What is vitamin A and how does it support our health?

Updated: 3 days ago

Author: Lee Reicheneder

Vitamin A are a family of fat-soluble compounds known as retinoids (retinol, retinoic acid, and retinal) which are divided into subcategories known as preformed vitamin A and proformed vitamin A (Huang et al., 2018; Oruch & Pryme, 2012). The vitamin A micronutrient is an essential nutrient by the body, this means that the body cannot make this nutrient by itself and must obtain it through other means, such as food. The difference between the subcategories are in the fact that proformed vitamin A (provitamin A) must be synthesised by the body into usable forms in order to be transported, used , and stored by the body, whereas preformed vitamin A (previtamin A) enters the body as readily digested retinyl esters which are then absorbed as retinol (Oruch & Pryme, 2012).

Consumption of food from animal sources provide the body with previtamin A; whereas, plant sources generally provide the body with provitamin A (Whitney et al., 2016, p.385 & 393; National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, 2021).

Great previtamin A food options are:

· Fortified milk

· Cheese

· Eggs

· Liver

· Cream

· Butter

· Fortified margarine

Great provitamin A food options are:

· Deep orange fruits

· Dark leafy vegetables

In addition, the bioavailability of vitamin A can be enhanced through cooking your vitamin A rich foods (Ghavami et al., 2012; Lee et al., 2017). So in the instance of vitamin A it may be best to cook up those vitamin A rich foods to obtain the most out of them rather than consuming them raw. In either situation ensure you have washed/peeled your foods first and prepared them in a clean environment to reduce any potential risk of food-borne illness or unwanted toxin consumption (Tchounwou et al., 2012; Food Standards Australia & New Zealand, 2020).

Dependant on the age, pregnancy status, and lactation status the amount of vitamin A needed by the body is between 300 µg/day to 900 µg/day (Australian Government National Health and Research Council, 2014). There is also an upper-level (UL) intake for vitamin A, this is the highest level at which a vitamin or mineral can be obtained without adverse effects in the general population, as with anything individual tolerance levels come into play and every individual may vary slightly in their unique tolerance levels. However, it is unwise and potentially dangerous to take amounts exceeding UL; in extraordinary circumstances where benefits outweigh risks a healthcare provider may prescribe a treatment plan where levels exceed UL but this is not a regular occurrence as this comes with risks and it is safest to avoid exceeding UL in most circumstances (National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, 2021; World Health Organization, 2006, p 21-31).

The good news is provitamin A through deep orange fruits and leafy green vegetables has not demonstrated a toxicity risk, so go ahead and eat as many fruits and vegetables as you would like; however, you may get some orange-yellow skin if you eat too much (Oruch & Pryme 2012). In fact, eating plenty of deep orange fruits and leafy greens can be a fantastic way to help you safely increase and maintain vitamin A levels during pregnancy where risk of foetal malformations, preterm birth, and low vitamin A stores in the newborn infant can arise from deficiency (Bastos Maia et al, 2019). According to several studies’ toxicity arises from use of pharmaceutical supplementation, foods fortified with vitamin A, and/or excessive consumption of provitamin A (foods derived from animal sources) the following unwanted side effects can occur:

  • Osteoporosis

  • Pathological fractures

  • Headaches

  • Blurred vision

  • Intracranial pressure

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vertigo

  • Muscle coordination difficulties

  • Hepatic swelling

  • Hair loss

  • Abdominal pain

  • Impaired or altered mental state.

  • Malformations of foetus (during pregnancy)

  • Increase lung cancer and mortality risk for smokers (with β-carotene supplements)

(Middha et al., 2019; Bastos Maia, 2019; Oruch & Pyne, 2020; World Health Organization, n.d)

Well, now we know what can result in a toxicity and some things that can occur if a toxicity arises within your body, you may wonder what occurs if a deficiency arises and how on earth you can obtain adequate vitamin A for your body while ideally avoiding either toxicity or deficiency. To answer this article will first supply below some of the side effect of a deficiency.

