Vitamin A deserves some love for a lot of different reasons. Of course, when most people think about Vitamin A, they think about its ability to maintain vision. That is very true, but there is so much more to the story.
For those that watch enough late-night television, you might know that Vitamin A is also known for its anti-inflammatory abilities. Again, that is great! But the reason I want to give it some love is that not only is it great for the purposes previously stated, it also helps your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work properly. AND it is fantastic for the immune system in general. But it doesn’t stop there. Vitamin A has also been used to treat psoriasis and prevent contact dermatitis successfully.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that it is absorbed along with fats in the diet and can be stored in the body’s fatty tissue. This is to say that if you get enough of it, your body will store it for use at a later date. That is fantastic!
Unfortunately, if you’re not getting enough, it could be the cause of some of your ailments. Vitamin A deficiency actually impairs skin, blood, and immune system cells that attack foreign cells in the body. A lack can also diminish the function of neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells. Any of these leaves you susceptible to sickness.
When it comes to the skin, Vitamin A is critical. People with a Vitamin A deficiency are more susceptible to a skin infection. In fact, researchers at UT Southwestern have identified a bacteria-killing protein on the epidermis that actually requires Vitamin A to work. Specifically, researchers found that “resistin,” a protein that acts as an antibiotic that rapidly kills bacteria, is stimulated by dietary vitamin A. So for some, a deficiency could be the reason why wounds don’t heal fast enough or why infections persist.
A Few Signs of Vitamin A Deficiency
Some vitamin deficiencies go unnoticed for long periods, and a Vitamin A deficiency is no exception. Unfortunately, such deficiencies can lead to further health problems that also go unnoticed unless they are causing significant issues. These issues tend to add up to a nasty result. You might hear or read about severe deficiencies, but even a mild deficiency can have significant adverse consequences. It’s not something to take lightly. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to a host of problems ranging from dry skin to infertility or even death.
Causes of a Vitamin A deficiency vary but include things like fibrosis, pancreatic insufficiency, inflammatory bowel disease, and small-bowel bypass surgery. Interestingly enough, studies suggest that vitamin A deficiency is also associated with hyperglycemia, liver disease, and dysbiosis of the gut. And finally, even excess alcohol consumption can deplete vitamin A stores.
So how can you tell if you have a deficiency? The first, and probably the most responsible way, is to get a blood test to check your levels. But know that minor deficiencies may not show on such a test. In that case, you’ll need to listen to your body because it may be trying to tell you. Look for the following:
- Dry Skin
- Dry Eyes or Night Blindness
- Infertility and Trouble Conceiving
- Delayed Growth
- Throat and Chest Infections
- Poor Wound Healing
- Acne and Breakouts
Sources of Vitamin A
The great news is that Vitamin A deficiency is usually pretty easy to treat. As you can imagine, the best sources of Vitamin A will come from your diet as it is naturally present in many foods. However, some of you will quickly see that you have probably been neglecting some of these great sources. Keep in mind that the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin A is 900 mcg per day for men and 700 mcg per day for women.
Here are a few sources to consider:
- Beef Liver — 713% DV per serving
- Lamb Liver — 236% DV per serving
- Liver Sausage — 166% DV per serving
- Cod Liver Oil — 150% DV per serving
- King Mackerel — 43% DV per serving
- Salmon — 25% DV per serving
- Bluefin Tuna — 24% DV per serving
- Goose Liver Pâté — 14% DV per serving
- Goat Cheese — 13% DV per serving
- Butter — 11% DV per serving
- Limburger Cheese — 11% DV per serving
- Cheddar — 10% DV per serving
- Hard-Boiled Egg — 8% DV per serving
- Trout — 8% DV per serving
- Blue Cheese — 6% DV per serving
- Cream Cheese — 5% DV per serving
Some of you are probably looking at this list and thinking, “I don’t eat any of that!” And if you do eat some of it, it’s probably not near enough to keep your stores where they need to be. That’s because many of these foods are usually not a staple in most American’s diets.
Keep in mind that you would have to consume many of these foods each day to reach that 100% RDA value. There is good news, though. Beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A as well. So, if you consume whole foods like oranges, spinach, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers on the regular, you might be able to get your Vitamin A stores back up to where they need to be.
Now, if the foods I have listed don’t fit your fancy, you can always supplement. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind if you do. The first is that Vitamin A is one of those vitamins you definitely DO NOT want to overdo. It is crucial to avoid long-term excess of 10,000 IU (3,000 mcg) or more for adults because doing so can cause toxicity. So, you want to space out your intake and listen to your body – and if at all possible, keep an eye on your blood levels.
Another thing to consider is your multivitamin. If you are taking one, take a look at the label to see how much you are already taking. Again, don’t test the upper-limits, as I have mentioned. Be safe and talk to your doctor or dietician before taking the plunge.
Why Taking Too Much Can Be Bad
Yes, Vitamin A is fantastic, and it can do some amazing things in the body. And if you are running low, it can have several significant health benefits and make you feel a whole lot better. However, taking too much for too long can become a big problem. As I mentioned, too much can cause toxicity, but there is an even bigger reason. Taking too much can actually harm your health by hindering your immune system. That’s right! In fact, a research report published in the July 2015 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests that too much vitamin A actually SHUTS DOWN the body’s trained immunity and can make you susceptible to infections that you might otherwise be immune to. The point is that while having too little can be a problem, having too much can be an even bigger problem.
As always… be safe, be careful, and be mindful.
Did you enjoy this article? You might also like my article titled “5 Nutrient Deficiencies That Might Surprise You.”
This article was written from a Health Science perspective. Dr. Robertson is a health researcher and educator, not a physician. The information provided here is not medical advice, a professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or service to you or any other individual. The information provided is for educational and anecdotal purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation, or the advice of your physician or other healthcare providers. Dr. Robertson is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or additional information, services, or product you obtain or utilize. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR PHYSICIAN.