Vitamin A was named the “anti-infective vitamin” in 1928 by Edward Mellanby (1884-1955) and Harry N. Green, both doctors at the University of Sheffield. The “aniti-infective vitamin” nickname is still used for vitamin A, but modern research has identified other factors that help prevent infection. The nickname is now regarded as something of a misnomer.
Other vitamin nicknames include “Anti-Sterility Vitamin” (Vitamin E), “Anti-Stress Vitamin” (Vitamin B5), “Forgotten Vitamin” (Vitamin K), “Memory Vitamin” (Choline), “Morale Vitamin” (Vitamin B1), “Vitamin of Memory” (Vitamin B1), “Sunshine Vitamin” (Vitamin D) and “Woman’s Vitamin” (Vitamin B6).
Wikipedia: Vitamin A
Vitamin A (or Vitamin A Retinol, retinal, and four carotenoids including beta carotene) is a vitamin that is needed by the retina of the eye in the form of a specific metabolite, the light-absorbing molecule retinal, that is necessary for both low-light (scotopic vision) and color vision. Vitamin A also functions in a very different role as an irreversibly oxidized form of retinol known as retinoic acid, which is an important hormone-like growth factor for epithelial and other cells.
In foods of animal origin, the major form of vitamin A is an ester, primarily retinyl palmitate, which is converted to retinol (chemically an alcohol) in the small intestine. The retinol form functions as a storage form of the vitamin, and can be converted to and from its visually active aldehyde form, retinal. The associated acid (retinoic acid), a metabolite that can be irreversibly synthesized from vitamin A, has only partial vitamin A activity, and does not function in the retina for the visual cycle.
All forms of vitamin A have a beta-ionone ring to which an isoprenoid chain is attached, called a retinyl group. Both structural features are essential for vitamin activity. The orange pigment of carrots – beta-carotene – can be represented as two connected retinyl groups, which are used in the body to contribute to vitamin A levels. Alpha-carotene and gamma-carotene also have a single retinyl group, which give them some vitamin activity. None of the other carotenes have vitamin activity. The carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin possesses an ionone group and has vitamin activity in humans.
Wikipedia: Edward Mellanby
Sir Edward Mellanby, GBE, KCB, MD, FRCP, FRS (8 April 1884 – 30 January 1955) discovered vitamin D and the role of the vitamin in preventing rickets in 1919.
HathiTrust Digital Library
The Story of Modern Preventive Medicine;
Being a Continuation of the Evolution of Preventive Medicine, 1927
By Sir Arthur Newsholme
Baltimore, MD: The Williams & Wilkins Company
Very recent investigations of Drs. Green and Mellanby have shown that animals fed on a diet deficient in vitamin A die with some infective or pyogenic lesion. They suggest that vitamin A should no longer be known as the “growth-producing vitamin,” but as the “anti-infective vitamin,” and that special articles of diet, such as liver, may in winter be a partial shield against bronchitis, pneumonia, and other seasonal diseases.
21 January 1929, Berkeley (CA) Daily Gazette, “Diet and Health” by Lulu Hunt Peters, M. D., pg. 6, cols. 7-8:
Vitamin A is now being called the anti-infection vitamin. It seems to have so much to do with keeping up resistance to infections.
Diet and the Teeth:
An Experimental Study
By May Tweedy Mellanby
London: H.M. Stationery Off.
1930 (This Google Books date may be incorrect—ed.)
In consequence of this and also on the basis of clinical experience, especially in cases of puerperal septicaemia, Green and Mellanby (8) have called vitamin A the anti-infective vitamin.
22 June 1930, Seattle (WA) Sunday Times, “Eat Watermelon and Grow Strong!” by John Leo Coontz, pg. 6, col. 2:
Vitamin A, which is now known to exist in watermelons, is popularly referred to as the “anti-infective vitamin.”
27 August 1931, The Daily Herald (Biloxi, MS), pg. 4, col. 1:
“Vitamin A, the growth-promoting, anti-xerophthalmic (a disease of the eye), anti-infection vitamin is especially abundant in milk, butter, egg yolk, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, and spinach.”
(Dr. Felix Underwood, a state health official—ed.)
A Survey of Present Knowledge
By Committee upon accessory food factors (vitamins); Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine.
London: H.M. Stationery Off.
Green and Mellanby therefore gave the name ‘anti-infective vitamin’ to to vitamin A to signify that animals deprived of this substance died of bacterial infective lesions.
13 January 1932, The Morning Oregonian (Portland, OR), pg. 7, col. 4:
Vitamin A is an anti-infection vitamin and protects both adults and children against common colds.
Nutr Rev. 1994 Apr;52(4):140-3.
Was the “anti-infective” vitamin misnamed?
Nutrition Unit, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
Meta-analyses on 6 of 12 studies of the effect of improvement of the vitamin A status of deficient children living in poverty and social and biological deprivation conclude that mortality reduction can be expected. The demonstrated effects on incidence, prevalence and severity of specific morbidities under these conditions have been variable.
The Journal of Nutrition (April 1, 1999)
Vitamin A as “Anti-Infective” Therapy, 1920–1940
Richard D. Semba
With the advent of the sulfa antibiotics for treatment of infections, scientific interest in vitamin A as “anti-infective” therapy waned. Recent controlled clinical trials of vitamin A from the last 15 y follow a tradition of investigation that began largely in the 1920s.
Vitamin A as the “anti-infective” vitamin
One day in 1925, Edward Mellanby, a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Sheffield, was summoned to his animal laboratory because some of his dogs were dying.
Mellanby and Harry N. Green, another physician at Sheffield, continued to investigate the idea that vitamin A could be necessary for immunity to infections (Green and Mellanby 1928). They described increased infections in vitamin A-deficient rats, and this led them to dub vitamin A an “anti-infective agent.” Specifically, they noted that deficiency of vitamin A, but not vitamin D, caused increased infections in the animals.
The Vitamin A Story:
Lifting the Shadow of Death
By R. D. Semba
Great Britain’s Edward Mellanby had termed vitamin A the ‘anti-infective vitamin’ with a caution. ‘We were aware of the drawbacks of giving a label of this kind’, he wrote, ‘because the word ‘infection’ covers several different types of pathological phenomena, but we also recognized that it had the advantage of attracting the attention of workers to this important subject’.