Thiamine, or vitamin B1, was the first vitamin to be discovered. Traditionally, brown or whole grain rice was a staple food in many Oriental countries. The oils contained in the germ of whole grain rice or wheat can go rancid rather quickly, especially when exposed to air (as when ground into flour) and stored at room temperature. Thus whole grains have a somewhat limited shelf-life (which can be extended by sealing them in an airproof container and refrigerating them). Thus, in an effort to extend the shelf-life of rice, in the 1800s, the Germans perfected rice milling machines which stripped the bran and germ from rice yielding white rice. Advertising of that era convinced people who could afford it that this new white rice was a superior food to be sought after. This also was an age of conquest for European peoples and while European colonists in Asian areas adopted the rice-eating habits of the indigenous peoples, they preferred to eat socially-acceptable, expensive, white rice rather than the inexpensive brown rice consumed by the local poor people. Interestingly, these white settlers and navy personel in the Orient frequently came down with a disease called beriberi which the poor people didnt get. All sorts of interesting explanations for this were proposed, but almost all had in common the idea that beriberi was caused by a bacterium. This was during the height of Louis Pasteurs famous work on bacteria, so all sorts of diseases were suddenly being attributed to bacterial causes, including beriberi. Symptoms of beriberi, many of which are neurological, include fatigue, irritation, poor memory, sleep disturbances, anorexia, abdominal discomfort and constipation, nerve problems like burning sensations in the feet, calf muscle cramps and weakness, and other symptoms. Because people thought that beriberi was caused by a bacterium, this disease was thought to be contagious, and people who contracted it were isolated from well people. There was much research being conducted to attempt to find the pathogen people thought caused the disease and thus, a cure for the disease.
In the 1890s there was an epidemic of beriberi among the Dutch colonists in Java (yes, there really is a country by that name). Deep in the jungles of Java, the Dutch had established a hospital and research lab for beriberi patients. The doctor who ran this facility was Dr. Christian Eijkman. For other research that was being conducted, the lab also kept a flock of normal, healthy chickens. At one point when supplies were low, the staff ran out of the cheap, brown rice the chickens were eating, and reluctantly decided to splurge and feed the good white rice to the chickens until they could get more of the brown rice. This state of affairs apparently lasted for a while, and the staff began to notice that the chickens were showing symptoms similar to the symptoms of the beriberi patients, to the great distress of all who considered this to be a highly contagious disease. Eventually someone discovered that the good white rice was being wasted on the chickens, and the order was passed down to get them back onto cheap brown rice. To the amazement of all, when returned to a diet of brown rice, the chickens got better. Based on this evidence, Dr. Eijkman proposed that beriberi was a nutritional deficiency, not caused by a bacterium, and that something in the rice bran prevents beriberi. People were so convinced that beriberi had to be caused by a bacterium that they would not accept Eijkmans hypothesis, and he was relieved of his duties and sent back home.
In 1911, Casimir Funk, a Polish researcher working in London, isolated and concentrated a substance from rice polish (bran) which cured beriberi in a pigeon. Funk determined that chemically, this substance belonged to the category of organic molecules known as amines amd that it was vital to a healthy life, so he called it a vitamine. This chemical was subsequently named thiamine. We now recognize a number of vitamins (note that the e had been dropped), most of which are not amines.
So whats the obvious solution? --to eat brown rice? Not in our money-hungry society! The actual solution has been to mill even more rice, use advertizing to make white rice appear more appealing than ever, extract the thiamine, and and sell it in an expensive pill to make even more money. Advertising strategy #2 is that if people begin to catch on and it looks like you stand to lose money, package all the reject rice bran into a plastic bag and dupe all the health-conscious people into paying even more money for it because it is health food. Help your health and your pocketbook by eating brown rice. Since many supermarkets keep a few packages of brown rice sitting around in stock just in case some weird health nut would want one, the turnover rate is low, and chances are the packages have been sitting on the shelf for quite a while. Get your brown rice from a health food store where the turnover rate is higher, and the rice will be fresher and taste better. Would you rather spend your precious food dollars on ad-agency-sponsored, low-nutrition white rice plus a bag of rice polish (bran) plus a bottle of vitamin pills, or on whole grain, brown rice?
