How many of us, at least once in our lives, have been advised to take one or more types of vitamin to help improve our health? And how many millions of people worldwide believe in the efficacy of taking vitamin supplements? I for one knew very little about the origins of the incredible array of these items to be found on the shelves of stores everywhere.
We know the hobby of stamp collecting can be educational. Thus when investigating the seemingly ordinary stamps shown below, I discovered something about a very important person whose research and findings almost a century ago have led to the creation of today’s multi-million Euro vitamin supplement industry.
The man featured on the top stamp sheet above is Paul Karrer and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1937. Born in Moscow to Swiss parents in 1889, in 1892 his parents returned to Switzerland to live. His education included gaining a PH.D. in Chemistry in 1911. By 1919 he was Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Chemical Institute in Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany.
His most important work concerned plant pigments, particularly the yellow carotenoids. He showed that some of these substances are transformed in the body into vitamin A. His work led to the establishment of the formula for beta-carotene, the main forerunner of vitamin A. This was the first time that the structure of a vitamin or provitamin had been established. Later, Karrer confirmed the structure of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) researched vitamins B2 and E. His important contributions to the chemistry of the flavins led to identification of lactoflavin as part of the complex originally thought to be vitamin B2.