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The Vitamin ABCs: Vitamin A

Today we’re launching a new blog series: the Vitamin ABCs. In this, we’ll be highlighting each different vitamin type, why you need it, how you can best consume it, the effects it has on your body and more. Follow the full series here.

What is vitamin A?

Vitamin A is an antioxidant which is essential for cell growth and development and has huge benefits on the function of your immune system, fighting inflammation, keeping vision active, brain function and more. Also known as retinol, it has earned a reputation as being the “anti-aging” vitamin.

Where to find vitamin A

There are vitamin A supplements available for those who may have problems absorbing the necessary nutrients from their diet, but in general, most people will only need to meet their vitamin A requirement through the food they consume. Foods that are naturally rich in vitamin A include:

  • Organ based meats such as beef or lamb liver.
  • Oily fish including mackerel, salmon, bluefin tuna and cod liver oil.
  • Cheese, milk and butter – the best options for this include goat’s cheese, cheddar and camembert.
  • Eggs.

Vegetables can also be an excellent source of vitamin A, as your body can convert the carotenoids in certain plants to vitamin A. The vegetables and fruits that contain high levels of carotenoids are easily recognisable from their orange colour, but these are also present in other veg that may not be orange. The best options for this include:

  • Sweet potato.
  • Squash, pumpkins and carrots.
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables including collard greens, kale, spinach and broccoli.
  • Orange fruit like mango, cantaloupe melon and papaya.
  • Pink and red grapefruit.
  • Watermelon.

Vitamin A may also be added to or included in some cereals.

What levels to aim for

For adults (aged between 19 and 64 years), the recommended daily amounts of vitamin A are:

  • 0.7mg per day for men
  • 0.6mg per day for women.

This can be easily obtained from a healthy, balanced diet as long as you have access to a good range of meat, vegetables and fruit.

Effects on the body

The groups most at risk of vitamin A deficiency are preterm infants, children in developing countries, pregnant women in developing countries, and people with cystic fibrosis. Some common symptoms and risks of vitamin A deficiency include:

  • Poor eye health, with night blindness.
  • Dry, thick and scaly skin.
  • Weak and brittle fingernails.
  • Frequent respiratory infections.
  • Higher risk of infections in general.
  • Fertility issues.
  • Delayed growth in infancy and childhood.

There are also risks associated with an oversupply of vitamin A too – excessive amounts can be toxic to the body and overconsumption of it can cause negative symptoms too including:

  • Vision problems such as sensitivity to light and double vision.
  • Sensitive skin that cracks and itches.
  • Weak bones, pain and swelling.
  • Vomiting, headaches and nausea.
  • Gum disease.
  • Problems gaining weight due to decreased appetite.
  • General fatigue.
  • In extreme cases, liver disease.

Pregnant women are particularly warned against overdosing on vitamin A as increased retinol has been linked to fetal deformity.

However, in the vast majority of cases, it’s fairly easy to get your vitamin A requirements from your diet, and overconsumption is generally only a higher risk if you’re taking additional supplements of vitamin A.


 

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