Folic Acid: Learning About B Vitamins

Friday, June 26, 2015

An example of preventive medicine added to the 1951 NIH Clinical Center time capsule was a vial of synthetic folic acid, a B vitamin. Folic acid had first been isolated in crystalline form in 1943, but in 1951, Dr. James Hundley, Head of the Laboratory of Nutrition at the then National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, wrote that the “exact chemical form in which folic acid exists as a functional unit in metabolism is still in doubt."

In this photo, lab technicians monitor changes in rats’ weight and blood for folic acid deficiency. A deficiency was found to cause anemia, among other symptoms, and birth defects. Folic acid is now added to bread, cereals, and other foods to help prevent birth defects.

Hundley also did important work on identifying niacin’s role in pellagra, another vitamin deficiency disease. Although his main interest was the nutritional status of populations, he also headed a committee in the 1960s that made recommendations on the mission and structure of the Public Health Service.

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