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Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 2002 Jun 30;122(17):1686-7.

[Axel Holst and Theodor Frolich--pioneers in the combat of scurvy].

[Article in Norwegian]

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  • 1Institutt for ernaeringsforskning Universitetet i Oslo Postboks 1046 Blindern 0316 Oslo.


Axel Holst (1860-1931), professor of hygiene and bacteriology at the University of Oslo and paediatrician Theodor Frølich (1870-1947) became interested in a disease termed "ship beriberi" which afflicted the crews of sailing ships, and which showed an uncanny likeness to scurvy. They suspected a nutritional deficiency, and established an animal model that allowed systematic study of factors that led to disease as well as the preventive value of different substances. The choice of the guinea pig as the experimental animal for these studies was one indeed fortuitous, as that species has been shown to be among the very few mammals incapable of endogenous synthesis of ascorbic acid. They found that the guinea pigs developed distinctly scurvy-like symptoms when fed a diet consisting of various types of grain either whole or baked into bread, and that these symptoms were prevented when the diet was supplemented with known antiscorbutics like fresh cabbage or lemon juice. Their findings were published in 1907 in the Journal of Hygiene, but caused scientific uproar since the concept of nutritional deficiencies was a novelty at the time. The crucial factor, Vitamin C, was discovered in 1930 by Albert Szent-Györgyi, for which he was rewarded the Nobel Prize. No prizes or proper recognition were awarded Holst and Frølich at the time. It took some 60 years before they due acclaim was given to them; the 1907 paper by Holst and Frølich is now considered the most important single contribution to elucidating the aetiology of scurvy.

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