Skip to content
Font Size
A
A
A

The ABCs of Vitamins

What's the story behind your supplement?

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD

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.

Recommended Related to Drugs and Herbs

Generic Drugs

Q: Are generic versions of drugs really just as good (and safe) as their brand-name counterparts? A: Yes, for many reasons. Today, almost half of all prescriptions in the United States are filled with generic drugs. They are less expensive and often require a lower co-pay if you have insurance, which could mean big cost savings for you. Generic drug manufacturers don’t have the initial investment costs associated with development of a new drug. Original manufacturers are given a patent for...

Read the Generic Drugs article > >

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 possibly arthritis.

Vitamin B

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.

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

sore foot
3 warning signs.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
psoriasis
What it looks like.
checking blood sugar
Symptoms and treatment.
man behind computer screen
10 possible causes.
Woman with itchy watery eyes
Common triggers.
man screaming
Making sense of symptoms.
human liver
What puts you at risk?
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.
two male hands
Understanding RA.

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.