But what exactly does a vitamin A deficiency mean for your health? Let’s find out.
Vitamin A deficiency can be caused by two things.
- You’re not getting enough vitamin A.
- An underlying issue is preventing your body from properly absorbing or using vitamin A.
Deficiencies aren’t common in places like the U.S. where vitamin A-rich foods are readily available. These foods include meat, eggs, fish, and certain dairy products. It might be harder to access in developing countries. That can put folks at a higher risk of deficiency.
Other risk factors for deficiency include:
- cystic fibrosis
- chronic diarrhea
Here are some of the signs of a vitamin A deficiency.
1. Night blindness
Night blindness is a serious condition where it’s difficult or impossible to see in low light.
It’s often one of the first tell-tale signs of vitamin A deficiency. Night blindness can eventually lead to total blindness if it’s left untreated.
In a 6-week study of pregnant women experiencing night blindness, participants saw a 50 percent improvement in their ability to adapt to darkness after being treated with food or supplements.
2. Dry eyes
Eye probs, like dry eyes, are a super common sign of vitamin A deficiency. Dry eyes is when your eyes don’t produce enough tears. That can make your eyes feel itchy or look red. If it isn’t treated, this could eventually lead to blindness or dying corneas.
Luckily, treatment can be pretty simple. Studies suggest that a vitamin A supplement may help bring moisture back to dry eyes caused by vitamin A deficiency.
3. Skin problems
Vitamin A is vita-vital when it comes to your skin. Not only does it help create and repair skin cells, but it also helps fight inflammation.
Deficiency, on the other hand, can lead to skin conditions. One of those skin conditions is eczema.
While there’s no cure for eczema, there are ways to ease its symptoms, like alitretinoin. Alitretinoin is a prescription med that contains vitamin A. Studies suggest it can be effective in treating eczema.
Well, zit. Time to add vitamin A deficiency to the growing list of potential acne triggers.
Studies link the appearance of acne to low levels of vitamin A. One study even found that adults with acne had vitamin A levels over 80 mcg lower than those who were blemish-free.
Vitamin A is often used in acne-fighting skin care products… and for good reason. Research suggests that face creams with vitamin A can reduce pimple presence by as much as 50 percent!
5. Fertility issues
When it comes to reproduction, you’ve gotta bring your (vitamin) A-game.
Vitamin A plays an important role in reproductive health, and low levels may be to blame if you’re having issues getting pregnant. Deficiency doesn’t discriminate: all genders can be affected. It can even lead to infertility.
Deficiency may also be linked to miscarriages. One study found low blood levels of vitamin A in women who experienced recurrent miscarriages.
6. Frequent infections
Vitamin A plays a big role in your immune health. Deficiency can weaken immune function, and that can make you more susceptible to infections (especially in your throat and chest).
Research in this area varies, but some findings show that a vitamin A supplement may help.
One study found that underweight children who were given a weekly vitamin A supplement experienced fewer respiratory infections than children who were given a placebo. But another review suggests that vitamin A supplements can increase a child’s risk of throat or chest infections by 8 percent.
What about older folks? One study suggests that high blood levels of beta- carotene (something your body turns into vitamin A) helps protect elderly people from respiratory infections.
7. Stunted growth
Vitamin A is needed for proper development. Too little can delay or slow down bone growth. That’s bad news for growing bodies.
Research shows that children affected by deficiency may benefit from taking vitamin A supplements. In one study, children in Indonesia with vitamin A deficiency were given either a high dose supplement or a placebo. Those who received the supplement grew 0.15 inches more than their placebo-receiving counterparts.
A 2004 review suggests that adding other nutrients (like iron) into the mix may prove even more beneficial for growth. Another study on children with stunted growth in South Africa, supports that finding.
8. Wound healing issues
There’s a ton of buzz around collagen, but it’s not all hype. Collagen supports healthy, hydrated skin. Vitamin A promotes collagen creation, and low vitamin A levels lead to low collagen production.
Collagen is especially important when it comes to your skin’s ability to heal after injury. Poor wound healing can be a direct result of vitamin A deficiency.
Even when a deficiency isn’t at play, studies suggest that treating a wound with vitamin A can help boost collagen production and promote proper healing.
9. Hair loss
Vitamin A is essential for cell growth, including hair cells. It’s also a key factor in sebum production. Sebum keeps your scalp moisturized and your hair feeling fresh.
Deficiency, on the other hand, can leave your locks dry and dull. They might even start to fall out.
But don’t douse your head in vitamin A goodness just yet. Studies show that too much vitamin A can also cause hair loss. Finding the vitamin A sweet spot for you is the secret to a magnificent mane.
When to call the doc
Experiencing symptoms that point to Vitamin A deficiency? Chat with your doctor. They can diagnose a deficiency and figure out whether a simple lack of vitamin A or an underlying condition is the cause. They’ll work with you to put a treatment plan in place.
Regular checkups can help prevent deficiencies or detect them early on.
FYI: Taking too much vitamin A can cause toxicity or other side effects. These can include changes to your vision, mouth ulcers, bone swelling, or confusion. It’s important to talk to your doctor before deciding to up your vitamin A intake to avoid consuming a dangerous amount.
Vitamin A deficiency test
There are lots of at-home tests that can measure your body’s nutrient levels, but you won’t have the benefit of a doctor’s consultation or recommendation like you would if you get tested at your doctor’s office.
This test is pretty standard and nothing to worry about. Your doc will take a blood sample and send it off to a lab for testing. It’s important to follow any special instructions they give you for the test, like fasting beforehand.
Your doctor can review the results to determine if your vitamin A levels are too high, too low, or juuuust right.
Eating a balanced diet that includes nutrient-rich foods is the easiest way to give your vitamin A levels a healthy boost.
On average, the National Institutes of Health recommend that healthy adults get between 700 and 900 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A each day. These numbers are generally lower for kids and higher for those with certain health conditions.
Supplements are another option for treating vitamin A deficiency. They’re usually recommended when diet alone isn’t cutting it. If supplements are your solution, work with your doctor on dosage to avoid the negative effects of getting too much vitamin A.
Vitamin A is an important nutrient that affects several bodily functions. Vitamin A deficiency happens when your body isn’t getting (or properly absorbing) this key substance.
You can keep an eye out for symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency. These include:
- night blindness
- stunted growth
Talk with your doctor if you think you may be deficient. They’ll provide a diagnosis and offer treatment options. For most folks, eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes items high in Vitamin A can keep your levels in check. If diet isn’t enough, your doc may recommend a supplement.
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