What are vitamins? Vitamins are organic molecules that humans need in small amounts to maintain immune and metabolic processes.
Most vitamins and minerals are obtained from the foods we eat. However, when individuals lack certain vitamins in their bodies, they may need to take vitamin supplements to stay healthy.
The history of vitamin supplements traces back to the 1800s. At this time, scientists may not have been able to produce a vitamin, but they began to discover the benefits of vitamins.
Over time, researchers and scientists were able to turn their findings about the benefits of vitamins into actual supplements that could be mass-produced.
Dutch physician Christiaan Eijkman was one of the first to recognize the benefits of vitamins. In the 1890s, Dr. Eijkman set out to determine why soldiers died from a popular medical condition.
He discovered that the condition was caused by a poor diet. In addition, he found that feeding brown, or unpolished, rice to animals helped to prevent the condition.
In 1912, Polish biochemist Dr. Casimir Funk was able to isolate the substance responsible for increased immunity to the condition.
Funk is credited with being the first to identify the concept of a vitamin. Since the substance he identified contained an amine group, Funk called it a “vitamine.”
Advances in Vitamin Research
Over the decades that followed, scientists made significant advancements in vitamin research. In the 1920s, for example, researchers discovered the benefits of vitamin C in food.
Vitamin E was identified in vegetable oils, and German chemist Adolf Windaus received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He discovered how vitamin D formed under the influence of ultraviolet light or sunlight.
In the 1930s, researchers in Switzerland figured out how to artificially create vitamin C. The vitamin C pill was manufactured by the Swiss company Hoffman-La Roche.
This was the first mass-manufactured vitamin ever made.
The manufacturing of vitamin supplements is a complex, multi-step process. It is particularly thorough in order to ensure that vitamins have the correct mixture of ingredients.
The steps in the manufacturing process including the following:
Technicians inspect the ingredients and substances to make sure that their chemical composition is accurate. They test the vitamins for their potency and checked for possible contamination.
During this stage, a machine turns the mixture into a fine powder. Some substances may arrive at the manufacturer in powder form. At this time, fillers enter the mixture to ensure a more even and consistent granule.
Here, a liquid helps to bind the dry powder together. A binding agent keeps the mixture together. The mixture dries and then passes through a screen or mill to create smaller granules.
Weighing and mixing
After that, a scale weighs the vitamin ingredients. While the ingredients are mixing, scientists analyze samples to ensure that ingredients and substances spread evenly throughout the mixture.
Next, the mixture moves to another machine. The machine splits the capsule in half and distributes a particular amount of the vitamin mixture into one half of the capsule. The top half of the capsule pushes down onto the bottom half.
Soft brushes polish the capsule in a machine. After polishing, technicians again inspect the capsules. Any capsule with an irregular shape, size or weight will be removed from the batch.
Vitamins that are tablets go through the tableting machine. This compresses the vitamin mixture into a tablet.
Finally, coating helps to make the tablet easier to swallow. Manufacturers may also coat the tablet in a particular color to make it easier to identify. Some coatings affect how the tablet dissolves during digestion.
Benefits of Vitamins
Evidence shows that vitamins have clear benefits for human health. Many of these health benefits are widely known to the public. Calcium supports bone health. Vitamin C helps to support a healthy immune system.
Vitamin D is critical to regulating how the body absorbs calcium and phosphorous. It also facilitates normal immune functions.
Although vitamins provide important health benefits, many people are able to obtain the vitamins they need from a rich and balanced diet. Researchers have found that a good diet is sufficient to support healthy bodily functions.
However, this doesn’t mean that vitamins are not needed. There are some people that need vitamins to make up for certain vitamin deficiencies.
Who can Benefit from Vitamins
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that women of childbearing age take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. This helps to prevent a major birth defect of the brain or spine in babies. In addition, those with weak bones can benefit from taking a regular vitamin D supplement.
Of course, vitamins are important for those people who do not eat a rich or balanced diet. Poor people and those that abuse drugs and alcohol can benefit from regular vitamins.
In addition, people who have dietary restrictions (e.g., vegetarians) may need to improve their diet with vitamins to stay healthy. Individuals who do not get much exposure to sunlight would benefit from taking vitamin D supplements.
Popularity & Use Today
A 2013 survey of people who take supplements found that the most popular supplement taken is fish oil. Omega-3 fish oil may be helpful in preventing and managing heart disease.
Findings show that fish oil can also help to lower blood pressure. Other popular vitamin supplements included multivitamins (65.4%), vitamin D (55.5%), calcium (48.4%), B vitamins (44.2%), and vitamin C (41.2%).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), multivitamins account for about one-sixth of supplement purchases. They represent about 40% of all vitamin sales, making it an estimated $36.7 billion market in 2014.