Vitamin A is one of the essential vitamins we need on a daily basis to maintain a healthy body. When used in supplement form, vitamin A can have even more dramatic effects, but it isn't for everyone. If you're interested in adding more vitamin A to your diet, there are some important facts and guidelines to keep in mind.
Vitamin A Basics
There are two types of vitamin A -- the first, performed vitamin A, is found in animal products and the second type, pro-vitamin A, occurs naturally with fruits and vegetables. In plants, vitamin A is formed from carotenoids, which are pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. The most common of these carotenoids is beta carotene, which is known to give foods an orange or red color. Vitamin A functions as an antioxidant within the body, shielding the cells of the body against damage from free radicals.
Foods that are good sources of vitamin A include eggs, meat and milk as well as fruits and vegetables like carrots, bell peppers and sweet potatoes. If you're getting these foods into your diet regularly, you wouldn't need any more vitamin A in supplement form unless recommended by a physician. Vitamin A is also included in most multivitamins, which means the average person is probably already getting more than enough.
Who Needs More Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is needed by the body for the proper development and continued health of the tissues, which include the skin, muscles, bones, teeth and eyes. An adult male needs to consume 900 mcg RAE of vitamin A on a daily basis, while an adult women should consume 700 mcg RAE per day, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The first group of people who may need more vitamin A are women who are pregnant. Women who are carrying a child should get between 750 and 700 mcg RAE of vitamin A on a daily basis. Once they have the baby, if they're breastfeeding, they should get between 1,200 and 1,300 mcg RAE.
Next, vitamin A is often taken in supplement or prescription form to deal with skin problems like acne. The popular and controversial prescription medication Accutane contains a form of vitamin A that is highly effective at clearing severe acne, but it can result in unpleasant side effects.
Lastly, vitamin A supplements are taken to support vision, especially night vision, in aging adults. As we age, degeneration of the eye is common and seeing in darkness becomes especially more difficult. Vitamin A supplements are commonly recommended to slow or prevent this degeneration.
Important Vitamin A Supplement Safety Guidelines
The vitamin A found in supplements can be either preformed or pro-vitamin A. Preformed vitamin A will be listed as retinyl acetate or retinyl palmitate, whereas pro-vitamin A will typically be beta carotene, which we discussed earlier. That being said, if you're looking for a supplement that is completely free of animal products, look for one that contains pro-vitamin A.
Vitamin A is considered a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it's broken down by the liver, where any excess is stored by the body. Taking too much preformed vitamin A can result in acute vitamin A poisoning. According to the NIH, this typically occurs with prolonged consumption of 25,000 IU or more of vitamin A on daily basis. Symptoms of acute vitamin A poisoning include headache, nausea and skin irritation. Taking too much beta carotene (a very high dosage) hasn't been shown to cause poisoning, but it can actually alter the color of the skin to a more orange hue -- sorry, this isn't to be used as a way to avoid eating vegetables. Babies and children are more sensitive to vitamin A, especially in utero. This is why making sure the proper amount of vitamin A is consumed during pregnancy is crucial, as too much can result in birth defects.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with lung cancer or cardiovascular disease shouldn't take preformed vitamin A in supplement form unless recommended by a doctor, as these supplements can cause complications. Individuals taking medications for weight loss or skin conditions like psoriasis and acne shouldn't take vitamin A in supplement form, as the two can negatively interact.
Knowing these facts, it's essential to consult a doctor before adding any additional vitamin A to your diet, especially preformed vitamin A. They can do blood tests to determine any deficiency and recommend an exact dosage and duration of supplementation. As previously stated, if you're eating a balanced diet and taking a multivitamin, you're more than likely exceeding your recommended daily intake.
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