The Ancient Greeks were great thinkers and philosophers. However, they were a little short on experimental methods or scientific observation. Hippocrates conjectured that since people were the same, regardless what they ate (near the seacoast, versus inland diets, for example) there must be one nutrient that everything is made of. This one nutrient theory persisted for a very long time, until almost the modern era.
In the late 1700's a brilliant young French scientist, Antoine Lavoisier, became the "Father of Nutrition" from his brilliant work in chemistry. He put weight measures into chemistry, designed a calorimeter which measured the heat produced by the body from work and consumption of varying amounts and types of foods, and is famous for the statement "Life is a chemical process" (in French). He was elected to the French Academy of Science at age 24, and would have gone on to even greater scientific accomplishments, but was from an aristocratic family at the time in France when it was unpopular to be. He was beheaded in the French Revolution in 1794. For OPTIONAL further information, following are several links about Lavoisier: Lavoisier-1, This reference is good and brief, and uncharacteristically, includes aspects critical of his character. Lavoisier-2, Good, brief, has good other web-references at end. Lavoisier-3, see this one for something rather original (fictitious 1794 article). Lavoisier-4 , From the Wikipedia, free encyclopedia. Lavoisier-5 , Perhaps the best reference, a site devoted to Lavoisier. Image gallery of Lavoisier , Lavoisier-painting
Dr. James Lind, in 1753, published his Treatise on Scurvy, ten years after the birth of Lavoisier, and this treatise has been credited with recognition of the curative effect of fresh fruit on scurvy. In fact, the myth that Lind, Physician to the Fleet, relieved the British navy of scurvy by prescribing lemon juice, then called lime, has grown and been repeated (by myself as well as others). Actually, Lind failed to recognize the importance of his own experiments (and they were not truly the first suggestions of the effect of nutrion on scurvy) and 40 years transpired before lemons were placed on naval ships by the Admiralty, pushed to do so by Gilbert Blane (with contributions to scurvy research by Joseph Priestly). Henceforth, the British Limeys were healthy when they went against their enemies after lengthy engagements at sea, helping maintain Britain's dominance of the seas. Some have credited Lind as much as Nelson as being responsible for breaking the power of Napolean; one can see Lind should receive less credit, but the effect of nutrition on the history of man is more sure. For OPTIONAL further information, following are several links about Dr. Lind: Lind-1 BBC article, portions of copy of A treatise of the scurvy, 1953 . This view which explodes the myth of Lind's importance in the matter has emerged and is presented here. Interesting information regarding Vitamin C megatherapy, which we will discuss later, WAS at http://copland.udel.edu/~naltou/effects.html . MOST sites google finds regarding "Vitamin C" and "megadose", or similar, are no longer available on the web. Generally thought to be harmless, THIS REFERENCE raises suspicion. .
An interesting story is that of Dr. William Beaumont and Alexio St. Martine in the 19th century. Beaumont was an army doctor stationed at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. Alexio St. Martin was a French trapper, who was shot in the stomach at a trading post bar. Despite his best efforts, Beaumont was unable to close the hole in his stomach and it healed with an opening to the outside. We call that a fistula. St. Martin allowed Beaumont to make observations, periodically disappearing and then coming back to allow further investigation. One can imagine that it must have been a delicate situation, with a rough and ready trapper allowing the good army doctor to fiddle around with his innards. Eventually St. Martin left, returning to Canada where he lived a long life (hole and all). In the mean time however, Beaumont conducted many experiments and discovered many new and interesting things, previously unobserved. For example:
The 20th century became the era of the Golden Age of Nutrition, when most of the discoveries of the nutrients took place. Dr. Stephen Babcock was instrumental in helping to open the age. Babcock, better known for the Babcock test for milk fat that bears his name, conceived the idea to feed dairy cattle feed from just one source, all corn plant or all wheat plant. He placed two heifers on such diets, but when one died, his animals were taken away and his attempts to conduct the experiment were denied by his Experiment Station Director; after all, everyone knew that such diets were impractical and not productive and that cows needed more varied diets than that to be productive.
His associates (Hart, Humphrey, McCollum, Steenbock) eventually conducted Babcock's experiment. Four five-month-old heifers each were fed either only feed from the corn plant, the wheat plant, the oat plant or a mixture of all three. Weight gain was similar the first year, but the corn fed animals were sleeker and more vigorous than the wheat fed ones. When they were bred, each of the corn fed cows had normal calves, but the wheat-fed cows all had calves that were dead or died soon after birth. The wheat-fed cows gave only one-third the milk as those fed corn. It was clear to them that:
Water soluble substances with active properties were labeled B, and it soon was obvious that more than one thing was involved, hence B1, B2, B3, etc., some of which turned out not to be vitamins at all, some of which were the same as others, and so on.
Vitamin C was elucidated with the fortuitous use of the guinea pig, since only man, the guinea pig, subhuman primates (in other words, monkeys), the red-throated bulbul, and very few other animals (certain bats, birds and reptiles) require vitamin C, the rest forming their own in intermediary metabolism. There is some small evidence of needs by animals when stress is very high, or while the animal is very young.
This era of vitamin discovery flourished through the discovery of Vitamin B12 (1948, reported 1949). Though a few other important substances have been discovered since, the great dietary requirements for disease-preventing essential nutrients ended with the discovery of Vitamin B12. Some interesting information regarding Vitamin B12 is that it was the essential "animal protein factor". Prior to it's discovery, animal protein foods were essential in the diet to prevent pernicious anemia (pernicious = "leading to death"). Some people with inborn errors of metabolism had great trouble with this disease, because, it turns out, they lacked "intrinsic factor" from the stomach, which aids absorption of Vitamin B12. With the discovery of the vitamin, it became possible to give such individuals B12 injections, circumventing the absorption problem.
With discovery of the presence of minute organic factors (vitamins) essential to the diet came also recognition and research into minute amounts of certain minerals that are essential in the diet. Discovery of the role of trace minerals in the diet coincided with discovery of the vitamins, and elucidation of their essentiality, their roles and interactions continues today. Zinc's prevention of parakeratosis was discovered in the 1950's and 60's, selenium's essentiality was discovered in the 1970's (a very interesting story surrounds that, which will be gone into in more detail later in the course), and chromium, though recognized as essential since it's part of an enzyme, is still controversial today.