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April 1993

The History of Vitamin A and Its Ophthalmic ImplicationsA Personal Viewpoint

Author Affiliations

Dr Maumenee was the founding director of Spectra Pharmaceuticals Inc. He now has no connection with the company.

Arch Ophthalmol. 1993;111(4):547-550. doi:10.1001/archopht.1993.01090040139048

In ancient Egypt, night blindness was described as early as 1500 BC in the "Ebers Papyrus" No. 3511; it is possible that this information was obtained from even earlier medical sources dating back to 2500 BC. Although the Egyptians did not know of vitamin A or of the fact that a diet deficient in this vitamin would lead to a decline in the visual pigment rhodopsin (necessary for the function of the rods in the retina), night blindness was undoubtedly the first clearly recognized nutritional-deficiency disease.

The ancient Egyptians treated night blindness by instilling the juice of compressed liver onto the surface of the eye. Current thought suggests that not enough of the vitamin A contained in the liver extract could be absorbed from the surface of the eye to cure the night blindness. However, if applied frequently enough, the drops of liver extract could have passed down the

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