Vitamins are important substances in food that help keep your body healthy. Vitamin A is especially important for maintaining healthy eyes, teeth and skin. In fact, vitamin A is also called retinol, because it is necessary to produce pigments that form the retina of the eye. Vitamin A is also essential for promoting good vision. In fact, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, according to the World Health Organization. Vitamin A is important for many functions in the body, so it is important to learn about this essential vitamin.
About Vitamin A (Retinol)
We get vitamin A from two different sources. The kind of vitamin A present in animal sources is called retinoids. Plants also contain a form of vitamin A called carotenoids, which include the phytochemical beta-carotene. Getting a sufficient amount of vitamin A in your diet is essential for your health and well-being. In fact, one of the first signs that you are not getting enough vitamin A is poor vision, especially at night. Vitamin A also plays a vital role in keeping the mucus membranes that line your nose, sinuses and mouth in good health. Vitamin A is needed by almost every body system, including being essential for bone formation, immune system function, wound healing and reproduction.
Vitamin A Deficiency
It is considered rare to have a vitamin A deficiency in modernized parts of the world. However, in underdeveloped countries, vitamin A deficiency remains a very common problem. Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include dry eyes, vision changes, night- blindness, diarrhea and skin disorders. In fact, vitamin A is so important for skin health, that a synthetic form of vitamin A is used to treat skin disorders like acne and psoriasis. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research shows that eating foods rich in vitamin A reduces your risk for developing age-related macular degeneration. Other studies show that children with a deficiency in vitamin A are at an increased risk for developing infections, including measles and other infectious diseases.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Vitamin A deficiency affects about 250 million preschool children around the world, and is diagnosed with a simple blood test. Deficiency often occurs because of malnourishment and a lack of sufficient food sources in remote areas. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that you must eat a small amount of fat with the vitamin in order for your body to absorb it.
Vitamin A is found in meat, poultry, eggs and other dairy products. Plant sources include colorful fruits and dark-green, leafy vegetables. Dark yellow and orange vegetables, such as squash, sweet potatoes and carrots, are especially high in beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A. However, if you have severe vitamin A deficiency, supplements may be necessary for treatment.
Warnings and Considerations
Vitamin A supplements should always be taken under a doctor’s care because high levels can be toxic to your health. In fact, too much vitamin A may result in birth defects, liver abnormalities, low bone density and nervous system disorders. It is hard to get too much vitamin A through your diet, and most cases of toxicity result from taking too much of the supplement. In developed countries, excess consumption of alcohol is a common reason for vitamin A deficiency. People with malabsorption disorders may also have low levels of vitamin A because of their reduced ability to absorb the fat necessary to break down the vitamin. If you have symptoms of vitamin A deficiency, talk to your doctor about treatment.