What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a generic term that refers to a group of unsaturated fat-soluble compounds, including retinol, retinal, as well as various provitamin A carotenoids like beta-carotene.
Vitamin A plays numerous crucial roles in the body, most notably improving good vision. The vitamin also works alongside other compounds in boosting immunity and aiding in embryonic development.
Benefits of Vitamin A
1. Preservation of Eyesight
Eyesight preservation is unarguably the main health benefit of vitamin A. The vitamin is required in converting the light that hits your eyes into electrical signals, which are then transmitted to your brains.
Vitamin A is a crucial component of rhodopsin, the pigment found in the retina which is extremely light-sensitive. A deficiency in vitamin A causes diminished performance of the rhodopsin during the night, resulting in night blindness or nyctalopia.
Besides improving your night vision, increasing your intake of vitamin A might also guard against age-related macular degeneration.
2. Supporting the Immune System
Vitamin A supports the immune system by enhancing the functions of your body’s natural defense mechanisms.
It’s primarily involved in maintaining the mucous system in your eyes, gut, genitals, and lungs, thereby helping to trap disease-causing microorganisms. Vitamin A also enhances the production and function of your white blood cells, which flush pathogens and toxins from your body.
Therefore, a deficiency in Vitamin A makes you susceptible to disease. The same deficiency also delays your recovery process from a medical condition or physical injury.
As a matter of fact, correcting vitamin A deficiency in countries where malaria and measles are rampant has significantly helped to reduce the fatality rates from these diseases.
3. Lowers the Risks of Certain Cancers
Vitamin A plays a significant role in cellular growth and development. And since cancer results from the growth and proliferation of abnormal cells, researchers now believe that the vitamin might influence how cancerous cells spread.
Studies conducted on the anticancer properties of vitamin A indicate that consuming beta-carotene could lower the risks of some types of cancer, such as cervical cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
However, it’s important to note that the bulk of these studies focused on plant-based vitamin A as opposed to animal foods that contain the vitamin.
4. Lowers the Risks of Acne
Acne is an inflammatory skin disorder that occurs when debris, oil, or dead skin cells block the sebaceous glands. Symptoms include blackheads, which mostly appear on the face, chest, and back.
While acne spots are generally harmless, the condition can take a toll on your mental health and result in anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Thankfully, consuming foods rich in vitamin A might help to prevent or even treat acne.
Vitamin A works against acne by mediating the overproduction of keratin, the protein found in your hair follicles. An overproduction of keratin affects the ability of your skin to get rid of dead cells from the hair follicles, resulting in blockages.
Vitamin A is so effective against acne that medical experts have since formulated an acne prescription drug from the vitamin, known as isotretinoin.
5. Improving the Radiance of Your Skin
We all yearn for youthful and radiant skin. However, achieving glowing skin is easier said than done. Most conventional cosmetic products promise so much but deliver so little. Worse yet, such products often leave us nursing some annoying side effects.
Fortunately, it turns out that vitamin A might help you to achieve complete skin rejuvenation. One way it does that is by relieving acne, which we’ve already examined.
According to the Linus Paul Institute, Vitamin A also treats photo-damaged skin, reduces wrinkling, and smoothens your skin. Some studies have even linked vitamin A to an improvement of epithelial tissues.
6. Supporting Bone Health and Development
Do you suffer from bone-related diseases from time to time? Are you abnormally prone to bone injuries? If you answered the above questions in the affirmative, then it’s about time you upped your intake of vitamin A.
You’re probably already aware that calcium, protein, and vitamin D are the leading nutrients required for maintaining healthy bones. However, you won’t go wrong adding vitamin A into the mix. According to research, vitamin A deficiency is one of the major risk factors for bone fractures.
7. Maintaining Healthy Reproduction
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient required in maintaining a healthy reproductive system. It also helps with embryonic development during pregnancy.
Various studies conducted in male rats showed that supplementation with vitamin A enhances the development of sperm cells, thereby preventing infertility.
Similar studies involving female rats showed that vitamin A might boost egg quality, which improves egg implantation in the womb.
Sources of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is abundant in both plant- and animal-based foods. It comes in two major forms, namely preformed vitamin A and provitamin A.
Preformed vitamin A is considered the most active form of vitamin A since the body can assimilate it as it is. This form of vitamin A includes numerous beneficial compounds like retinol, retinoic acid, and retinal. It’s most abundant in animal products like fish, chicken, beef, and dairy.
On the other hand, provitamin A is the passive form of vitamin A and is most abundant in plant-based foods like carrots, spinach, kales, broccoli, apricot, and sweet potatoes.
Some of the compounds that make up provitamin A include carotenoids like alpha-carotenes, beta-carotenes, and beta-cryptoxanthins. As they’re inactive in their native form, provitamin A can only be beneficial to the body after they’re converted into active compounds. For instance, beta-carotenes are converted into retinol in the ileum.
How Much Vitamin A Should You Consume?
The recommended daily intake of vitamin A varies by age, sex, and the state of your immunity. Men should generally consume 900 mcg, whereas women will do fine with 700 mcg of the vitamin per day.
For children and adolescents, the recommended daily intake is anywhere between 300 and 600 mcg. In terms of your immunity, sick people and expecting or lactating mums can consume a relatively high amount of vitamin A.
Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency
First off, it’s important to emphasize that vitamin A is so abundant that you’re unlikely to suffer a deficiency. As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) shuns vitamin A supplementation except for people with a compromised immune system, such as the sick and pregnant women.
In addition to a suppressed immune system, other conditions that might trigger a vitamin A deficiency include:
• Overindulgence in vegan diets
• Consuming foods that are exceedingly low in fat
• Overexposure to sunlight
• Gut-related problems, such as leaky gut
• An autoimmune disease
• Certain medical conditions, such as cystic fibrosis
The following are some of the symptoms of vitamin A deficiency:
• Poor eye health, as is characterized by reduced night vision
• Skin conditions, such as dryness and scaling
• Weak fingernails
• Dryness in the mucous membranes
• Chronic gut
• Recurring respiratory infections
Vitamin A is not only one of the essential nutrients. It also happens to be among the most abundant ones. Eating a balanced diet will ensure that you achieve the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and avoid suffering any of the deficiency symptoms we’ve highlighted above.