As children, very few of us got away with not clearing our plate of the veggies, including carrots. And while we reluctantly obeyed, we’d hear our mothers mention something about how good carrots were for our eyes.
Well, they were right (aren’t mothers always?).
The link between this crunchy orange vegetable and good eyesight is vitamin A. While all vitamins and nutrients have their own roles to play, this particular vitamin is absolutely essential for not just healthy vision, but also growth and development, a robust immune system, and beautiful skin.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A, also called retinol, is a fat-soluble micronutrient. This means they can be digested by the body with the help of dietary oils, fats, or lipids, and can be stored by the body for future use. Like other fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins D, E, and K, vitamin A is mainly stored in our liver and fatty tissues and take a longer time to be eliminated from the body.
Importance Of Vitamin A
Vitamin A has a number of important functions to perform. Some of these are:
- Boosting vision: Retinol creates important pigments in the retina of the eye and also helps our eyes adjust to changes in light.1 For this reason, vitamin A is essential for developing good vision, especially in the night and in maintaining overall eye health.
- Growing and repairing skin: By pushing our cells to grow faster, vitamin A helps bring fresh, youthful looking skin to the surface.2 For this reason, it is an active ingredient infused in many creams aimed at fighting skin infections. Because it can help the skin cut down on sebum production, vitamin A is very effective in curing acne as well.3 Additionally, this micronutrient has the ability to smoothen out fine lines and wrinkles, and therefore, helps keep your skin from looking aged.
- Fighting cancer: Beta-carotene, a plant-based pigment is an important source of vitamin A which doubles up as a powerful antioxidant. By protecting your cells from oxidative damage by harmful free radicals, this compound may have some anti-cancerous properties.4 While there is no evidence that beta-carotene supplements may help prevent cancer, some studies claim that naturally-acquired beta-carotene may keep cancer at bay.
- Developing strong bones: Vitamin A aids in the development of osteoblasts, important bone-building cells that lay the foundation of new bone.5 A deficiency in vitamin A is found to interfere with proper calcium absorption and metabolism, another factor that leads to poor bone health.
- Building strong teeth: By aiding in the formation of dentin, a layer of hard material that grows just below the surface of the teeth, vitamin A helps in developing strong, healthy teeth.
- Strengthening immunity: By increasing the body’s lymphocytic responses against disease-causing antigens and keeping the mucous membranes such as those of the mouth, nose, and lungs moist, vitamin A boosts your immunity against infections and ailments. This way, not only does it make it difficult for germs to enter your body, but also fights infections if they do find a way into our system.
- Protecting the reproductive system: Vitamin A, when consumed by women, helps thicken the cervical mucus. This thick lining of mucus protects the sperm while it makes its way to the egg that’s waiting to be fertilized. Vitamin A also develops the follicles of the ovaries, which in turn, will release healthy matured eggs for fertilization.6 7 Men with vitamin A deficiency have sperms that tend to stick together instead of swimming independently. This slows down the movement of the sperm, thereby making it harder for fertilization to take place successfully.8
Basic Forms Of Vitamin A
- Retinoids: This form of vitamin A can only be found naturally in animal products such as eggs, milk, and liver.
- Carotenoids: Beta-carotene and other carotenoids are found naturally in plant sources like fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids also play an important role in maintaining the health of the skin, eyes, and the immune system. Once consumed from foods like spinach, kale, and carrots, carotenoids can be converted into retinol or vitamin A by the body.
Sources Of Vitamin A
Vitamin A can be found in abundance. Some foods like organ meats are the best sources of this micronutrient but are rarely incorporated in everyday diet. However, there are still plenty of other foods that can give your body its daily need of Vitamin A. While this may not be too high in a few, it can still help you get your retinol levels up!
- Best Vitamin A-rich foods: Fish roe, shellfish, organ meats, deep yellow butter,
- Common Vitamin A-rich foods: Raw or cooked carrots, carrot juice, mango, sweet potato, spinach, red pepper, kale, apricots
- Possible Vitamin A-rich foods: Milk, cheese, unprocessed butter, liver
Symptoms Of Vitamin A Deficiency
While vitamin A deficiency is quite rare in the United States, it can still result in a disease called xerophthalmia, wherein the eyes start to dry up. This is most common in developing nations where people often suffer from malnutrition.
