Vitamin A: Why do we need it?

There are two forms of vitamin A – retinol and beta-carotene.

Retinol is the vitamin A that comes from animals and is called preformed vitamin A. Retinol is found in foods such as whole milk, cheese, butter, egg yolk, liver and oily fish.

Beta-Carotene is the powerful antioxidant used to make Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found mainly in green leafy vegetables such as spinach or watercress, along with carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and mangoes.

When we eat colorful fruits and vegetables we get a provitamin A carotenoid, which can be made into retinol. Beta-Carotene is the most common and most efficient carotenoids to be transformed into retinol.

Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin, hair and eyes and is also very important for night vision, the inability of our eyes to adjust to see in the dark, dryness, decreased vision.

Vitamin A is essential for the body to fight infections and protects us against heart disease and cancer.  In a diet with plenty of carotenoid-containing fruits and vegetables, these antioxidants protect our cells against the damage caused by free radicals. Deficiency of Vitamin A, reduces our immunity and antibody production, atrophy of our spleen and thymus important for immune system health. Vitamin A is critical in fighting off many cancers including breast, cervical, lung, prostate, laryngeal, stomach.  Deficiency of Beta-Carotene has been seen in cancers of the cervix and lung.

For optimum health, you need about 20,000 to 30,000 IUs of vitamin A daily for Vitamin A antioxidant properties as Beta-Carotene more than the RDA.

10,000-15,000 IU of Beta-Carotene gets converted to 5,000 IU of Vitamin A in the body.

Vitamin A is absorbed mainly in the small intestine but there are certain things that prevent this absorption from happening e.g. Alcohol, Vitamin E, cortisone medication, too much iron, mineral oil, and exercise.

Vitamin A gets stored in the liver and the kidneys, lungs, eyes and fat. The amount stored gets low when we are stressed out.

Zinc is also needed to free stored Vitamin A and make it ready for use.

How do we know if we are deficient in Vitamin A?  dry skin, changes in vision, and increase in infections.

It is not too often that we hear of Vitamin A toxicity. Too much Vitamin A can damage our liver, bones and eyes, and is usually due to too much vitamin A supplements rather than from food. When this is the case, you will notice a discoloration in the skin

Too high intakes of vitamin A can lead to reduced bone density and higher risk of hip fracture.  If your vitamin A levels are too high, avoid liver, liver sausage, liver pâté, cod liver oil, egg yolks, cheddar cheese, milk products (whole milk, cream and butter).

If you need to add some Vitamin A, into your life then use these plant based options. Carrots, Spinach, Kale, Cantaloupe, Apricots, Papaya, Mango, Peas, and Peaches.

When choosing a multivitamin ensure that its Vitamin A is in the form of beta carotene.

Green leafy greens and orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are your best picks of vitamin A.

Try to get your three colors coming from fruits and vegetables at each meal.

Keep Smiling!
Pat Tucker, Health and Wellness Coach