Vitamin A Facts: Everything You Need to Know

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Vitamin A is an integral part of every person's diet. Because it plays such an important role in personal health, everyone should understand not only what vitamin A does, but also where to get it and how much to consume. Below, you'll find the need-to-know facts about vitamin A.

What Does Vitamin A Do?

Vitamin A has a host of amazing health benefits for your body. One area where vitamin A is especially helpful is in the eyes. Because it produces the pigments in the retinas of your eyes, vitamin A is sometimes referred to as retinol. It helps you maintain good vision and increases your ability to see in low lighting. If you're worried about your vision getting worse over time, then make sure you get enough vitamin A, as it's a good way to strengthen your sight naturally.

Consuming sufficient amounts of vitamin A can also work wonders for your immune system. Vitamin A promotes the production of white blood cells, which eliminate viruses and unwanted bacteria from the body. This prevents infections by creating a stronger immune system. Furthermore, vitamin A fortifies the linings of your respiratory, intestinal and urinary tracts, along with your skin and mucous membranes. This is another way it helps bacteria from entering the body and causing an infection.

A unique characteristic of vitamin A is that is can also be found in cartenoids called beta-carotene, which are the naturally dark-colored dyes found in some plants. Beta-catotene can become a form of vitamin A once they are consumed. Because beta-carotenes also contain antioxidants, consuming these foods can help protect the cells in your body from free radicals. Over time, this can reduce your risk for chronic disease and combat some of the degenerative processes associated with aging.

Vitamin A can also contribute to improved bone growth, cell division and cell differentiation. It even promotes reproduction and is a healthy supplement for women who are breastfeeding.

Food Sources of Vitamin A

Vitamin A is extremely easy to come by. Many of the most basic staples in our diets - meat, eggs, milk and cheese, for example - are excellent sources of vitamin A. Other animal sources have a high vitamin A content as well, like kidney, liver, cod and fish oil. However, it's important to note that some of these foods have high cholesterol and saturated fat levels, so be sure to keep a healthy balance of these items in your diet.

As mentioned before, plant-based beta carotene is another option for adding vitamin A to your diet. This is especially helpful for vegetarians and vegans who consume fewer animal-based foods for their vitamin A. Eat foods like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, grapefruits, spinach, broccoli and apricots to get your vitamin A. As a general rule, the more vibrant the color of a fruit or vegetable, the more beta-carotene it contains. As a bonus, you won't have to worry about the fat or cholesterol content in these foods.

Side Effects

Getting the right amount of vitamin A in your diet shouldn't have any negative side effects. However, a vitamin A deficiency can lead to health issues over time. If you don't get enough vitamin A, then you could develop vision problems. Plus, your immune system could weaken, leaving you susceptible to infectious diseases.

Perhaps even more serious, unfortunately, are the side effects of consuming too much vitamin A, also known as hypervitaminosis A. Initially, too much vitamin A can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and even vomiting. It can also lead to serious health problems like liver damage, nervous system disorders and osteoporosis. Pregnant women should be especially careful about their intake, as excess vitamin A intake can cause birth defects. In general, babies and small children are more sensitive to vitamin A overdoses and deficiencies, so it's important to closely monitor their daily vitamin A consumption.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

According to the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine, men over the age of 14 should consume about 900 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A per day. Meanwhile, women over 14 are advised to limit their vitamin A intake to about 700 mcg per day.

The daily dosage for children varies with age. From the age of 0 to 6 months, infants should take 400 mcg per day, after which they should consume 500 mcg per day until they reach the age of 1. Children 1 to 3 years of age should take 300 mcg/day, while those from 4-8 years of age need 400 mcg/day, and those from 9-13 years old need 600 mcg/day. Unlike with adult dosages, the daily recommendations for children are prescribed regardless of sex.

These dosage requirements are general guidelines. Individuals may have differing daily recommendations for vitamin A, depending on their health status and lifestyle. For example, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding generally need more vitamin A in their diet than the average adult female. Most people can get a sufficient amount of vitamin A simply by eating a balanced diet. Consult a doctor before taking any vitamin A supplements or changing from the recommended dosage for your age and sex.

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