Nutrition and Noble prizes are intimately linked. Nutrition is a well established science that could make significant improvements in health care throughout the world. Instead, nutrition is not taught in medical school, and actively discouraged in the distribution of the $3.7 trillion health care quagmire in the US. “Real medicine” is thought of as drugs, surgery, gene therapy, and other high tech expensive invasive therapies. Meanwhile, the foundations of nutrition science are solidly rooted in numerous Nobel prizes, considered the epitome of scientific accomplishments.
In the pantheon of Nobel laureates, there exists a remarkable cohort of scientists whose pioneering work revolves around the Krebs cycle, a fundamental metabolic process taking place within the mitochondria of our cells. Their groundbreaking contributions have not only unraveled the complexities of cellular energy production but have also cast a brilliant spotlight on the very essence of life. Today, we embark on a journey to explore how these laureates’ insights tie into the realm of optimal nutrition for energy metabolism, revealing the intricate dance of nutrients and vitality within our bodies.
Their contributions have illuminated the intricacies of cellular energy production, shedding light on the essence of life itself.
The Krebs Cycle: Powerhouse of Energy
In the early 20th century, a British biochemist named Sir Hans Adolf Krebs embarked on a journey that would uncover the pivotal role of the citric acid cycle, commonly known as the Krebs cycle, in cellular metabolism. This series of chemical reactions takes place within the mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse, and is integral to extracting energy from nutrients such as glucose.
Krebs’s work, conducted during the 1930s and 1940s, unraveled the sequential steps of the cycle, revealing how it efficiently generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s primary energy currency. The cycle not only provides energy but also produces precursor molecules necessary for the synthesis of essential molecules, such as amino acids and fatty acids.
In 1953, Sir Hans Adolf Krebs was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the citric acid cycle and its role in cellular respiration. This recognition underscored the cycle’s significance in understanding the fundamental mechanisms that sustain life. Krebs’s work laid the foundation for comprehending how cells generate and utilize energy, paving the way for advancements in fields like biochemistry, physiology, and medicine.
Another scientist, Fritz Lipmann, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1953 alongside Krebs for his elucidation of coenzyme A, a molecule crucial for numerous biochemical reactions, including those within the Krebs cycle. Lipmann’s contributions provided further insight into the complex web of chemical reactions that enable cells to harness energy efficiently.
Optimal Nutrition: Ongoing Research
The understanding of the Krebs cycle has not only transformed our knowledge of cellular energy production but also influenced medical research and therapeutic approaches. Dysregulation of the cycle’s components is linked to a range of diseases, including metabolic disorders and some forms of cancer. Insights into the cycle have guided the development of treatments and interventions that target cellular energy pathways.
Furthermore, the Krebs cycle’s connection to the broader field of metabolism has sparked ongoing research into its interactions with other cellular processes. In recent years, scientists have uncovered links between the Krebs cycle and epigenetics, immune response regulation, and even aging. Many vitamins, like thiamin (TPP), niacin (NAD), biotin, and CoQ are essential for the body to extract energy and maintain the processes of life via the Kreb’s cycle.
Niacin’s Role in Treating Pellagra
In the early 20th century, a mysterious and devastating disease known as pellagra plagued numerous regions around the world. Characterized by the “three Ds”—dermatitis, diarrhea, and dementia—pellagra inflicted suffering on its victims, leading to disfigurement, gastrointestinal distress, and severe neurological symptoms. The disease predominantly affected populations whose diets were heavily reliant on corn-based foods and lacking in essential nutrients.
The Niacin Connection: Optimal Nutrition for Energy Metabolism
The breakthrough in understanding and treating pellagra came when the link between the disease and poor nutrition was identified. It was established that pellagra was caused by a deficiency of the B-vitamin niacin (vitamin B3) in the diet. The deficiency disrupted critical biochemical processes, leading to the cascade of symptoms associated with the disease.
In 1937, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, an American physician, and his colleagues made significant strides in uncovering the root cause of pellagra. Through meticulous experiments and studies, they demonstrated that pellagra could be prevented and even cured by dietary interventions that included sources rich in niacin.
