What is Vitamin A? Benefits, Types, Dosages & More
When one says the word ‘vitamin’, our minds often jump to the more well-known nutrients, like Vitamin C and Vitamin D. However, Vitamin A is another powerhouse nutrient that plays just as important a role in maintaining our overall health and well-being.
Once you’ve read this blog, you’ll be left with a stronger understanding of what Vitamin A is, the role it plays in the body, its sources and much more.
People often associate Vitamin A with good eyesight, and it’s true; this nutrient is essential for both our colour and night vision. Without sufficient Vitamin A, conditions like night blindness can develop, impairing our ability to see in the dark. It is also crucial for maintaining the outer layers of the eye, specifically the cornea and conjunctiva.
However, the benefits of Vitamin A go beyond eyesight. It’s also a cornerstone of our immune system, as it helps to maintain our body's defence against infections by supporting the development of certain types of white blood cells.
The skin and mucus linings of the intestines, lungs, and bladder also rely on sufficient doses of Vitamin A, as it helps to maintain these parts of the body as well as maintaining the youthful appearance of our skin.
In addition to these roles, Vitamin A acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect our cells from damage caused by harmful molecules known as free radicals. This protective function contributes to our overall well-being and longevity.
Lastly, Vitamin A plays a vital role in male and female reproductive health as well as foetal growth.
Vitamin A comes in two main forms: preformed Vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids.
Preformed Vitamin A comes in the form of retinol and retinyl esters and is derived from animal sources such as liver, fish, milk and eggs. It can also be found in fortified foods and vitamin supplements. Preformed Vitamin A, like retinol, can be used by the body directly.
Provitamin A carotenoids, on the other hand, must first be converted into retinol before they can be used by the body. The primary provitamin A carotenoids found in the human diet include beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin, which are found in plants such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach.
Vitamin A plays many important roles in the body, which is why it’s essential to get in your daily dosage. For men over the age of 19, the recommended daily dose is 900 mcg, and for women, it’s 700 mcg. These are only guidelines and will vary based on age, and of course, pregnant and breastfeeding women have different requirements.
To keep your body healthy, it’s important to not only get the recommended dosage but to also have a balance of preformed Vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids. This is because preformed vitamin A (retinol), when consumed in extremely high dosages (3,000 mcg or more a day), can be toxic for the body.
This is due to two primary reasons. Firstly, beta-carotene is only converted to retinol as needed whereas preformed Vitamin A (retinol etc) is fully processed by the body. When too much retinol is consumed, the body will store it in its fat repository (this is because Vitamin A is fat soluble). Over time, the continuous intake of retinol can lead to toxic levels.
Signs of toxicity include dry skin, bone pain, changes in vision, nausea or vomiting, and light sensitivity.
While less common in developed countries, it’s important to understand the serious consequences Vitamin A deficiency can have on the body. One of the most well-known effects is night blindness, a condition that impairs your ability to see in low-light conditions. However, Vitamin A deficiency can also result in a weakened immune system as well as skin problems, such as dryness and poor wound healing.
In conclusion, Vitamin A is a vital nutrient with a wide range of functions that contribute to our overall health and well-being. From supporting our vision and bolstering our immune system to promoting skin health and ensuring proper growth and development, this unsung hero plays an important role in our lives.
Balancing your intake of retinol from animal sources and carotenoids from plants is key to meeting your Vitamin A needs. So, whether you're enjoying a colourful salad or savouring a touch of liver paté, you're giving your body the gift of good health.
Remember, Vitamin A isn't just a vitamin—it's an essential ally in your journey toward a healthier, brighter future. Prioritise your Vitamin A intake as part of a balanced diet, and you'll be well on your way to optimal health and well-being.