Vitamin A 101
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble retinoid that’s stored in fatty tissue and the liver. It helps your eyes, skin, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membranes, and teeth function on fleek.
There are two different types: provitamin A (carotenoids) and preformed vitamin A (retinol or retinyl ester).
Provitamin A is basically a vitamin precursor — it helps your body form vitamin A. The most common example is beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gives carrots their bright orange color . You can find it in fruits, veggies, and other plant-based products.
Preformed vitamin A is the active form of the vitamin. It’s found in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products.
Here’s a chart to help you figure out how much total vitamin A, in micrograms (mcg) you need on the daily. Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are listed as retinol activity equivalents (RAE).
Vitamin A benefits
Get your baby carrots ready! It’s time to talk about the perks of vitamin A.
If you’re not getting enough vitamin A, your eyes will notice . Your eyes need to produce certain pigments for your retina to function properly. Vitamin A helps to produce these pigments.
Bonus: Vitamin A helps keep your eyes moisturized.
There might be a link to vitamin A to cancer prevention. A 2015 article showed that natural and synthetic retinoids prevented the growth and development of various cancerous tissues from humans. This includes skin, breast, oral, lung, gastrointestinal, prostatic, bladder, and hepatic (liver) cancers.
Diets rich in beta-carotene appear to be associated with lower risks of cancer. However, clinical trials of men with lung cancer, found giving them vitamin E and beta carotene had no beneficial effect or may have increased lung cancer effects.
Keep in mind, the men in this study already had lung cancer. More research is def needed to know just how vitamin A effects different types of cancer.
Vitamin A keeps your bones strong. It plays an important part in balancing steoblasts (bone building cells) and osteoclasts (bone breaking down cells).
But, bones need balance. Taking high doses of vitamin A longterm (over 3,000 micrograms a day) may cause bone loss, which might increase your risk of fractures.
Vitamin A can work as an antioxidant. A 2018 article found that it promotes and regulates both innate immunity and adaptive immunity. That means it might have some anti-inflammation properties too. Woot!
Vitamin A might help you zap your zits. Sometimes, a topical retinoid can do the trick. But in mere severe cases, your doc might prescribe an oral isotretinoin (aka Amnesteem). You might have also heard of Accutane, which has been discontinued and is no longer prescribed.
PSA: Isotretinoin side effects can include dry skin and joint pain, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.
Vitamin A can keep your peen or vajayjay healthy. It’s also essential if you have a bun in the oven. Vitamin A supports the baby’s development of major organs and bones during pregnancy.
On the flip side, too much synthetic vitamin A in the form of retinoic acid (retin-A or tretinoin) has been linked to birth defects.
These birth defects may happen even if mom is taking the recommended dosage of retinoic acid for dermatologic uses like adult acne (which is way higher than the RAE).
So if you’re preggo or trying to get pregnant, you’ll want to ditch your fave prescription retinoic acid product or beloved retinol to play it safe for bebé .
Vitamin A rich foods
You’re prob getting enough vitamin A if you maintain a balanced diet. But it’s still good to know where to get it!
Here are some foods that are naturally high in vitamin A:
- sweet potato
- dairy products
- meats like liver and chicken
Down with #VegLife? You can still get enough vitamin A even if you’re rocking a plant-based diet! Some foods are fortified with vitamin A, like:
- breakfast cereals
Vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in developed countries, but infants, kiddos, and pregnant peeps are at a higher risk.
Folks who have a gastrointestinal (GI) condition — like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease — are also at a higher risk. Additionally, studies show around 15 to 40 percent of cystic fibrosis patients are vitamin A deficient.
Here are some deficiency symptoms to look out for:
- dry skin
- brittle hair
- night blindness
- xerophthalmia (severe eye dryness)
How much vitamin A is too much?
Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, your body hangs on to it. If too much gets stored up it can lead to toxicity.
The max dose of preformed vitamin A you should take in a day is 3,000 micrograms. However, even this much can lead to issues like bone pain and blurred vision.
Pro tip: Pick a supplement that has beta-carotene (or provitamin A). Beta- carotene isn’t toxic when consumed at high levels since the body can form vitamin A from it as needed.
Is Vitamin A bad for you?
Topical vitamin A products can cause light and sun sensitivity. So if you’re using a retinoid, lather it on at night.
Some folks also worry that vitamin A products like retinol or retinyl palmitate can lead to toxicity. (This stuff is often found in sunscreens, moisturizers, and lip balms.) But TBH, there’s not a lot of research to back this up.
We see the light!
You can keep your vision at its prime (plus other health benefits) by slaying a sufficient amount of vitamin A. Just keep in mind that too much can lead to toxicity. So, it’s eye-deal to chat with your doctor before you start a new supplement or diet. And yes, we know, our eye puns are a little cornea .
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