Beriberi, Chickens and the Multivitamin-A brief history.

Woman taking vitamin better rebuild

Do you go a day without partaking in #VitaminD4COVID? Didn’t think so. In this day and age, where immune health and support is front and center in everyone’s mind, it is no wonder why the vitamin industry is predicted to expand to a $118 billion industry by 2027. That’s nearly a $70 billion growth from it’s $48 billion estimated worth in 2019. But where did the bombardment of vitamin and supplement ads and companies get their traction… How did we get here?  

To understand the societal interest in vitamins and the scientific research that backs the industry, one should know how the vitamin was discovered. Take a 30 second journey back to the 1880’s, the population in America was exceeding 50 million, steel framed buildings were being established and people were dropping due to an illness called ‘beriberi.’ Beriberi caused people to lose feeling in their legs and have trouble walking. Years of theories were spread about beriberi and how people contracted it, when one day, chickens provided an answer. Chickens accidentally were given processed rice and they began displaying signs of beriberi. A chef was replaced and refused to serve chickens, “left over human scraps,” and the chickens began eating unprocessed rice again… all beriberi symptoms dissipated. 

How did this evolve into the vitamin world we know of now? 

It was found that unprocessed rice holds a “vital amine” (later shortened to “vitamin”), B1. And then sparked the start of the industry we know and love, or maybe hate.  

Following the discovery of vitamins in the 1880’s, Multi-Vitamins (MV) arrived on the scene in the 1940’s and have been popular since. There have been numerous use cases of the MV such as general health improvement, increase in nutrient intake, and benefits during illnesses. As the industry expanded, vitamin spectrums emerged further, cataloging the types of multivitamins and the reason for intake. 

3 key spectrums include:

  • Basic: multivitamins that provide most if not all vitamins needed for daily nutrient intake that do not exceed the daily recommended values i.e. OneADay
  • High Potency: a vitamin that contains higher values of a specific mineral that is required for daily intake i.e. Biotin pills, Iron pills
  • Specialized: Multivitamins ingested for energy, enhanced performances, weight loss/gain, immune function, etc. i.e. BCAAs, Probiotics.

Today, you can likely categorize any vitamin you see on the shelfs, in your Amazon cart, or advertised on Instagram into one of these 3 buckets. 

The vitamin industry may seem saturated and even overrated, due to our knowledge that if you, “eat right, you’ll get the nutrients you need,” but there are many countries that still do not have the option to “eat right.” People are suffering from malnutrition and the option to change their diet is unfathomable. The vitamin industry is needed and has solid reasons to expand. 

Also, I’ll leave you with this. While reading this, are your hands or feet cold, maybe you’re feeling a bit more lethargic than usual, or trying to push the idea of a sore throat out of your mind… I’m sure there’s a vitamin to help with that.