RFF#13 – Vitamin B1 was discovered because someone noticed that chickens eating white rice were dying while chickens eating brown rice weren’t

As the story goes, Christiaan Eijkman, a Dutch doctor in Indonesia in the 1880s, was conducting an experiment to see if bacteria were responsible for a disease called “beriberi”.

At first, Eijkman couldn’t figure out why all of his chickens were getting sick. Then out of nowhere, they started getting better. After a chat with the chicken-keeper, Eijkman realized that initially the chickens were being fed leftover white rice that was donated from the hospital next-door. But after the hospital cook stopped providing them with these leftovers, the chicken-keeper started feeding the chickens brown, unpolished rice. Then, out of nowhere, the chickens recovered.

This is what ultimately led to the discovery of what Eijkman called the “anti-beriberi factor”, or what we call “Vitamin B1”.

—I learned about this fact from:  “Christiaan Eijkman, Beriberi and Vitamin B1.” Nobelprize.org.20 Sep 2012. http:www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/vitamin_b1/Eijkman.html