  • Night Blindness

  • Corneal ulceration and scaring

  • Corneal drying (xerosis)

  • Grey triangle spots on the eyes (Bitots spots)

  • Softening of the cornea (Keratomalacia)

  • Corneal degeneration and blindness (xerophthalmia)

  • Skin dryness

  • Formation of white lumps (hyperkeratosis)

  • Keratin plugged hair follicles

  • Impaired immunity (frequent and reoccurring illness)

  • Impaired growth

  • Issues with reproductive, respiratory, or endocrine systems

  • Malformations of the foetus (deficiency during pregnancy)

  • Miscarriage (deficiency during pregnancy)

  • Preterm birth (deficiency during pregnancy)

  • Insufficient vitamin A stores in newborn (deficiency during pregnancy)

(Whitney et al., 2016, p.393; Bastos Maia, 2019)

As you can see this essential nutrient is so important for the body to help support a healthy you throughout pregnancy and onwards. The body has a higher need for this nutrient during pregnancy where it supports the rapid differentiation of cells and overall development of the feotus, it also has a higher need for this nutrient throughout the breastfeeding years to support infant lung development, immunity, and vision (Underwood & Arthur, 1996 ac cited by Ghosh et al., 2019; Cabezuelo et al., 2020; Theone et al., 2020; Timoneda et al., 2018). However, the body’s need for this does not stop in pregnancy and lactation (breastfeeding), after infanthood vitamin A helps to support growth of a child and adolescent as well as supporting vision, immunity, reproductive health and a number of other body functions throughout a persons lifetime (Frey & Vogel, 2011; Yang et al., 2015; Timoneda et al., 2018). So how do you obtain enough vitamin A to support the body, preventing deficiency, while also reducing risk of toxicity? You ensure you are eating a well-balanced diet with a healthy mix of pro and pre vitamin A (during pregnancy consider adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet as there is no known toxicity risk but plenty of benefits) and follow the nutritional guidelines set out by the Nutrient Reference Values Australia and New Zealand a table for recommended daily intake at each age and life stage is provided below for your convenience. A well-balanced diet is generally sufficient in meeting the body’s vitamin A needs and you should seek out health advice from a suitably qualified health care professional to assess your vitamin status before seeking out any form of vitamin A supplementation.

Note. Reprinted from “Vitamin A, by Royal Childrens Hospital Melbourne, 2018,

(https://www.rch.org.au/immigranthealth/clinical/Vitamin_A/) . In the public domain

ARTICLE DISCLAIMER: ARTICLE DISCLAIMER: Lee is a Canberra based Birth Keeper (Qualified Doula) who is currently studying to become a Naturopath and Energy Healing Practitioner. Lee spent 5 years working in the childcare field as a childcare educator (including as a Room Leader); she holds relevant children's services qualifications alongside her Doula qualification. In addition, Lee holds a wide range of additional qualifications and training in fields that include but are not limited to trauma and natural therapies. Lee is a proud Aspie woman and mother of 4 earthside niblets 3 of which have disabilities. Information within this article is for informational purposes only. It is not designed as medical advice and should not be used as medical advice. If you are experiencing physical or mental health concerns, or have concerns about your child, family member or your own well-being please seek help from a a suitably qualified health care professional. Furthermore, small commission may be made on some of the links provided within some (not all) blog articles.

#canberradoula, #canberranaturopathy #womenshealthcanberra #vitaminAduringpregnancy #vitaminAforhealth

We hope you have found this post informative and make sure you let us know if there is a topic you would like us to cover in our blogs. Make sure you connect FACEBOOK. If you are interested in learning more about supports in Canberra, ACT or other regions of Australia get in touch

~ Lee Student Naturopathy, Student Energy Healing Practitioner, Qualified Early Childhood Educator, Qualified Herbal Alchemist, Qualified Doula

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