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The Benefits of Vitamin A - Why Do We Need it, Where Do We Get it and Should We Supplement?

By Edited Nov 1, 2016 6 14

What Is Vitamin A?

Vitamin A is actually a number of fat-soluble compounds, one of which is retinol. Retinal and retinoic acid are also components of vitamin A, but retinol is the most important one. Vitamin A comes only in animal produce, however some compounds of the vitamin A type are also found in vegetables (the most important one of these is beta-carotene) and are water-soluble.

All of the vitamin A compounds are not only fat-soluble, but are light-sensitive and easily oxidized.

What Does it Do?


Good Eye Function Depends On Vitamin A

Vitamin A has an important role in eye function and general health. It stops eyes becoming dry and is important in the function of the retina. It also prevents unwanted changes in the cornea. Vitamin A also maintains cell membrane stability, while the beta-carotene component has antioxidant properties. Research has indicated that there may be a connection with vitamin A and the metabolism of zinc. Zinc is a constituent of lots of enzymes. Zinc and vitamin A deficiencies often occur together in people with diseases like pancreatic disease, alcoholic cirrhosis and cystic fibrosis.

Where Do We Get It?

We mainly get vitamin A from animal products. These supply retinal, usually in combination with a fatty acid. Vitamin A is stored in both animal and fish livers, so these are good sources. Other sources include eggs, kidneys, butter and milk. Vegetable sources of vitamin A include, in particular, green, orange and yellow colored produce. Darker colored produce contains higher levels of beta-carotene. Good sources, especially, are spinach, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potato and cabbage as well as yellow and orange fruits.



How Much Do We Need?

On average, adult males need around 1000mcg daily, while adult females require around 800mcg (pregnant and lactating women need more, around 1000mcg and 1200mcg respectively). Babies and children need anything from 400-700mcg daily.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Vitamin A Deficiency?

Deficiency in Vitamin A doesn't often occur in developed countries. It can happen if people have a problem with absorption (which is rare), or if they are sick, malnourished or eldery. It is, however, a major problem in developing countries. Between 250,000 and 500,000 children in developing countries are thought to go blind each year due to vitamin A deficiency.

Photo: Malnutrition and a Lack of Vitamin A can cause Bitot's Spots:

Bitot's Spots are Caused by Malnutrition and lack of Vitamin A

Around half of these children then die within a year. Vitamin A deficiency in children from developing countries generally tends to cause poor growth and development as well as a lack of resistance to infection.

Vitamin A Deficieny Around the World

Early symptoms of a deficiency in vitamin A include night blindness and dry eyes. Skin problems like dryness and follicular hyperkeratosis can be a sign of vitamin A deficiency, but these don't always occur.


A Rwandan Child is Given a Vitamin A Eye Drop

Should We Supplement?

Fat-soluble vitamins can be toxic because we store them in the liver and fat cells. Consequently, we should be careful of taking too high a dose of vitamin A. Overdosing with vitamin A can cause fatigue, headaches, insomnia, skin problems and brittle hair. It may also negatively affect the bones. If you develop a headache that you think may be associated with vitamin A toxicity you should seek medical attention urgently.

Vitamin A toxicity can occur with doses of 30,000IUs per day in adults, and 15,000IUs per day in babies. These doses would need to be administered over several months, however.

Largely, people in developed countries who are eating a healthy, balanced diet, should not need vitamin A supplements. There are, however, certain conditions which may make supplementation useful:

Skin Conditions - Vitamin A may be beneficial to dry skin conditions and other skin problems. Beta-caretone, particularly, may be helpful to those with skin that is sensitive to the sun.

Ulcers - Vitamin A may help to prevent stress-induced ulcers, or those brought on by the use of steroids. It has also been used as a treatment for gastric ulcers.

Gynaecological Conditions - Vitamin A may help with premenstrual tension and heavy and/or painful periods.

Cancers - Certain sorts of cancer, such as lung cancer in particular, have been linked with low vitamin A levels. Other cancers which may be associated with a lack of vitamin A include mouth, stomach, prostate, cervical and colon cancer.

It is important to remember that excessive supplementation with vitamin A can be harmful, particularly if you are pregnant. It is always best to seek the advice of a doctor if you have any of these problems. It is probably best to increase your intake naturally with the consumption of foods high in vitamin A content.







Apr 13, 2012 7:53am
Nice article on the benefits of Vitamin A.
Apr 13, 2012 8:03am
This comment has been deleted.
Apr 13, 2012 8:27am
Thanks for liking my article... shame we can't (somehow - seems ridiculous, i know) get something as basica as vit A out in bulk to underdeveloped countries, but there we go :-(

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Apr 13, 2012 12:42pm
Great article! A good reminder to us all to follow a nutritional diet. Let's see, I had pumpkin cake for lunch, and I will be adding carrots and cabbage to a stew for dinner. Oops! Maybe the pumpkin in a cake doesn't count. Good job on the article, and congratulations on being featured.
Apr 13, 2012 1:48pm
lol...don't see why the pumpkin in the cake woudn' t count!!!...sounds like you havea really good nutritional diet :-) (much better than mine, in reality actually - i know would i should do, ,but lapse far too often :-) )....thanks for liking my article :-)
Apr 13, 2012 4:02pm
Okay, I made a delicious carrot cake this week, and a huge bag of pumpkin seeds - having a handful daily, also eat sweet potato frequently. I'm glad to reread the pro's of vitamin A, nice feature.
Apr 13, 2012 7:06pm
I love carrot cake.
Apr 15, 2012 3:38am
good for you!!!!...pumpkin seeds are wonderful i undertand, and i sometimes remember to buy a bag and munch my way through them too :-)
Apr 15, 2012 3:46am
all amazingly good stuff....i try to eat pumpkin seeds wehn i remember :-)
Apr 13, 2012 5:43pm
Thank you for getting the word out. I feel we need more articles like this. Many people have poor diets and are unaware of what they lack nutritionally.
Apr 15, 2012 3:44am
sometimes it seeems that no matter what we're eating, we're missing something...solution i suppose is to eat loads of different types of stuff and just hope we're getting a good range of vits/mins....unless we want to obsess over ever tiny amounts ...i supplement with a small amount of vit/mins just to be on safe side....but it's obviously better to get it from food....it's certainly useful to know which vit/mins are in certain things so you can top up when you think you might be low anyway:-)
Apr 13, 2012 7:07pm
Very good article. Informative. The pics are good too. I like the carrots on the cutting with knife. You did good on that one.
Apr 15, 2012 3:41am
thanks very much for liking my article... :-) ....and i love carrot cake too, which is just as well as i'm not a major fan of young cooked carrots as veg....don't mind them when they're old and boiled for ages in a stew (by which time all the goodness has disappeared i expect lol)..
Apr 18, 2012 12:42pm
Great feature. This is very useful for us who are often glued on our computer desks.
Apr 3, 2013 5:58pm
awesome article i really enjoyed it!
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