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The Vitamin Code MultiVitamin Story
"Nobel" Beginnings

Albert Szent-GyorgyiAlbert Szent-Gyorgyi was not your typical science professor. Intense and driven in his lab work, he was also likely to be seen riding his bike across campus or playing soccer with students. At the time in conservative Hungary, Szent-Gyorgyi must have been the very image of free-wheeling.

While he may have been fun-loving, Szent-Gyorgyi was also highly respected. His down-to-earth lecturing style, his status as an M.D., and his work at Cambridge University made him a local hero. It was his work with vitamin C however that would one day earn him the Nobel Prize.

At the time there were world-wide efforts from scientists to “discover” vitamins. Scientists knew that certain foods were healing in nature. Seafarers with scurvy were cured in a week when administered citrus fruits. Since that very discovery the race was on to find out exactly what component of citrus fruits was responsible.

As with many such races, controversy would soon ensue. Szent-Gyorgyi and a colleague were able to isolate what they called “hexuronic acid” from citrus juices. When this acid was added to food and tested on guinea pigs it was shown to help ones who had scurvy-like symptoms. Szent-Gyorgyi believed that he had discovered the long sought after vitamin C. He and a colleague wrote of the discovery to another scientist, mentioning the fact that they hoped to publish their findings soon. You can imagine his surprise when that same scientist beat him to the punch. His study lauded the discovery of vitamin C, which happened to be the exact same “hexuronic acid” that Szent-Gyorgyi was first to isolate.

Not withstanding the argument over who got their first, there was a bigger problem. The “hexuronic acid” that Szent-Gyorgyi was able to isolate had two major issues. It was very hard to isolate from citrus juice, and the sugars present in those juices made it very hard to purify. Szent-Gyorgyi spent a lot of time trying to find a better food source of vitamin C. His answer came one night at the dinner table when his wife served the meal with some fresh red paprika.

Albert Szent-GyorgyiAs he wrote in his autobiography, “I did not feel like eating it [the paprika], so I thought of a way out. Suddenly it occurred to me that this is the one plant I had never tested. I took it to the laboratory . . . [and by] about midnight I knew that it was a treasure trove full of vitamin C.”

With this finding he was able to isolate as much vitamin C as he wanted, and this form was much more pure than “hexuronic acid”. Szent-Gyorgyi penned this new pure form of vitamin C “ascorbic acid” (taken from the Latin medical term for scurvy, ascorbutus). Today ascorbic acid is still the name for purified vitamin C.

For his efforts in discovering vitamin C and then applying it in a medical setting, Szent-Gyorgyi won the Nobel Prize in 1937. He was featured in Time magazine and his $40,000 award (worth approximately $585,000 today) made him famous and wealthy.

Lost in all this was another discovery that had far broader implications. In order to isolate ascorbic acid from the paprika, you needed to go through several steps of purification. Ever the meticulous scientist, Szent-Gyorgyi tested each one of these stages on patients with conditions related to vitamin C deficiency. What he found startled him.

He had expected that as the vitamin C became purer and purer that patients would respond faster, with 100% ascorbic acid equaling the fastest response time. This was not the case. In fact, the 100% pure ascorbic acid had a minimal effect. It was at a purification stage between raw food and 100% that had the greatest effect.

Szent-Gyorgyi surmised that the in-between stage contained other elements that aided vitamin C’s effects. He believed that these elements were “flavones”. Eventually they would be proven to be bioflavonoids and isoflavonoids, key “co-factors” that were important to vitamin C.

Not that the world took notice. In fact these findings were virtually ignored. Instead an entire industry was born around the notion that purely isolated vitamins were more beneficial for you. Perhaps it was because the purified vitamin C proved easy to manufacture. Perhaps it was because it could be manufactured cheaper. More importantly why would Szent-Gyorgyi stand for this?

Left to continue his studies unabated he may not have. However war clouds were gathering over Europe. Szent-Gyorgyi turned his attentions to the Hungarian resistance movement, helping Jewish scientists escape death camps and ferrying messages to the British Secret Service. His efforts attracted the attention of one Adolf Hitler who demanded he be handed over. Knowing that would mean death, Szent-Gyorgyi and his wife fled. Until the war’s end they hid near the Soviet border where the Gestapo dared not go. Eventually after the war, some ten years after he won the Nobel Prize, he came to the United States. By that time he had turned his attention elsewhere (he would eventually win the Lasker Award for medical research).

What he could not know was the impression he had once made on a young man attending one of his lectures. Endre “Andy” Szalay considered Szent-Gyorgyi a hero, and using his principles as a guide he would one day break the Vitamin Code.

The Reverse-Engineer

Many of us have moments in our lives that are hard-wired into our memory banks, moments that help drive us toward a goal in life. For Andy Szalay the moments were a combination lectures from Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. That it would take decades to reach his goal is a testament to both the power of those moments and the dedication that Andy Szalay showed from an early age.

Growing up Andy did not want to be a scientist. He wanted to be a competitive swimmer, and the early part of his life was dedicated toward that goal. He would swim all summer, and during the school year he would train from 6:00 to 8:00 am, go to school, and then train from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.

