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Invited Commentary
October 11, 2010

The Vital Amines: Too Much of a Good Thing?Comment on “Effects of Lowering Homocysteine Levels With B Vitamins on Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and Cause-Specific Mortality”

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(18):1631-1633. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2010.338

In 1747, Joseph Lind demonstrated that giving citrus fruit to sailors on long voyages cured them of scurvy, a debilitating illness. Scurvy was the first disease for which the proven cause was a nutritional deficiency, although the missing nutrient, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), was not isolated until 1928.1 In 1912, Casmir Funk proposed that inadequate consumption of “vital amines” (vitamins) in food could cause disease.1 He had isolated vitamin B1 (thiamine), the nutrient that, when deficient in the diet, will result in beriberi. Based on a growing recognition of diseases caused by insufficient vitamins in the diet, the US government began to require fortification of commonly consumed foods.2,3 Examples include milk fortification with vitamin D and flour enriched with thiamine, folate, riboflavin, and niacin.2 The goal of fortification is to prevent diseases of vitamin deficiency.