Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential human nutrient. It exists not as a single compound, but in several forms. In foods of animal origin, the major form of vitamin A is an  retinol, but can also exist as an aldehyde (retinal), or as an acid (retinoic acid). Precursors to the vitamin (a provitamin) are present in foods of plant origin as some of the members of the carotenoid family of compounds.

  • retinol, the animal form of vitamin A, is a yellow, fat-soluble, vitamin with importance in vision and bone growth.
  • other retinoids, a class of chemical compounds that are related chemically to vitamin A, are used in medicine.

 

Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is essential to the formation of visual purple in the retina, which allows vision in dim light. Beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A found in vegetables, has antioxidant properties, which means it protects cells from the daily toxic damage of oxidation.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin.

Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucous membranes, and skin. It is also known as retinol because it produces the pigments in the retina of the eye.

Vitamin A promotes good vision, especially in low light. It may also be need for reproduction and breast feeding.

Retinol is an active type of vitamin A. It is found in animal liver, whole milk, and some fortified foods.

Carotenoids are dark colored dyes found in plant foods that can turn into a form of vitamin A. One such carotenoid is beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant. Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by unstable substances called free radicals. Free radicals are believed to contribute to certain chronic diseases and play a role in the degenerative processes seen in aging.

Food Sources    Vitamin A comes from animal sources, such as eggs, meat, milk, cheese, cream, liver, kidney, cod, and halibut fish oil. However, all of these sources -- except for skim milk that has been fortified with Vitamin A -- are high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Retinol is an active type of vitamin A. It is found in animal liver, whole milk, and some fortified foods.

Sources of beta-carotene are carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, apricots, broccoli, spinach, and most dark green, leafy vegetables. The more intense the color of a fruit or vegetable, the higher the beta-carotene content. These vegetable sources of beta-carotene are free of fat and cholesterol.

Side Effects  If you don't get enough vitamin A, you are more susceptible to infectious diseases and vision problems.

One of the earliest manifestations of vitamin A deficiency is impaired vision, particularly in reduced light Night blindness. Persistent deficiency gives rise to a series of changes, the most devastating of which occur in the eyes. Collectively, the ocular changes are referred to as xerophthalmia. First there is dryness of the conjunctiva (xerosis) as the normal lacrimal and mucus secreting epithelium is replaced by a keratinized epithelium. This is followed by the build-up of keratin debris in small opaque plaques (Bitot's spots) and, eventually, erosion of the roughened corneal surface with softening and destruction of the cornea (keratomalacia) and total blindness. Other changes include impaired immunity, hypokeratosis (white lumps at hair follicles), keratosis pilaris and squamous metaplasia of the epithelium lining the upper respiratory passages and urinary bladder to a keratinized epithelium. With relations to dentistry, a deficiency in Vitamin A leads to enamel hypoplasia.

Adequate supply of Vitamin A is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, since deficiencies cannot be compensated by postnatal supplementation.

If you get too much vitamin A, you can become sick. Large doses of vitamin A can also cause birth defects. Acute vitamin A poisoning usually occurs when an adult takes several hundred thousand IU.  Symptoms of chronic vitamin A poisoning may occur in adults who regularly take more than 25,000 IU a day. Babies and children are more sensitive and can become sick after taking smaller doses of vitamin A or vitamin A-containing products such as retinol (found in skin creams).

As vitamin A is fat-soluble, disposing of any excesses taken in through diet is much harder than with water-soluble vitamins B and C. As such, vitamin A toxicity can result. This can lead to nausea, jaundice, irritability, anorexia (not to be confused with anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder), vomiting, blurry vision, headaches, muscle and abdominal pain and weakness, drowsiness and altered mental status.

Increased amounts of beta-carotene can turn the color of skin to yellow or orange. The skin color returns to normal once the increased intake of beta-carotene is reduced.

Recommendations  The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid.

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following:

Infants

Children

Adolescents and Adults

Women who are pregnant or producing breast milk (lactating) need higher amounts. Ask your doctor what dose is best for you.