other nutrients out there besides vitamins that are are essential to good health, like minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants, a healthy lifestyle is certainly possible without those three!
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