A number of centuries ago when Europeans first start to take long voyages by sea, many of the sailors would come down with a strange disease, scurvy that seemed to affect the larger joints of the body. It was a peculiar form of arthritis, frequently connected with bleeding into the joints. The gums would also be affecting, and the teeth would loosen and fall out. Patients would feel weak, tired and irritable, and would complain of pain and aching in the muscles. But this strange disease forever cleared up soon after the sailors reach land and start to consume fresh fruits and vegetables.
What was this secret substance in fruits and vegetables that prevented scurvy? No one knew for sure. But a few wise doctors in the British navy prescribed a plentiful supply of limes and lemons for the sailors. The limes and lemons provided a sufficient supply of vitamin C. Thus scurvy, which we now know is due to a short of vitamin C, was the first deficiency disease to be recognized and treated effectively.
During the nineteenth century another strange disease was familiar. Someone called the disease beriberi, a name still used by doctors nowadays. It was this strange disease that led to the real discovery of vitamins. A Dutch scientist, Eijkman, while working in Indonesia noted that this disease was more prevalent where people were crowded jointly. He assumed a deficiency in the diet of the poorer people.
Doctors all over the world were intensely interested as soon as these extraordinary findings were discovered. This opened a whole new idea in the treatment of disease. Someone coined the word "vitamin", and doctors soon stat to discover other vitamins and their functions in the body.
Vitamin is not a food although it is typically present in the foods we eat. Nor it is a food supplement. Vitamins do not give energy, nor do they build up worn out tissues. Still a man cannot survive without vitamins. Many of the vitamins are required in very small amounts, yet vitamins play a very important role in most chemical reactions within the body. A lot of of these cell reactions are carried on through enzymes, each different kind of enzyme being responsible for carrying on some particular chemical reaction within the body. Enzymes are made up of a mixture of vitamins and minerals, all joined together in a highly complex fashion. If only one vitamin happens to be missing, that enzyme cannot be formed and some significant function of the body cannot be carried out.
Where do vitamins come from? They are built up in plants and they are establishing in all fresh foods. However, some vitamins particularly vitamin C, can be destroyed by excessive cooking. Drying or contact to sun and wind may also destroy them. Other vitamins are not so easily damaged. They will stand cooking and boiling without being changed. But many of these vitamins are water-soluble and are thrown away while the cooking water is drained off.
Vitamins work in different-different ways, and are frequently closely related to each other in their reactions within the body. Most vitamins do not take place alone. They are frequently found in pairs or groups.
The general characteristics of the vitamins are given below:
1. The vitamins are extensively distributed in nature both in animal and vegetable kingdoms. All vitamins are manufactured in plants. Approximately all common articles of food include more than one vitamin.
2. Vitamins can execute their work in very small quantities. Hence, the entire every day requirement is usually very small. The every day require of any vitamin for any individual is not a fixed quantity. It varies according to the speed of metabolism. In people undergoing heavy muscular work, in pregnancy, lactation, growing children, the vitamin requirement is high. Normally, a man doing normal work can get enough vitamins from his balanced mixed diet.
3. Vitamins can be stored in the body to some level, for instance the fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and subcutaneous tissue, vitamin C in adrenal cortex etc.
4. Vitamins are partly damaged and are partly excreted.
5. A number of vitamins are synthesized in the body. Some family members of vitamin B complex are synthesized by microorganisms in the intestinal area.
6. Vitamins are not damaged in the digestive process and are, therefore, absorbed as such. Hence all vitamins are successful when administered orally.
7. Although they are necessary for life, until now all vitamins are not essential for all the species of animals. The physiological necessity is net with the synthesis of an exacting vitamin in the organism.
8. A number of of vitamins are soluble in water and others are fat-soluble.
9. Most of the vitamins have been unnaturally synthesized.
10. Their mode of action is not obviously known. Some of them have been proved to behave as coenzyme of other metabolic enzymes. Since the enzyme system of a tissue is specific in nature, it is fairly reasonable that, an exacting vitamin acts selectively upon one tissue. This helps us to give details why the deficiency of a particular vitamin specifically affects some tissues and systems and leaves others more or less undamaged.
Vitamins are divided into two groups:
- Fat-soluble vitamins, which includes vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Water soluble vitamins which includes vitamins of the B-group and vitamin C
Now if we were all completely healthy, and continued to consume the correct food, we would almost certainly remain strong and vigorous all the days. But most of us are not this opportune. We have all present at birth certain weaknesses, and none have ideal health. We must therefore be assured our diet contains all elements essential for good health, and these contain minerals and vitamins.