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discovering the key to growth and health East Anglia,

Image shows bottles of vitamins A,B and D.
Vitamin pills. Colindunn, flickr under a creative commons attribution licence.

Vitamins are naturally occurring and found in many foods but their existence was only discovered in 1912. In a series of ingeniously-designed feeding experiments in his lab in Cambridge, Frederick Gowland Hopkins (1861-1947) showed that young rats failed to thrive when fed on a strictly controlled synthetic diet of purified carbohydrates, fats and proteins with mineral salts and water. Hopkins reasoned that some foods contained 'accessory food factors' that are required only in trace amounts but are indispensable for normal growth and health. 

These factors soon became known as vitamins. Gradually, during the inter-war years, the different vitamins were chemically isolated and characterised, and shown to be necessary for the prevention of different disorders in humans or animals. 

The ability to synthesise products in the laboratory that were identical in properties and physiological effect with the natural vitamins spawned a new industry of nutritional supplements.

Hopkins was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1929.

Royal Society

Biology, Chemistry, Medicine,
East Anglia
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
Key Individuals
Frederick Gowland Hopkins,