It's hard to imagine that during the 1970s, when scientist and nutrition
pioneer Linus Pauling trumpeted megadoses of vitamin C, vitamins were still
considered by many to be for health nuts and weirdos.
These supplements -- once called "vitamines" -- were once touted as
miracle cures, beauty boosts, and sex aids. Yet as the century has progressed,
vitamins have slowly worked their way into the mainstream, helping to prevent a
host of ailments.
Medicine is rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness before becoming available to the consumer. In the U.S., the FDA makes sure this happens. Once on the market, the FDA, along with the makers of the drug, continue to monitor the medicine for any unforeseen problems. Should an issue develop, or the safety of a medication come into question, a recall may be initiated.
By 1921, only vitamins A, B, and C were known, according to Rima L. Apple,
author of Vitamania and a professor of consumer science at the
University of Wisconsin in Madison. Thanks in part to increasing government
interest in nutrition, by the 1940s the number of known vitamins was 20.
All About C
A century or more before Linus Pauling, English sailors ate limes to prevent
an anemia-causing condition called scurvy. Preventing scurvy wasn't the only
merit of vitamin C. By the time a researcher dubbed vitamin C a "mystic
white crystal of health" in 1938, its antioxidant qualities were
well-documented -- and linked to helping prevent cancers and heart disease.
While clinical trials over the years have failed to support Pauling's
argument that vitamin C prevents colds, a National Institutes of Health study
shows high doses may help people fight cancer, heart disease, cataracts, and
During World War II, soldiers were shipped off to battle with vitamin
packets along with their rations. Researchers argued that workers taking
vitamin B seemed calmer and were less likely to go on strike. By 1937,
manufacturers regularly enriched flour with niacin, one of the B vitamins. The
supplement helped prevent a disease then commonly known as pellagra -- a lack
of niacin that can lead to stomach problems and even mental disorder.
Besides niacin, the vitamin B family includes thiamine, folic acid, B6,
riboflavin, and B12. Tufts University researchers have shown that B vitamins
may help improve mental dexterity among seniors.
We all get some form of B vitamin in the grains we eat, but most of us must
take supplements to get all our bodies need. In January 1998, the FDA required
food makers to enrich bread and cereals with B vitamins.