What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin (like vitamins D, E and K) and in its pure form is referred to as ‘retinol’. Vitamin A in this form is used directly by the body. Concentrated food sources of Vitamin A are meat cuts such as liver, kidneys and in foods such as butter and full-fat milk. Vitamin A is also found in vegetables and fruits as beta carotene (beta carotene is converted into vitamin A). Beta carotene is one of more than 600 ‘carotenoids’ known to exist in nature. They are responsible for many yellow, orange and red pigments found in plants. Green leafy vegetables and yellow/orange coloured vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, yams and squash) are rich in beta carotene.
The roles of vitamin A include:
• Maintaining a healthy respiratory system
• Maintaining a healthy immune system
• Necessary for healthy skin and hair
• Growth in general
• Eye health and good vision and preventing sensitivity to light
• Fertility • Works as an antioxidant
• Cardiovascular health
• Healing in general
What may be some signs of deficiency of Vitamin A?
• Poor immunity • Issues with vision
• Respiratory tract infections
• Skin conditions such as acne
• Poor healing in general
• Growth and development: In third world countries such as Africa, where Vitamin A is virtually absent from the diet, research found children had low birth weights, low IQs, stunted growth, blindness, lower resistance to disease and an increase in risks for both mothers and infants during childbirth.
Doses of vitamin A in pregnancy
Taking pre-formed vitamin A (as retinol) at high levels during pregnancy is toxic (it may cause birth defects). We recommend not exceeding 7,000 IU a day during pregnancy. Most specific pregnancy multi vitamin and mineral formulas will contain safe doses of vitamin A or will contain beta carotene which is safe. Unless under the guidance of a practitioner, there should be no need to take extra vitamin A during pregnancy or breastfeeding (other than that contained in the pregnancy multi vitamin and mineral). Eating beta carotene rich food sources is advised of course with no issues of safety, e.g carrots.
Absorption of Vitamin A
Optimal liver function is required for the absorption of vitamin A because it is fat soluble. Therefore if one’s ability to break down fats is hindered (e.g poor levels of bile, or gallbladder removal) then we advise taking vitamin A with the food supplement artichoke and/or lecithin granules or tablets. Adequate levels of zinc and vitamin e are also required. Those with thyroid problems do not convert beta carotene into vitamin A well, so taking pre-formed vitamin A over beta carotene is recommended. Those with celiac disease may also have poor absorption. Those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may find they do not get enough vitamin A in their diet, especially if they have problems converting beta carotene into vitamin A. Therefore we may recommend extra supplementation of pre-formed vitamin A (as retinol).
How can I take Vitamin A supplements?
Vitamin A may be taken as tablets, capsules or liquid drops (often the drops are emulsified for better absorption).