The Vitamin Breakdown! – Vitamin A

Welcome to the vitamin breakdown! These are going to be a short sharp breakdowns of vitamins that are essential to our health and well being. I’ll summarise what they are, what they can do and where best to get ’em. 

So as it sits so nice and squarely atop of the vitamin alphabet, i thought we’d start with Vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is also a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin A, like all antioxidants, is involved in reducing inflammation through fighting free radical damage. Free radicals are the nasty bi products our bodies produce from everyday functions as simple as breathing and eating. 

Vitamins are classified as either fat soluble or water soluble. This difference between the two groups is very important as it determines how each vitamin acts within the body.  

Vitamin A is a fat soluble nutrient, meaning it’s able to be dissolved and stored in fat within the body. 80-90% of vitamin A is stored in liver. Fat soluble vitamins are usually absorbed in fat globules (called chylomicrons) that travel through the lymphatic system of the small intestines and into the general blood circulation within the body.

The body can be deficient in fat soluble vitamins if fat intake is too low or if fat absorption is compromised. The best way to take any kind of fat soluble supplement is with food, as your body will not be able to dissolve or absorb the vitamin otherwise. Importantly, unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins are not destroyed by the cooking process.

What it can do

Vitamin A has several important functions including strengthening immunity against infections; developing neurological function; improving vision; increasing bone density; lower cholesterol levels; repairs body tissue and helps in keeping skin healthy. 

The major deficiency symptoms of vitamin A include keratinization of the skin, night blindness, a burning sensation or itching in the eyes, inflammation of the eyelids, xerophthalmia (dryness of the conjunctiva), dull lusterless hair, dandruff, brittle nails that break easily, sexual disorders, and precancerous changes in the body tissues. A deficiency may also result in fatigue, insomnia, and depression.

Where to find it

Vitamin A is found in two primary forms: active Vitamin A and beta carotene. Active Vitamin A comes from animal-derived foods and is called retinol. This “pre-formed” Vitamin A can be used directly by the body; it does not need to first convert the Vitamin.

The other type of Vitamin A, which is obtained from colorful fruits and vegetables, is in the form of “pro Vitamin A” carotenoids, which are converted to retinol by the body after the food is ingested. It is converted in the body from dietary beta-carotene and 3 other carotenoids. Beta carotene, a type of carotenoid which is found primarily in plants, needs to first be converted to active Vitamin A in order to be utilised by the body. 

Preformed Vitamin A sources; Cod liver oil, oily fish such as salmon and sardines, cream, egg yolk, liver and liver products such pate, cheddar cheese, fortified milk, and butter products are rich sources of Vitamin A. 

Pro Vitamin A – carotenoids – sources; Yellow or orange-colored fruits and vegetables that contain the pigment carotene are great sources. Be sure to include food items such as sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, spinach, mango, pumpkin, tomato, oatmeal, apricot, peach, peas, papaya, and collard greens.

Beware

 It is of note that preformed  vitamin A is efficiently absorbed and utilized by humans at absorption rates of 70–90%. However, up to 70–90% of someone’s average vitamin A is obtained from provitamin A carotenoids in plant foods. These are absorbed much less efficiently, at rates of 20–50%, depending on each person’s vitamin A status and other dietary and nondietary factors. This highlights the need to prioritise having animal products that are often demonised as high fat. As can be seen, there might be an issue should you follow a vegan diet and you’re predisposed to not symphasise  provitamin A so well. 

All is not simple though and this is why you should not supplement with vitamin A additional to getting it from natural sources unless instructed to from a doctor. Vitamin A toxicity is a potential concern. 

Hypervitaminosis A refers to the toxic effects of ingesting too much preformed vitamin A. Symptoms arise as a result of altered bone metabolism and altered metabolism of other fat-soluble vitamins. Toxicity results from ingesting too much preformed vitamin A from foods (such as fish or animal liver), supplements, or prescription medications and can be prevented by ingesting no more than the recommended daily amount.

The British NHS recommend amount of vitamin A for adults (19-64 years) is:
– 0.7mg a day for men
– 0.6mg a day for women

 High intake of provitamin carotenoids (such as beta carotene) from vegetables and fruits does not cause hypervitaminosis A, as conversion from carotenoids to the active form of vitamin A is regulated by the body to maintain an optimum level of the vitamin. Carotenoids themselves cannot produce toxicity.

Pregnancy, liver disease, high alcohol consumption, and smoking are indications for close monitoring and limitation of vitamin A administration.

In conclusion you should be able to get all the vitamin A you need from your diet. Any vitamin A your body doesn’t need immediately is stored for future use in your fat reserves. This means you don’t need it every day.

Ok, well thanks for reading through. Please leave a comment and share if you found this interesting! Till next time. 

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