A historic look at how they were discovered and why you need them.
In the 1800s, Americans ate a lot of meat, corn, and root vegetables—whatever they could grow or raise. They also died young from diseases like scurvy, cholera, and smallpox.
Today, we have a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and meat available anytime, anywhere. We also have a better understanding of vitamins, minerals, and how to include them in our diet.
Here is a historic look at five nutrients seniors need. Collectively, these essential nutrients ensure bone and heart health and optimum nerve function. They also help lower your risk of everything from the common cold to cancer.
Humans have used calcium since 2500 BC when early man made kilns out of lime (limestone is a form of calcium carbonate). It wasn’t until 1808 that calcium, along with magnesium, strontium, and barium, were isolated by Humphry Davy. It took another century for scientists to learn how to produce calcium in bulk.
Calcium is the fifth-most-abundant element in the earth’s crust and the most abundant element in the human body. Most biological calcium resides in our bones. We need dietary calcium to help build or maintain bone density, to keep our teeth healthy, and for blood clotting and muscle contraction. Cheese, yogurt, sardines, and salmon all contain high amounts of calcium.
After its success with thiamin production, Merck & Co. appointed researcher Randolph Major to lead a team to isolate, synthesize and market every vitamin. The ambitious project led to the discovery and synthesis of most B vitamins between 1922 and 1940. B12 came in 1947.
The eight water-soluble B vitamins are essential for the body to convert carbs, fat, and protein for energy. Collectively, they assist with nerve function, vision, food metabolism, and to form red blood cells. Find them in whole grains, meat, eggs, beans, and dark leafy greens.
Physiologist Francois Magendie was probably on to something when, in 1816, he observed that dogs deprived of nutrition developed corneal ulcers and died. Later discoveries showed that Vitamin A is critical for vision and plays a critical role in the normal formation and maintenance of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.
Vitamin A is found in small quantities in milk. Excellent sources include liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and kale.
Not knowing why they helped, doctors in the 1700s gave lemons and limes to people with scurvy, a disease that killed two million sailors between 1500 and 1800. What helped the sailors was a dose of Vitamin C, aka ascorbic acid, now one of the best-known and widely accessible vitamins. Its official discovery came in 1932 by scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.
Vitamin C, along with Vitamins A and E, neutralizes free radicals that damage tissues and lead to a host of diseases. It also helps the body produce collagen, an essential building block of our internal organs and glowing skin. Get your daily dose of C from citrus fruits and vegetables.
Doctor Herbert Evans and his assistant, Katherine Bishop, discovered Vitamin E, (alpha-tocopherol) in 1922. In 1937, Dr. Evans found a way to isolate the fat-soluble vitamin.
Vitamin E is essential for heart health. Like Vitamin C, it’s a free-radical scavenger. Foods highest in E include wheat germ, canola, hazelnut, sunflower, and safflower oil. Of whole foods, almonds top the list at 25.6 mg per 100 g serving.
Thanks to modern science, we have the information needed about these essential nutrients. A healthy, balanced diet will help you get the vitamins and minerals you need to maintain optimal health in your senior years.