what no one had thought:
Albert Szent-Györgyi and the discovery of vitamin C
sitting down to nutritious meals usually do not consider what would happen
if fresh vegetables and fruit or vitamin-supplemented juices and cereals
were not routinely available. Centuries ago, sailors experienced such
a lack first-hand: swollen and bleeding gums, loose teeth, hemorrhaging
under the skin, and slowed healing of wounds. Because what we now call
vitamin C was in short supply on most ships, human bodies reacted by developing
the condition known as scurvy. Death could, and often did, quickly follow,
thousands of miles away from otherwise life-sustaining provisions.
Scurvy had long been the scourge of those who sailed for extended distances
far from fresh stores and supplies, with the first clear-cut descriptions
of the malady appearing in the medieval records of the European Crusades.
Toward the end of the 15th century, scurvy was cited as the major cause
of disability and mortality among sailors on long sea voyages. Although
Danish mariners were long acquainted with the condition, and included
lemons and oranges in their marine stores, it was not until 1753 that
scurvy was recognized in the British medical community at large as directly
related to dietary deficiency.
But it would take even longer to pinpoint the scurvy-prevention substance
responsible for maintaining the bodys connective tissues. That would
take the meticulous work of a brilliant Hungarian-born researcher named
Albert Szent-Györgyi, whose isolation and identification of vitamin
C and discovery of the metabolic mechanism that enables its use within
cells would be recognized with a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.