When his dreams of representing Hungary in international competition never materialized, Andy dedicated himself to his work at the University of Szeged, the same place where Albert Szent-Gyorgyi researched and taught. While the two never met or spoke, Szent-Gyorgyi’s lectures had a profound effect on Andy. To this day he carries around a tattered autobiography of his hero, worn from the constant attention it has received.

It would take decades for Andy to apply what he learned in those lectures and from that book, mainly due to the fact that life was getting in the way. After graduating from the University of Szeged in 1943 he became a pharmacist. Of course 1943 in Hungary was not the best place to be. With Germans overtaking the country and the Russians fighting back, many a night was spent huddled in basements as bombs flew overhead. After the war the communist regime of Russia that settled in wasn’t much better. In 1956, fearing for his life, Andy escaped (literally through a hole in a fence) and eventually ended up in the United States.

Andy spent the next two decades slowly working his way up the corporate ladder at three different botanical/pharmaceutical companies. In true “American Dream” fashion Andy started at the bottom and worked his way into a Vice Presidency at the third company. While his ideas, discipline and hard work earned him the respect of his bosses, they could never see their way to letting him put into practice an idea that had been turning around in his head since his days of listening to Szent-Gyorgyi.

So it was after 15 years of service at the third company that Andy would make a decision that most of us would never have the guts to do. At the age of 57 Andy quit his job and started his own company. Grow Company, Inc., founded in 1977 was Andy’s first big step toward breaking the Vitamin Code.

The Simple Difficult Idea

So what was Andy’s idea, the one that he tried to share with three companies previously? It was very simple and based upon the findings of Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.

You will remember that during the isolation process of vitamin C, Szent-Gyorgyi found an “intermediate” stage where the vitamin C was incredibly effective, more effective than the 100% isolated vitamin C. Andy’s premise was simple. If he could find a way to reverse-engineer the process, and bring a 100% isolated vitamin C back to the “intermediate” stage, he would have a more effective form of vitamin C.

Andy had a pretty unique idea of how to do this. For inspiration all he need do was look out his window. Andy knew from his studies that when a plant takes root, its roots reach into the soil and pull out the inorganic salts. When the plant is exposed to sunlight the leaves and fruit of that plant produce vitamins and minerals through its metabolic process. The vitamins and minerals were literally grown. (Ok, so this is a very watered down explanation of the process, but you get the idea.)

In sum, this is what Andy’s theory looked like. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi took food and isolated the vitamins from that food to their purest form, realizing that the vitamin was at its most potent at an “intermediate” step along the way. Andy wanted to mimic the process in nature, taking the isolated vitamin and growing it back to the “intermediate” stage.

While the theory was simple, the application was not. The first thing Andy needed was a growth medium, a plant or food source. After several trials he settled on using baker’s yeast, the same type of yeast that is available in every grocery store. Baker’s yeast is a single-celled organism that grows hydroponically (in water). It grabs its nutrients from the water and as it grows it divides, from one cell to two, two to four, four to eight and so forth.

Baker’s yeast also yielded Andy another benefit, and one that proved that he was on the right track. Andy found that when certain proteins and peptides were introduced to growing yeast, those proteins and peptides were able to penetrate the cell walls and embed in the yeast. By contrast, when he introduced a vitamin or mineral into the growing yeast, it was not always able to penetrate the cell wall. No penetration meant that the new yeast that was created did not have that vitamin or mineral embedded in it.

Andy’s “Eureka Moment” came when he decided to first embed a vitamin or mineral with a protein or peptide and then introduce it to the propagating yeast. What followed was a testament to the discipline and tenacity that Andy first displayed in the swimming pool. What Andy would come to learn was that each vitamin and mineral had its own specific protein or peptide that allowed the vitamin or mineral to pass through the yeast cell wall and embed within the yeast. There was no “universal” protein or peptide that worked for every vitamin, for every mineral. Undaunted (ok, maybe a little daunted), Andy set about trying to figure out the protein code for a single mineral, in this case selenium. Since Andy did not know which specific protein or peptide would allow selenium to pass through the yeast cell wall, he went about finding out the old fashioned way, through trial and error. Andy would set up his sterile lab equipment (in this case a fish aquarium!), embed a protein or peptide into the selenium and wait for the results. When it didn’t work the fish tank was left a mess. He would clean it and start again.

And when he finally broke the code, even though he was expecting the results, he was still awed. As he predicted, the peptide that he used allowed the selenium through the yeast cell wall and embedded in the yeast. The result was the creation of yeast where the enhanced level of selenium formed an integral part of the yeast.

Andy had succeeded in taking an inorganic isolated mineral (selenium), embedding it in a food source (yeast). He had reached the “intermediate” phase that Albert Szent-Gyorgyi had described.

Andy then spent years determining every protein or peptide that was necessary to grow all of the major vitamins and minerals. Literally thousands of tests were done, each failure needing to be cleaned up only to start again. In the end though, Andy had done something that would have made his hero proud. He had perfected food created nutrients. He had broken the Vitamin Code.

Click here to learn "What Is The Code"

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