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What is Vitamin a?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Like all vitamins, Vitamin A is essential and cannot be made by the body in the amount required to maintain health. This vitamin is involved in gene transcription and therefore is essential in all cells. It has strong antioxidant activity and is particularly important for eye and skin health, immune system function and bone health. In addition, it is thought that this vitamin plays an important role in reproduction, in reproductive health and in the breastfeeding of infants. Vitamin A is known in its precursor form as beta-carotene and in its active form as retinol.

People who do not have an adequate intake of the A vitamin tend to be more susceptible to infection and are more likely to experience severe symptoms in the event of a cold, flu or other type of non-serious infection. In addition, vision problems and reduced night vision also can develop. People with a vitamin A deficiency are at increased risk of nyctalopia, or night-blindness. This condition makes it difficult or impossible to see in low light. Another risk is an eye disease called keratomalacia, which causes the corneas of the eyes to become very dry, irritated and cloudy.

As with most other vitamins and minerals, the best way to get the recommended healthy amount of vitamin A is by eating a wide variety of foods. Many foods are rich sources of this essential vitamin, including animal sources such as meat, eggs, cheese, milk and certain types of fish. In addition, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli, spinach and apricots are all good sources of beta-carotene. Vitamin A is fat-soluble, which means the body can store a supply of this vitamin in the liver. It also means that the vitamin is best absorbed by the body when eaten as part of a meal that contains fat.

Although it is essential for good health, vitamin A can be toxic in very large doses. The disease caused by toxicity is known as hypervitaminosis A, and it can cause birth defects, liver problems, hair loss, skin discoloration, skin dryness and high intracranial blood pressure. In addition, this disease can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Hypervitaminosis A occurs when the amount of the vitamin in the body exceeds the amount that the liver can store, causing the excess to enter into circulation throughout the body. In most cases, this toxicity is due to over-consumption of vitamin supplements containing large doses of vitamin A.

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Discussion Comments

By googlefanz — On Nov 09, 2010

Can anybody tell me more about the connection between vitamin A and D? I hear about those two being used in conjunction all the time, but I can never find out why it's good to take them together, or how they work with each other.

Do you have any idea? Can you explain it to me?

Thanks.

By CopperPipe — On Nov 09, 2010

I'm glad that you took a balanced view in this article and didn't get caught up in the hype of telling people that they need tons of vitamin A to be healthy.

Although you certainly need a good dose of it for your eyes, skin, and genetic coding, a lot of people that I know take vitamin A kind of like they exercise -- about once a month, and in enormous quantities.

This is really unhealthy, since as you said, the excess vitamin A can cause all kinds of bad side effects.

So although you should certainly be getting your vitamin A foods (spinach, carrots and liver all have vitamin A), just don't overdo it -- it's not worth risking your health over.

By rallenwriter — On Nov 09, 2010

I recently started taking vitamin A supplements, and I can tell you, I see a huge difference in my skin and hair already.

I had been kind of skeptical after hearing people go on and on about all the vitamin A benefits, but it seems like it is actually very helpful, at least as far as skin quality goes.

I am also going to my doctor next week to get a blood test done to see if the vitamin A has had any effect on my blood. I am borderline anemic, and my doctor told me that iron and vitamin A interact together to improve anemia. The vitamin A makes the body absorb more iron, which is excellent for people like me!

So I would really encourage you to try a vitamin A supplement if you want to perk up your skin or better your blood quality. I have to say that I have certainly been surprised the results that I got with it.

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