What do dairy cows, lab rats, lard, and wheat germ have to do with the discovery of vitamin E 100 years ago in 1922? Most everyone credits the initial discovery of Vitamin E (“anti-sterility vitamin”) to Herbert Evans and Katherine Bishop, gifted medical researchers at U C Berkeley. They found that lab rats consuming a milk-based diet containing 15% lard grew normally but could not reproduce. Although their diet contained Vitamin A (via cod liver oil), B vitamins (from yeast), Vitamin C (orange juice), and vitamin D (cod liver oil), it wasn’t until the researchers supplemented lettuce leaves and eventually wheat germ that female rats could carry a litter to term. However, as with all great discoveries, there were a few unsung heroes in the discovery of E, including Henry Mattill at the University of Rochester NY. Dr. Mattill wanted to prove that cow’s milk was “the perfect food” and investigated lab rat diets based on casein (milk protein), cornstarch, and various known vitamin and energy sources. Rats on Mattill’s diets grew normally, but could not reproduce. Later, Evans and Bishop repeated some of Mattill’s work with their high-lard/butterfat diets, concluding that “natural foods, as opposed to purified diets contained a substance not needed for normal growth, but essential for reproduction.” Today that statement might feel right at home in the popular press and marketing literature, but of course researchers wanted to find out what was missing from “natural foods” in their experimental diets. What was missing was a brand new vitamin, which was given the next letter of the alphabet; vitamin E. And if the test ration hadn’t contained casein (low vitamin E content) and 15% lard (very pro-oxidative), vitamin E’s birthday would have been delayed possibly many years.
Since 1922 things moved very quickly for vitamin E. The molecule (alpha-tocopherol) was isolated in 1935, synthesized in 1938, and manufactured by Hoffmann La Roche shortly thereafter. Quickly identified as the leading fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin, Vitamin E continues to be one of the most important and highly-researched vitamins in dsm-firmenich’s arsenal, with research-backed recommendations for every species and segment. New applications for vitamin E continue to be discovered every year.
20 June 2022
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