The discovery of vitamin A and the history of its application in the field of human nutrition is a story of bravery and brilliance, one that represents a marriage of the best of scientific inquiry with worldwide cultural traditions; and the suborning of that knowledge to the dictates of the food industry provides a sad lesson in the use of power and influence to obfuscate the truth.
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Similar practices have been described in 18th-century Russia, rural Java in 1978 and among the inhabitants of Newfoundland in 1929. Hippocrates (460-327 BC) prescribed liver soaked in honey for blindness in malnourished children.
Assyrian texts dating from 700 BC and Chinese medical writings from the 7th century AD both call for the use of liver in the treatment of night blindness.
A 12th-century Hebrew treatise recommends pressing goat liver to the eyes, followed by eating of the liver.
Several years previous to the travels of Weston Price, scientists had discovered that the richest source of vitamin A in the entire animal body is that of the retina and the tissues in back of the eyes.
Many cultures used liver, another excellent source of vitamin A, for various types of blindness.
The liver was first pressed to the eye and then eaten, a ritual through which the patient directed the healing powers of liver to the afflicted sense organ.
The Egyptians described this cure at least 3500 years ago.
He noted that the foods held sacred by the peoples he studied, such as spring butter, fish eggs and shark liver, were exceptionally rich in vitamin A.
All traditional cultures recognized that certain foods were necessary to prevent blindness.
In his pioneering work, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston Price tells the story of a prospector who, while crossing a high plateau in the Rocky Mountains, went blind with xerophthalmia, due to a lack of vitamin A.
As he wept in despair, he was discovered by an Indian who caught him a trout and fed him “the flesh of the head and the tissues back of the eyes, including the eyes.” Within a few hours his sight began to return and within two days his eyes were nearly normal.