Vitamin A is considered to be both an important fat-soluble vitamin and a powerful antioxidant, and taking an adequate amount is absolutely essential for maintaining good health. Not only does it play a vital role in maintaining a healthy and clean skin, but it is also a key factor in disease prevention, in maintaining a good immune system and in bone health .
So how does vitamin A work and how can you be sure you are getting the right amount in your diet? Below we find out everything there is to know about this essential micronutrient and how it affects our health.
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that also acts as a powerful antioxidant. It plays an important role in maintaining neurological, visual and maintaining healthy skin. Like all antioxidants, it is involved in reducing inflammatory states by fighting against damage caused by free radicals .
Vitamin A is found under two primary forms: active vitamin A (also called retinol) and beta-carotene. Retinol comes from foods derived from animals and is a type of pre-formed vitamin A that can be used directly from the body. Instead, beta-carotene is obtained from colored fruits and vegetables and is in its form of provitamin carotenoid. Beta-carotene, like the other types of carotenoids found in vegetable-derived products, needs to be converted into retinol (the active form of vitamin A) before it can be used.
A third form of Vitamin A is palmitate, available in capsule form.
Studies have repeatedly shown that antioxidants such as Vitamin A are vital for good health and longevity. They benefit eye health, support the immune system and rely on cell regrowth. Nutrition and medical experts recommend the use of antioxidants primarily through a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole foods, rather than by vitamin supplementation so as to optimize its effectiveness.
10 benefits of Vitamin A
A deficiency of this important and vital vitamin could cause some rather serious consequences starting from rickets, night blindness and scaly skin. However being able to hit the right dosage is equally important, since even its overdose can result in serious pathologies such as liver problems and birth defects in the fetus.
- Supports the immune system
Vitamin A is vital for the immune system especially for its ability to fight disease and infection. According to some scholars, a deficiency of this key vitamin can lead to a weakening of the immune system and also alter the functionality of some cells. ( 1 ) It is believed that a vitamin A deficiency blocks the regeneration of mucosal barriers thus causing an increase in susceptibility to infections. ( 2 )
It is also interesting how, according to a 2014 study, giving 100,000 children a vitamin A supplement can save hundreds of millions of euros in medical expenses by reducing the incidence of diseases such as diarrhea and malaria. ( 3 )
- Protects eye health
One of the best known benefits of vitamin A is its ability to support the visual system and maintain eye health. This is because vitamin A is a fundamental component of Rhodopsin, a protein found in the retina that is activated when light hits the retina sending a signal to the brain. The result of this translated signal is the view.
Beta carotene is also fundamental in the prevention of macular degeneration, one of the major causes of blindness linked to aging.
In fact, a study shows that people at high risk of contracting this disease supplement their diet with a daily multivitamin based on vitamin A, C, E, zincand copper, reduce the risk of worsening their condition by 25% over a six-year period. ( 4 )
- Keeps a healthy skin
Increasingly prescribed by dermatologists for the treatment of acne and wrinkles, vitamin A is known for its powerful beneficial properties on the skin. One study has even shown that topical application of retinol significantly improves the appearance of wrinkles and signs of aging, also increasing the skin’s ability to resist damage. ( 5 )
- Relieves inflammatory states
Beta-carotene acts as a powerful antioxidant helping to reduce the formation of free radicals and thus preventing oxidative stress and the damage it causes. It is also an excellent anti-inflammatory agent.
The anti-inflammatory effects of Vitamin A and Beta-carotene can prevent really serious pathologies since inflammation is at the root of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular problems. ( 9 ) Reducing the levels of inflammation is also correlated to the lowering of the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and to the improvement of pathologies such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
- It has anticancer properties
With the growth of research showing a close correlation between what we eat and the risk of contracting some forms of cancer, it should not surprise us how integrating vitamin A into our diet helps protect us against the development of these diseases. Retinoids have been shown to block the growth of cancer cells in the gallbladder, breast, prostate and lungs in in vitro studies. ( 10 )
On the other hand, high doses of retinoic acid are toxic to cells so it is preferable to take them through dietary sources to prevent or suppress cancer progression over time. ( 11) It is good in any case to keep in mind that “more” is not always “better” and that as in everything, with a healthy balance the best results are obtained.
- Reduces cholesterol
Although our body needs certain amounts and types of cholesterol to function properly (since it is involved in hormone synthesis and in the formation of cell membranes), too much cholesterol can accumulate in the blood vessels causing them to shrink and harden and thus increasing the risk of heart disease.
