Vitamin A is a group of fat-soluble compounds that play an essential role in a range of bodily functions.
It helps with eyesight, bone health, and boosts our immune system, among other things.
In this article, I’ll show you:
- What Vitamin A is
- What it does and why we need it
- How much Vitamin A we need
- What foods are rich in Vitamin A
By the end, you’ll understand why it’s important for health, and how you can ensure you get the right amount each day.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a group of compounds including retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and provitamin A carotenoids (including beta-carotene).
It helps regulate cell growth in the human body and is particularly important for maintaining healthy immune functions, eye health, and embryonic development.
It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it’s absorbed and stored in fatty tissue. For that reason, it’s important not to take too much. Our bodies can’t get rid of it through urine, so taking regularly at once can lead to health risks like dizziness, nausea, and even death.
There are two types of Vitamin A:
- Preformed Vitamin A: This is mainly found in animal products such as meat, fish, and dairy products. Your body can use preformed Vitamin A immediately once it enters your body.
- Provitamin A: These are substances that are converted into a vitamin within the body. Provitamin A is found in plant-based products, like food and vegetables.
Multivitamins usually contain a mixture of preformed and provitamin A.
How Much Vitamin A Do We Need?
As you can expect, considering its important role in our bodies, it’s important for you to regularly get enough Vitamin A.
|0–6 months||400 mcg RAE||400 mcg RAE|
|7–12 months||500 mcg RAE||500 mcg RAE|
|1–3 years||300 mcg RAE||300 mcg RAE|
|4–8 years||400 mcg RAE||400 mcg RAE|
|9–13 years||600 mcg RAE||600 mcg RAE|
|14–18 years||900 mcg RAE||700 mcg RAE||750 mcg RAE||1,200 mcg RAE|
|19–50 years||900 mcg RAE||700 mcg RAE||770 mcg RAE||1,300 mcg RAE|
|51+ years||900 mcg RAE||700 mcg RAE|
RAE = Retinol Activity Equivalents
Source: Food and Nutrition Board
Health Benefits of Vitamin A
Vitamin A plays a vital role in our bodies and we need it for lots of important processes.
Here are some of the reasons we need it.
1. Reduce Infections
Vitamin A intake has been linked to stopping infectious diseases. In populations where Vitamin A intake from food is low, increasing intake has led to a reduction in those diseases.
In areas where children are at high risks of respiratory disease and diarrhea, those risks are more closely associated to Vitamin A than general nutritional status.
2. Support Bone Health
Higher dietary intake of Vitamin A and retinol have been found to slightly decrease the risk of bone fracture.
Interestingly, other research has found that it may be preferable to eat food or take supplements that include beta-carotene instead of eating foods naturally rich in retinol, like meat. Because our bodies convert beta-carotene (provitamin A) into retinol more slowly, that can reduce the risk of consuming too much.
3. Healthy Cell Growth
Vitamin A includes compounds that are essential for the normal growth and regulation of our cells.
It’s also a regulator of Antigen Presenting Cells that have an essential role in fighting tumors and malignant cells.
4. Eye Health
Vitamin A is closely linked to eye health.
If you’re deficient, your chances of night blindness increase.
Scientists have found that people who regularly consume fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin A have a decreased risk of macular degeneration (a condition that results in blurred or no vision in the center of the visual field).
5. Promotes Healthy Reproduction
Retinoic acid, one of the main compounds in the vitamin, supports both male and female reproduction as well as embryonic development.
That said, it’s just as crucial for pregnant women not to have too much Vitamin A, as retinoids have been linked to potential birth defects in newborns that can cause malformations of the central nervous system, heart, and thymus.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Vitamin A?
Vitamin A deficiency isn’t common in most countries with easy access to a wide range of healthy foods.
However, there are still risks you should be aware of.
The people at the highest risk of Vitamin A deficiency are children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.
If you’re concerned about you or a loved one being deficient, the first person you should talk to is your doctor.
Risks of Vitamin A Deficiency
Here are some symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency, and what you should look out for:
1. Dry, Irritated Eyes
As we’ve seen, Vitamin A plays an important role in healthy eyes. A deficiency can lead to issues with your eyes such as dry, irritated eyes, and the inability to produce tears.
It’s also the leading cause of childhood blindness.
Vitamin A helps reduce skin problems like eczema.
While there are other causes of eczema, it’s worth considering if it may be because you’re not getting enough Vitamin A.
3. Respiratory Infections
What Foods Contain Vitamin A?
Now, we’ve seen the benefits of Vitamin A. The next question… How can you get it, and what foods contain it?
Luckily there are lots of food that are right in Vitamin A, and whether you eat meat, are vegetarian or vegan, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your daily intake.
Here are some of the best sources of Vitamin A per serving:
- Cod liver oil
- Sweet potatoes
As mentioned earlier in this article, animal foods have Vitamin A present in its active form, as retinol. Plant sources contain it as carotenoids which are converted into retinol during digestion.
This makes it harder to take too much if you’re consuming it through plant sources.
Vitamin A is essential, no matter your age.
There are various health benefits linked to adequate and regular consumption of Vitamin A, but there are also risks associated with having more than the recommended amount.
You need to make sure you’re getting it through your diet or through supplementation.
For most people, a balanced and varied diet containing foods rich in Vitamin A will be enough to ensure you’re getting the right amount every day.