It usually takes 2 years for symptoms of vitamin A deficiency to appear since this micronutrient is stored in the liver. Some of these symptoms include:
- Dry, rough skin
- Night blindness
- Slow bone growth
- Faulty teeth development
- Decreased immunity
How Much Vitamin A Do You Need?
Women over the age of 19 ought to be consuming 700 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A per day.9 Pregnant women need to be consuming a little more – about 770 mcg, while a daily recommended intake of 1300 mcg is recommended for lactating women.10
For men, the daily recommended intake is slightly higher than that of women – at about 900 mcg.11
It is not recommended to consume more than 3,000 mcg of vitamin A each day, for both men and women.12
Vitamin A Supplements
Some people tend to go overboard with vitamin A supplements because of how good it is for the skin. But most nutritionists and doctors advise against vitamin A supplementation. This is because since vitamin A is stored in our liver, high doses can become incredibly toxic and dangerous.
It is best to get your daily vitamin A intake from a well-balanced diet, and even if you don’t manage to live up to the number for a few days, you aren’t very likely to become deficient.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many of the multivitamins you may already be taking may contain high doses of vitamin A. So taking a separate vitamin A supplement after that would only result in dangerous side effects.
If you’re taking a multivitamin, always check the label to see if the majority of vitamin A provided is in the form of beta-carotene. This is the safest to consume.
What Happens If You Overdose On Vitamin A?
Strangely enough, a vitamin A overdose is a bigger cause of concern than a vitamin A deficiency. Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Blurred vision
- Slow growth and development
- Liver damage Joint pain
Severe Vitamin A toxicity also can cause:
- Birth defects
- An increased risk of hip fractures
You don’t want to suffer from either vitamin A deficiency or a vitamin A overdose so make sure to consume this micronutrient in moderation. For those who are trying to conceive, both vitamin A deficiency and toxicity can be a serious cause for concern. For this reason, it is always best to consult with your doctor to find out how much you need to be consuming, and if you need a supplement to meet your daily recommended intake.
|↑1||Mukherjee, Siddharth, Abhijit Date, Vandana Patravale, Hans Christian Korting, Alexander Roeder, and Günther Weindl. “Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety.” Clinical interventions in aging 1, no. 4 (2006): 327.|
|↑2||Kafi, Reza, Heh Shin R. Kwak, Wendy E. Schumacher, Soyun Cho, Valerie N. Hanft, Ted A. Hamilton, Anya L. King et al. “Improvement of naturally aged skin with vitamin a (retinol).” Archives of Dermatology 143, no. 5 (2007): 606-612.|
|↑3||Vitamin A in Acne Vulgaris. National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|↑4||Van Poppel, Geert, and R. Alexandra Goldbohm. “Epidemiologic evidence for beta-carotene and cancer prevention.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 62, no. 6 (1995): 1393S-1402S.|
|↑5||Park, Chan-Kyeong, Yoshiko Ishimi, Mineko Ohmura, Michio YAMAGUCHI, and Sachie IKEGAMI. “Vitamin A and carotenoids stimulate differentiation of mouse osteoblastic cells.” Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology 43, no. 3 (1997): 281-296.|
|↑6||Bermudez, A. J., D. E. Swayne, M. W. Squires, and M. Judith Radin. “Effects of vitamin A deficiency on the reproductive system of mature White Leghorn hens.” Avian diseases (1993): 274-283.|
|↑7||Clagett-Dame, Margaret, and Danielle Knutson. “Vitamin A in reproduction and development.” Nutrients 3, no. 4 (2011): 385-428.|
|↑8||Hogarth, Cathryn A., and Michael D. Griswold. “The key role of vitamin A in spermatogenesis.” The Journal of clinical investigation 120, no. 4 (2010): 956.|
|↑9, ↑10, ↑11, ↑12||Dietary Reference Intakes. Government of Canada.|