Do we need vitamin A? Maybe it’s just a really good excuse to eat mango. Although, if you enjoy the function of your eyes, appreciate your immune system, and enjoy the use of your teeth, then you can thank vitamin A. That’s right, vitamin A does a lot. But what if you’re not getting enough of it? To figure out if you could be deficient in vitamin A, we’ll start with the basics.
What Is Vitamin A?
It is a fat soluble vitamin your body stores in the liver, and it has two main forms, retinol (the active form of vitamin A, obtained from animal sources), and beta-carotene (obtained from plant sources). It’s necessary for the healing of infections, for healthy eyes and skin, and has been shown to be influential in lowering lung cancer risks. Vitamin A also increases the utilization of selenium, which is needed for normal blood pressure, healthy hair growth, and a properly functioning thyroid.
What Are Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency?
A poor diet is the main reason for a vitamin A deficiency. In addition, conditions like Diabetes or an underactive thyroid can inhibit your body’s ability to convert beta-carotene to the retinol form of vitamin A. If you have poor liver or gallbladder function or problems with your pancreas, a deficiency is also likely. Other reasons why you might need more vitamin A in your diet are things like high stress levels, illness or trauma, if you smoke or live in a polluted area, or of you’re pregnant/nursing. Also, your body needs zinc to utilize vitamin A, so make sure you’re getting enough zinc in your diet via food and/or supplements. Due to all these reasons, a vitamin A deficiency is, sadly, a common occurrence.
The symptoms of a deficiency are mostly related to your sight, hair, skin, and teeth like:
- Dry hair and skin
- Poor vision at night
- Eyes that are highly sensitive to bright light and when adjusting to different light conditions
- A poorly functioning immune system prone to respiratory infections
- Inability to make tears
- Weak tooth enamel
How To Get Vitamin A In Your Diet
There are lots of ways for meat eaters and vegetarians to get it in their diet, such as:
- Liver & fish liver oil
- Egg yolks
- Milk products like whole milk, cream, and butter
- Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, red cabbage, sweet potatoes, winter squash, yams, apricots, cantaloupe, cherries, mango, papaya, peaches, and watermelon
- Dark green leafy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, parsley, spinach, nori, lettuce, and mustard greens
Can You Get Too Much Vitamin A?
You can. Because vitamin A is stored by the body rather than readily excreted, high doses of it can be toxic. Fortunately, it’s not likely that you’ll get too much vitamin A from your diet alone unless you eat a lot of liver or fish liver oil. Generally, toxicity is seen when you take high doses in supplemental form. Side-effects of too much supplemental or dietary vitamin A include things like:
- Pressure headaches
- Abdominal pain
- Hair loss
With beta-carotene, toxicity isn’t really an issue. Your body converts beta-carotene into the active vitamin A (retinol) as needed; thus vegans and vegetarians are fully able to get enough vitamin A in their diet and toxicity isn’t a problem. The only known side-effect from consuming high amounts of beta-carotene (via lots of yellow and orange fruits and vegetables and leafy greens) is that your skin can turn a yellow-orangeish hue. Fortunately, if you don’t like looking like an oompa loompa, reducing your beta-carotene intake should return your skin to its usual colour.
There are lots of reasons why you might not be getting enough vitamin A in your diet (as seen above), and if you are worried you should increase your intake of the fresh fruits and veggies listed above and/or take a multivitamin. If it’s something you’re still concerned about, go see your doctor or naturopath for a more detailed analysis (and possibly a blood test).
Prescription for Dietary Wellness
Phyllis Balch – James Balch – Avery Pub. Group – 1998
Elson Haas, Buck Levin. Staying Healthy with Nutrition.
New York: TenSpeed Press, 2006. Print.
Danielle Perrault. Nutritional Symptomatology.
Ontario: CSNN Publishing, 2013. Print.
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and should not be considered any type of medical advice. The information provided in this website should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health condition or disease, and should not be substituted for professional care. If you suspect or have a medical condition, consult an appropriate health care provider.