Nobel Recognition: The Impact of Goldberger’s Work
Though Dr. Goldberger himself did not receive the Nobel Prize, his work laid the foundation for the understanding of niacin’s role in pellagra prevention and treatment. His research prompted subsequent studies that confirmed the curative effects of niacin supplementation, saving countless lives and eradicating the once-widespread disease.
Furthermore, Dr. Gerty Cori and her husband Dr. Carl Cori, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947, contributed to the understanding of niacin’s biochemical role. Their research delved into the metabolic pathways related to carbohydrate metabolism, shedding light on how niacin deficiency affected cellular processes.
Niacin and niacinamide are now used therapeutically at supra physiological levels to lower serum cholesterol, prevent recurring skin cancer, and even treat cancer.
Thiamine Defeating Beriberi: Optimal Nutrition
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the disease beriberi wreaked havoc on populations, particularly in regions where diets were heavily dependent on polished rice, which lacked essential nutrients. Characterized by symptoms including muscle weakness, peripheral neuropathy, heart failure, and edema, beriberi caused significant morbidity and mortality.
The Turning Point: Thiamine’s Discovery
The breakthrough in understanding and treating beriberi came with the discovery of thiamine, a crucial B-vitamin. The origins of this revelation trace back to the work of Dr. Christiaan Eijkman, a Dutch physician and scientist. Eijkman’s research in the early 20th century uncovered the link between beriberi and diet, particularly the consumption of polished rice.
In 1929, Eijkman was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins. Eijkman’s work illuminated the role of dietary deficiencies in causing beriberi and paved the way for subsequent research into the curative effects of thiamine-rich foods.
Thiamine’s Curative Powers
Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, was identified as the essential nutrient lacking in diets that led to beriberi. Researchers found that administering thiamine-rich foods or thiamine supplements to individuals suffering from beriberi could alleviate symptoms and reverse the devastating effects of the disease.
The impact of this discovery was transformative. Thiamine supplementation not only saved lives but also changed the landscape of nutritional understanding and interventions. By recognizing the critical role of thiamine in preventing and treating beriberi, researchers and health professionals forged a path toward better health for millions of people.
Through the consumption of white rice devoid of most nutrients found in brown rice researchers were able to connect the dots on nutrients found in whole foods. Thiamine is used therapeutically to augment immune functions and slow the loss of vision in multiple sclerosis.
In 1982, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Sir John R. Vane, Sune K. Bergström, and Bengt I. Samuelsson for their groundbreaking work in understanding prostaglandins and related molecules. These bioactive lipids, derived from fatty acids, were initially discovered in the prostate gland, which gave them their name.
Prostaglandins are known for their diverse and potent effects on various bodily functions. They play a pivotal role in regulating inflammation, blood flow, blood clotting, and pain perception, among other processes. These effects have made prostaglandins a crucial target for medical research and drug development.
Impact on Medical Science
The discovery of prostaglandins’ significance has had profound implications for medical science and healthcare. The insights provided by the Nobel laureates’ research have paved the way for the development of medications that target prostaglandins to manage a wide range of conditions. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for instance, work by inhibiting the production of inflammatory prostaglandins, offering relief from pain and inflammation.
Prostaglandins are generated from our diet. High sugar (insulin) and low intake of fish oil or borage oil generates prostaglandins that are inflammatory and the instigators of many degenerative diseases. Lower blood sugar and adequate levels of fish oil and borage oil provide prostaglandins that fine tune the immune system, dilate blood vessels for optimal blood pressure, and reduce the stickiness of blood cells to prevent clots and stroke.
Where are the Quacks?
So if nutrition is built on a foundation of Nobel laureates, then where are the quacks? Why is nutrition not considered frontline therapy for the 88% of Americans who have a metabolic disease? Why is nutrition not reimbursable through Medicare and health insurance? Why is only 1% of the budget for the National Institutes of Health spent on nutrition research?
Wellness, medicine, and nutrition are seamlessly interwoven. These Nobel awards underscore the importance of scientific research in unraveling the mysteries of nutrition and its impact on our well-being. Through these pioneering discoveries, we are reminded of the profound connection between nutritional medicine and our overall health, offering insights that continue to shape medical practices and dietary recommendations to this day.
When the healing arts include clinical nutrition as frontline therapy in most non-trauma patients, then we will have achieved 21st century medicine.