Every vitamin and mineral plays a unique role in the health and functionality of the body. Vitamin A is no exception, and it is one of the most crucial nutrients.
With the multifaceted ways that it can impact the body, the benefits of Vitamin A are numerous and impressive. Healthy Directions will help you better understand how this vitamin works, why it is so important, and how you can incorporate it into your lifestyle.
Vitamin A Basics
To start, Vitamin A (also known as retinoic acid, retinoids, or retinol) is an essential micronutrient and a fat-soluble vitamin. If you are unfamiliar with that term, an essential micronutrient is one the body needs to function, but that is not produced naturally. In addition to Vitamin A, iron, vitamin D, iodine, folate, and zinc also fall into this category.
When we ingest vitamin A orally, it is stored in the liver. When the body is ready to utilize it, the vitamin A is bound to protein and transported to the systems that need it.
Vitamin A can also function as an antioxidant, a substance that can help to protect your cells from the damage associated with free radicals. Free radicals are potentially dangerous because they are unbalanced, as they lack an electron.
On their search for an electron to help balance them back out, they travel throughout the body and take electrons from other, stable cells. That damage can result in various health diseases and visible signs of premature aging.
What Systems Does Vitamin A Impact?
The impact and the benefits of vitamin A are more far-reaching than people often think.
Vitamin A is required to maintain the function and integrity of the epithelia, which is the thin tissue that makes up the outer layer of the skin and various organs. It is also an essential part of eye health, the immune system, reproduction, and growth and development.
When it comes to the eyes, vitamin A is necessary for converting visible light to an electrical signal that can be sent to the brain and interpreted. The vitamin’s status as an antioxidant may also help fight off oxidative stress (caused by free radicals), helping to reduce cellular damage to the retina.
This process has been linked to the development of age-related macular degeneration, so anything that may slow down or fend off the process is incredibly beneficial.
Vitamin A’s ability to impact the epithelia is also part of why it has been associated with a healthy immune system. The mucous barriers present throughout the body, like the eyes, gut, and lungs, are an essential component of trapping infectious agents and keeping the body safe.
Vitamin A helps maintain the health of those cells, giving your body what it needs to protect itself. It is also involved in producing white blood cells (WBCs) and helping them to function appropriately.
The white blood cells are a significant part of protecting the body against external and internal invaders. When you don’t have enough of them in your blood, the body can be left more vulnerable to infection.
And finally, the benefits of vitamin A also extend to bone health. This is often related to its ability to support all cells’ healthy growth and development, including those that make up the musculoskeletal systems.
What Can Happen if the Body Does Not Get Enough Vitamin A?
Although rare, vitamin A deficiency does happen. While most adults get plenty of the essential micronutrients through their regular diet, small children, pregnant and breastfeeding people, and those with cystic fibrosis are most at risk of developing a deficiency.
The most common deficiency symptom is xerophthalmia, also known as night blindness or the inability to see well in low light conditions. When left untreated, this condition can lead to vision loss or blindness.
Some studies have also shown that insufficient levels of vitamin A may increase the risk of bone fractures, like hip fractures. However, this does not frequently occur.
How Can I Get More Vitamin A?
According to the USDA, the daily recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A is between 700 - 900 micrograms or mcg a day for adults. To ensure that you are getting that amount, it’s a good idea to take a daily multivitamin or vitamin A supplements.
Most foods are fortified with vitamin A (and other essential micronutrients) as well.
Green leafy vegetables like spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, certain fruits (like apricots and mangos), dairy products, organ meats (like beef liver), and some fish (like salmon) are also natural food sources of vitamin A and can boost your intake.
For those who maintain a plant-based diet or lifestyle, you can find different forms of vitamin A in large enough quantities in non-animal-based products. Preformed vitamin A is one of the active forms of vitamin A primarily found in animal products. At the same time, provitamin A carotenoids are the form of vitamin A found in plant products.
However, be aware that it is possible to ingest too much vitamin A, which can cause side effects. This is most common in supplements containing high doses of vitamin A or people whose supplements are at the upper intake level.
Vitamin A and Skincare
In addition to the essential nature of vitamin A for bodily function and integrity, it also can play a crucial role in skincare. The reason vitamin A is so helpful for the skin, especially for those seeking a way to maintain their skin’s health and youthfulness as they age, is its ability to encourage skin cell turnover.
In most cases, vitamin A is seen on ingredient lists as “retinol.” It is applied to the skin topically, preferably at bedtime, and it helps speed up how quickly the skin can create new skin cells.
Over time, retinol usage can decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and increase its radiance. However, for those new to using topical vitamin A, there is often an adjustment period that can cause skin irritation, peeling, and sensitivity.
This will pass and can be managed by using a supportive moisturizer, which helps to maintain the skin barrier.
The benefits of vitamin A are multifaceted. When used orally, the vitamin helps to support and maintain eye health and the immune system. When used topically, it can help to speed up the skin cell turnover process, increase the skin’s radiance, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Healthy Directions has both oral and topical options to increase your vitamin A consumption, and our health experts are here to help you reach all of your health care goals.
Micronutrient Facts | Nutrition | CDC
2. RDA and A Is.Vitamin and Elements.doc | USDA (usda.gov)
The Effect of Vitamin Aon Fracture Risk: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies | PubMed