Structure of Vitamin A and -Carotene
(can be stored, possibility of overdose in some)
|A||retinol||½ of beta-carotene molecule; is good for night vision (visual pigment is made from it) and immune system|
|D||calciferol||made by sunlight (UV) acting on cholesterol in skin; used to move Ca++ around so your body can use it; sources have suggested waiting to shower after exposure to sun to allow the vitamin D to be absorbed back into the body|
|E||d-- (-, -) tocopherol||formerly known as vitamin X; antioxidant; prevents damage (aging) to cells; may be useful in treating fibrocystic breast/uterine problems; has been used to reverse some forms of sterility|
|K||phytonadione|| helps blood to clot; manufactured by intestinal flora (which are killed by antibiotics--eat yogurt)|
|A, E, K also found in dark green, leafy vegetables; milk is supplemented with D (and A)|
(cannot be stored--get some daily, preferable throughout the day)
|various B vitamins have various functions, especially relating to CNS; deficiencies of some cause(s) form(s) of anemia; involved in cytochromes and electron transport chain, etc., too.|
|B2||riboflavin||formerly known as vitamin G; affects oral mucosa and skin; deficiency causes lesions etc.|
|B3||niacin, nicotinic acid||formerly known as vitamin PP; PP = prevents pellagra; pellegra causes skin and CNS symptoms; B3 is in NAD and NADP|
|B4||choline||part of the acetylcholine molecule (a neurotransmitter); cats need choline but not considered necessary for humans in most cases because manufactured in our bodies|
|B6||pyridoxine||coenzyme in a number of chemical reactions; important to blood, CNS, and skin|
|B12||cobalamin||neurological symptoms; depleted by smoking; mostly from animal sources, but also found in Spirulena, a bluegreen alga (bacteria relative, Kingdom Monera); may be related to schizophrenia and other neurological disorders|
|folacin/folic acid||a deficiency in early pregnancy (before mom knows shes pregnant) increases chances of neural tube defects (spinal bifida)--getting enough from before conception through the first trimester can help prevent neural tube defects; deficiency causes a type of anemia; recent research has indicated possible links between deficiency and increased risk of some forms of cancer|
|pantothenic acid||component of coenzyme A; needed to convert choline to acetylcholine and needed by adrenal glands; not considered necessary for humans in most cases|
|biotin||formerly known as vitamin H (related to vitamin B2); raw egg white contains a biotin antagonist (high biotin in yolk) which is destroyed by cooking; used in metabolism of fats and carbohydrates; is a coenzyme|
|inositol||helps liver degrade estrogen in female, thus may help prevent female cancers(?); helpful to reduce blood-glucose levels in diabetics|
|para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)||part of the folic acid molecule; used in sunscreens; may help prevent gray hair(?)|
|bioflavonoids||formerly known as vitamin P; includes rutin, hesperidin, etc. which aid vitamin C to do its job; help strengthen blood vessels (for varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and hemorrhage), found in citrus peel, buckwheat etc.|
|number of the B vitamins are found in yeast, dark green leafy vegetables, and legumes|
|C||ascorbic acid||antioxidant; helps immune system; needed for collagen synthesis including wound healing; has a number of other functions; lens of eye has/needs lots, and getting enough may help prevent cataracts;|
There is a theory that if humans could synthesize vitamin C like other animals, we would make several gm/day. Until recently, the RDA was 60 mg for non-smokers and 100 mg for smokers, but recently, the RDA for non-smokers was raised to 100 mg. However, many people think we should be getting at least 1 to 2 gm/day, especially smokers, after surgery or injury or a broken bone. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruit, dark green leafy vegetables, etc.
Sailors on long trips often got scurvy from lack of vitamin C; bleeding gums was one sign. Experiments in the British navy led to the use of limes on long trips (pickled limes were preserved in kegs of salt). Bruising easily may be a sign of mild deficiency.
(Diagram of structure below)
To establish the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for each vitamin, the government fed volunteers diets deficient in each vitamin and when they got sick, just enough was added to make them well (the MDR or minimum daily requirement), then a little bit more was added for safety, which is the RDA. Originally, these values were established in terms of number of grams, milligrams, micrograms or international units (IU), so a person could calculate how much (s)he was getting based on personal needs. More recently, possibly because they felt too many people were making their own decisions about how much they needed, the government changed labeling laws so only percentages of the average RDA appear on labels. Because of this, it is harder to tell whether you are getting what YOU need because the needs of men and women differ, and factors such as pregnancy, lactation, age, weight, etc. make a difference in a persons needs. For many of the vitamins, many nutritionists believe the RDAs are too low for optimum good health.
For grains, use of the whole grain is important because of nutrients contained in the various parts of the seed. The bran (the outer wrapper) contains lots of fiber and minerals such as iron as well as vitamin B1. The germ or embyro contains a number of vitamins, notably many of the B vitamins and the fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin E, a number of minerals, and much protein that is of high quality (very usable by the human body). The endosperm is mostly short-chain starch, with a small quantity of low quality protein (which is not as useful by humans), and almost no vitamins nor minerals. Note that when wheat is milled to produce white flour, the bran and germ are removed leaving only the endosperm. These isolated short-chain starches are too easily converted to sugar, thus can be a problem for hypoglycemics. When the left-over endosperm is further chemically reacted (bleached) to make it appear even whiter for bleached white flour, even more of whatever nutrients might still be present are destroyed. Interestingly, back in 1943, our government decided this might cause nutritional deficiencies, so by law, manufacturers of white flour must artificially add back in three specific B vitamins (thiamine or B1, riboflavin or B2, and niacin or B3) and iron out of all the nutrients that were removed, thus the bleached white flour is enriched. While whole wheat contains around 16 minerals and 11 vitamins, most are removed in processing white flour, yet these three synthetically-produced vitamins and iron source are all that must be added back in.
A number of minerals are also important. For example, women need adequate iron to replace monthly losses. Mens prostate glands need a lot of zinc. Zinc also helps our immune systems and taste buds to function better. We all need calcium and magnesium for our bones and iodine for our thyroid glands. Vitamin B12 contains a small amount of cobalt. Sodium (in moderation, please) and potassium help our nerve cells to function. Silicon helps strengthen fingernails and hair. Our DNA contains phosphorus, and many of our proteins contain sulfur.
Copyright © 1996 by J. Stein Carter. All rights reserved.
This page has been accessed times since 14 Mar 2001.