Although human studies are limited, some of them show that taking adequate doses of vitamin A in one’s diet causes a natural decrease in cholesterol levels and an optimization of cardiac function. A study carried out on rats for example has decreed that the addition of beta-carotene to the animal diet for six weeks is able to significantly decrease the total cholesterol levels in the blood. (12 )
- Supports bone health
Most of us are aware of the correlation between bone health and a correct intake of calcium and vitamin D, but who of you knows that vitamin A is also a fundamental component for the growth of healthy and strong bones?
A study conducted by the University of Perugina found that retinol plasma levels were significantly lower in women of a certain age with osteoporosis problems than in the control group. Furthermore, the results showed that the same low levels of retinol were associated with lower bone mineral density in the femur. ( 13 ) ( 14 )
- It supports reproduction and development
Vitamin A is essential when it comes to growth and development during all stages of life, but it is also considered one of the best vitamins for women. A vitamin A deficiency is related to a depression of immune function, to a higher mortality rate and even to an increase in the risk rate of transmission of HIV-1 from mother to child during pregnancy. ( 15 )
Vitamin A has been included in the list of the most important micronutrients to be taken during pregnancy, particularly with regard to lung function and fetal development. The same importance, during pregnancy and lactation, in the prevention of these disorders, is covered by beta-carotene. ( 16 )
- Prevents urinary tract stones
If you have ever had to deal with urinary calculi, you know what kind of pain we are talking about. These stones generally form in the liver and grow slowly and then develop into the bladder or urethra. They can cause symptoms like frequent urination, abdominal pain, hematuria (blood in the urine) and discomfort. If not treated properly, they can also cause infections and complications, up to some cases requiring surgery.
Some research shows that vitamin A could support the prevention of urinary stones. In fact, a study examined the correlation between urinary calculi and vitamin A in children and the result showed that subjects with low levels of vitamin A had high levels of calcium oxalate crystals, thus indicating a high risk of stone formation. ( 17 )
- Promotes tissue repair
When it comes to cell regeneration and tissue repair, taking a proper amount of vitamin A is essential. Beyond being vital to healthy skin, some evidence suggests that this vitamin may also help in wound healing.
For example, a study reports how a pre-treatment with retinoids improves the healing process following a skin rejuvenation intervention. Similarly, an animal study concludes that the integration of different forms of vitamin A into the diet supports the healing of surgical wounds in rats. ( 18 )
List foods that contain vitamin A:
Increasing your daily intake of Vitamin A is the best way to get all the benefits of this important micronutrient.
So here are the best foods that contain Vitamin A:
- Pumpkin (240gr – cooked): 22.896 IU (457% RDA)
- Sweet potatoes (1 medium – cooked): 21,907 IU (438% RDA)
- Cabbage (240gr – minced): 10.302 IU (206% RDA)
- Carrots (1 medium – raw): 10.190 IU (204% RDA)
- Beef liver (30gr – cooked): 8,881 IU (178% RDA)
- Spinach (240gr – raw): 2.813 IU (56% RDA)
- Dehydrated apricots (30gr): 1.009 IU (20% RDA)
- Broccoli (240gr – raw): 567 IU (11% RDA)
- Butter (1 table spoon): 350 IU (7% RDA)
- Egg yolk (1 large): 245 IU (5% RDA)
Some other foods that contain vitamin A include: cod liver oil, peas, red peppers, whole cow’s milk, mango, tomatoes, melon, papaya, oatmeal, basil and paprika.
Supplements and recruitment:
The choice of a multivitamin is very important, especially when it is enough to turn on the TV to be inundated with advertising, but without knowing exactly we are really hiring and the real quality.
A supplement must meet certain fundamental requirements, and not just contain the “vitamins” we may or may not need. Assimilation is equally important.
Vibracell boasts a complex formula based on fruit and vegetable juices with over 40 components, and among these we include: Royal Jelly, L-Carnitine, Selenium , Folate and Coenzyme Q10 .
Thanks to these ingredients, vibracell is also an important source of antioxidants and vitamins, including: vitamin E, A and C.
Symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A is essential for the health of eyes, bones and skin and for the protection of the intestinal mucosa, and of the respiratory and urinary tracts against infections.
Those most at risk of developing a vitamin A deficiency are those who suffer from celiac disease , intestinal inflammation, autoimmune diseases, pancreatic diseases, fat absorption and those suffering from the intestinal permeability syndrome.
Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in half the world, especially in countries such as Africa and south-east Asia, where poverty does not allow adequate nutrition for the needs. The most affected are clearly children and pregnant women.
Especially in children and adolescents, a vitamin A deficiency can be a serious problem if it affects the visual system causing disability and blindness. It also increases the risk of contracting serious diseases such as infectious diarrhea or measles.
The most common symptoms to diagnose a vitamin A deficiency include:
- Dry lips
- Night blindness
- Scaly skin
- Bitot stains
- Damaged immune system
How to get more vitamin A from your diet
The recommended daily dosage of Vitamin A is around 5000 IU for adults and for children over 4 years of age. Simply increasing the daily consumption of fruit and vegetables and then taking about one or two portions per meal, you will easily reach the daily requirement.
Vitamin A is also available in the form of a supplement and tablets, although the advice remains to prefer to take it through the varieties of food that naturally contain it. Not only do foods that contain vitamin A also provide you with a whole host of important nutrients for your body, but some studies have actually found that supplementing with certain forms of vitamin A such as beta-carotene could be related to an increased risk of developing some forms of cancer in certain populations.
Vitamin A, retinol and Vitamin C
The term Vitamin A is used to refer to a whole group of retinoids, including retinol and carotenoids. Retinol is the active form of Vitamin A that can be easily used by our body and available in products of animal origin. Carotenoids, on the other hand, are available from fruits and vegetables and must be converted into retinol before they can be used.
More similar to Vitamin A, Vitamin C is another important antioxidant that plays a fundamental role in maintaining health. Both of these essential vitamins share the same function: they support the immune system, promote skin health and fight free radicals. In fact, in many fruits and vegetables there is a concentrated and fair amount of Vitamin C: cabbage, oranges, strawberries and peppers are some examples.
Vitamin A in Ayurveda and in traditional Chinese medicine
Many of the foods rich in vitamin A have the right characteristics to fit into the Ayurvedic diet. Pumpkin consumption, for example, is encouraged to those who seek healthy and natural ways to lose weight, thanks to its diuretic properties. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are appreciated for their nutritional properties, not to mention that they are correctly combined with all three types of constitutions (or Doshas) of Ayurveda.
However, foods rich in Vitamin A are common ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine. Cabbage, for example, strengthens the stomach and promotes tissue regeneration, while carrots act as detoxifiers, improve vision and strengthen organ resistance.
Although to date the benefits of Vitamin A and its importance to our body are clear, researchers have begun to discover its importance only in the last 130 years.
In 1816 the French physiologist Francois Magendie began to conduct animal tests, noting that by depriving them of some essential nutrients, the mortality rate grew and there were more and more cases of corneal ulcers. Only a few decades later, in 1880, scientists began to realize that there were nourishing components hidden in foods (for example in yolk and milk) that could be responsible for their health properties.
By 1913, researchers discovered that butter and egg yolk, two foods rich in Vitamin A, were able to support the survival of an animal to a better degree than other types of fat such as olive oil and the lard. It was the Swiss organic chemist Paul Karrer who first described the structure of Vitamin A in 1913, which was finally isolated a few years later, in 1937. ( 19 )
Precautions for use
High doses of vitamin A could actually be more harmful than useful. The integration or excessive consumption of this vitamin in conjunction with other antioxidants could be associated with birth defects, poor bone density and liver problems. The toxicity of Vitamin A could also cause symptoms such as nausea, loss of appetite, irritability, vomiting, hair loss and jaundice. ( 20 )
If you decide to supplement your diet with vitamin A, consult your doctor first. In any case, take low dosages and preferably in the form of food or supplements that come from food sources.
The intake of Vitamin A is not recommended, without a previous medical consultation, for those who take high doses of alcohol, for smokers and for those with liver and kidney diseases. Furthermore, Vitamin A may interact with other medicines including birth control pills, anticoagulants and some anti-cancer treatments.
Keep in mind that vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and therefore needs to be consumed with fatty foods to achieve optimal absorption
Studies have also shown that absorption, metabolism, hepatic release, transport and use of vitamin A tissues may depend in part on the state of zinc in the body, which should always be adequate. ( 21 )Some other studies suggest instead that a deficiency of vitamin D could worsen if combined with a wide supplementation of vitamin A. ( 22 , 23 )To avoid overdose and hypervitaminosis problems, opt for foods rich in vitamin A and not specific supplements and combine these foods with a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet to help maximize the beneficial effect on your health