Vitamin A: Why Is It An Unavoidable Nutrient?

Vitamin A benefits for health

Vitamin A is one of the most important nutrients essential for human health. We need Vitamin A for growth and development, immune function, cell recognition, vision, and reproduction. It is an antioxidant that also acts as hormone affecting the functioning of the genes. Besides Vitamin A also helps optimum functioning of the heart, lungs, kidneys are other important organs.

Here are some facts about Vitamin A:

  • The most important functions of Vitamin A are overall growth and development, strengthening the immune system, reproduction, and functioning of the heart.
  • The risk of Vitamin A deficiency is common in pregnant women and those staying in developing countries.
  • An overdose of Vitamin A is toxic and can lead to hypervitaminosis.

What are the types of Vitamin A?

There are different types of Vitamin A:

1. Preformed Vitamin A that is found in meat, fish and dairy products

2. Provitamin A is found in fruits, vegetable, and other plant-based products. Beta-carotene is a common type of pro-vitamin A. It is found in brightly coloured plant foods.  

3. Retinol is a predominant and an active form Vitamin A that is found in the blood

(Learn what you can do if you are Vitamin D deficient)

Why people take Vitamin A supplements?

It is not always possible to get the required dose of Vitamin A through food sources. Hence, they are taken in the form of supplements:

  • Vitamin A supplements are taken to treats complications from diseases like HIV, malaria, measles, and diarrhea. Doctors also prescribe Vitamin A to children to improve their growth.
  • Vitamin A is prescribed to women having heavy menstrual periods, premenstrual syndrome, vaginal and yeast infections, and treat lumpy breasts (fibrocystic breast disease). It is also said to prevent breast cancer.
  • Some women with HIV infection must also take Vitamin A supplements to prevent the risk of transmitting the infection to the developing fetus during pregnancy. It also protects babies during breastfeeding.
  • Vitamin A supplements are also recommended to men to increase their sperm count.
  • Vitamin A is important for improving vision and treats eye disorders like macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, and cataracts. This supplement is also administered after an eye surgery to speed up the healing process.
  • Skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, cold sores, wounds, burns, sunburn, ichthyosis (non-inflammatory skin scaling) can also be treated with Vitamin A supplements along with other topical medications.
  • Vitamin A treats intestinal infection of parasites, gastrointestinal ulcers, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, gum disease, sinus and respiratory tract infection, osteoarthritis, tuberculosis, UTIs. If you have alcoholic hepatitis, Vitamin A helps to reduce those symptoms.
  • Vitamin A being an anti-oxidant also prevents cancer and soothes side-effects of cancer treatment like chemotherapy. It also slows the aging process and boosts the functioning of the immune system.
  • Vitamin A-fortified creams can also be applied directly on the skin to improve healing of a wound, reduce wrinkles and protect skin against UV radiation.

(Know why Vitamin C is important for a healthy immune system)

Side effects of Vitamin A

We said that Vitamin A is an imperative nutrient that must be included with diets but an overdose of it can be toxic. It can lead to:

  • Osteoporosis and hip fracture in the elderly if they take a higher dose of Vitamin A.
  • Brittle nails, hair loss, and oily hair
  • Decreased appetite and reduced body weight
  • Vomiting, dizziness, nausea, and headaches
  • Gum disease
  • Double vision in children
  • Liver disease
  • Change in the skin like cracking, yellowness and ultra-sensitivity to sunlight

If you are pregnant, you must not take Vitamin A more than the recommended level as excess retinol leads to fetal deformities.

Natural sources of Vitamin A

If you eat a balanced diet, you would not need Vitamin A supplements. Here are some natural sources of Vitamin A supplements:

  • Animal liver
  • Fatty fish like salmon and herring and fish oils
  • Eggs
  • Butter, milk, and cheese
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots, squash, pumpkins and other orange-coloured veggies
  • Orange-coloured fruits like papayas, cantaloupes, and mangoes
  • Spinach, broccoli, and other green leafy vegetables
  • Peppers
  • Zucchini

Eat healthily and stay fit!

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