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.
The next time your doctor writes you a prescription, consider this: The
medication may not be approved for your specific condition or age group.
But you probably shouldn't call the medical board. The practice, called
"off-label" prescribing, is entirely legal and very common. More than one
in five outpatient prescriptions written in the U.S. are for off-label
"Off-label" means the medication is being used in a manner not specified in
the FDA's approved packaging label, or insert...
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.
One of the most important B vitamins is folic acid. In 1991, new research
found that women taking supplemental folic acid before pregnancy had fewer
birth defects such as spina bifida in their unborn children. The next year, the
U.S. Public Health Service recommended that women in their childbearing years
increase their intake of folic acid from 180 to 400 micrograms a day.
A recent Food and Drug Administration study also found a possible link
between children with Down's syndrome and low levels of folic acid in their
mothers during pregnancy. "It's been the most amazing breakthrough in
pregnancy in the whole century," says Elizabeth Ward, a registered
dietitian and author of Pregnancy Nutrition.