Anaemia is a condition where the blood lacks red blood cells and it can be lethal, especially if the patient is pregnant. In the colonial hospitals in India in the 1920s the doctors noticed that there was an epidemic of anaemia among women who were poor textile workers. All of them were Hindus and ate a poor vegetarian diet of a few vegetables which provided very few calories. Their diet was prescribed by their faith and it caused extraordinary suffering.
Dr Lucy Wills, from the Royal Free Hospital in London, became something of a hero for her work on this. She suspected that a ‘factor’ or ‘vitamin’ was missing from the patients’ diet. Doing some tests in India she found out that meat, preferably liver, when added to the diet, solved the problem. In 1931 the missing factor was nicknamed the ‘Wills’ factor’ in her honour. Her further research showed that extract of brewers’ yeast worked just as well as liver. A commercial form of yeast extract was already available to the British public going by the name of ‘Marmite’, (‘Vegemite’ in Australia.) Women fed on Marmite recovered immediately. Wills never knew the chemical identity of the ‘factor’.
In 1945 it was identified as Folic Acid or Vitamin B9. It is needed for rapid cell division and growth. It repairs DNA as well as red blood cells and white blood cells. Science has solved a problem inadvertently caused by religious faith.
Gillespie, David “Big fat lies.How the diet industry is making you sick, fat and poor” Penguin Books.