At a recent meeting of the Manchester section of the Society of Chemical Industry, Professor F. Gowland Hopkins, in an interesting paper entitled “Some Chemical Qualities of the Living Cell,” referred to the important part which vitamins play in foods, and to the dangers arising from the continual ingestion of chemical preservatives in foods. Professor Gowland Hopkins observed that the conception of a vitamin had certain encrustations about it which prevented everybody accepting what were really said to be very important scientific facts. He had not attempted to define a vitamin. In an adult community, under good economic conditions, the need for something other than a supply of energy did not seem to assert itself, because the vitamins were always present in all natural foods. Special circumstances were required to make their importance obvious, or they would have been discovered many years ago instead of in the past ten years or so. Being connected with the subject of diet they naturally attracted the attention of quacks, and therefore a good deal of nonsense had been written about them; while, on the other hand, it was equally true what was written about vitamins gave a great opportunity for trade stunts. Vitamins had not yet been isolated, so that their chemical composition was unknown. What he wished to urge was that the facts known about vitamins were important. You may feed an animal upon a diet consisting of the most excellent protein and really superior fat and best carbohydrate in the market, and supply it with the necessary salts in the right ratio. So long as those materials were pure and not mixed with traces of any other ingredients the dietary would be eaten, enjoyed, fully digested, thoroughly broken down in the body and its energy extracted, and yet any animal continuing to eat it would inevitably die. In order to convert that dietary into a perfect one for the maintenance of life materials must be added which acted in almost infinitesimal concentration within the cellular structure of the living organism. The only present definition of a vitamin of a definite constitution was that it was a substance of extreme nutritive importance which acted in infinitesimal concentration. In the case of Fat Soluble Vitamin A. 0·004 mgms added to a synthetic dietary made just the dilference between certain death and excellent life in the case of a rat weighing 100 grms. They must not despise the rat; it was, in all essentials, of the same physical constitution as human beings. In the case of a 70 kgm man 2½ mgs would be required to bridge the difference between health and death. Only under exceptional circumstances, such as a state of war, did the lack of vitamins intrude itself in respect of adults, but the feeding of infants must be placed in a different category.
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