Vitamin A (Retinol, Beta-Carotene) | Deficiencies, Excesses and Recommendations

food sources of vitamin a / beta-carotene

Vitamin A is involved in the regulation, growth and differentiation of cells.

Cell differentiation is the process by which cells become “specialized” in order to perform specific functions within the body (e.g. nerve cells, muscle cells, fat cells).

Vitamin A is fat soluble, meaning it is dissolved in fat. Animal sources of this nutrient contain the active form, or “preformed” Vitamin A, while plant sources contain the “pro-vitamin” form, meaning that it gets converted to the vitamin as a result of biological processes.

This essential nutrient has important roles in embryonic development and pregnancy, while too much Vitamin A can cause harm to a developing baby.

Vitamin A is needed for normal immune function and vision. In fact, Vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of preventable blindness in the world. [R]

What Could Happen If I Don’t Get Enough Vitamin A?

  • Dry skin
  • Dry eyes
  • Night blindness
  • Poor coordination
  • Compromised immunity to various infections including acne breakouts and respiratory infections (e.g. common cold).

These symptoms can also be signs of other vitamin deficiencies or health issues. Please talk to a nutrition-focused physician prior to experimenting.

  • According to Medical News Today, chronic Vitamin A deficiency could be a factor in the development of age-related diseases such as Type II Diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease.
  • In children of developing countries, where Vitamin A deficiency is more common, it may increase the risk of developing respiratory and diarrhea infections, decrease growth rate, slow bone development, and lessen their likelihood for survival of serious illness.

Vitamin A deficiency isn’t always the result of not getting enough through dietary sources. A deficiency can also be due to other causes, such as:

  • Iron deficiency
  • Zinc deficiency
  • Weight loss surgery
  • Malabsorption (e.g. liver or gallbladder disease)
  • Inadequate fat intake (fat soluble vitamins require fat for proper absorption)

What Could Happen If I Get Too Much Vitamin A?

  • Birth defects
  • Liver damage
  • Extremely high doses can result in coma or death.

Toxicity (symptoms from getting too much Vitamin A) can happen from taking extreme doses over a short period of time, or from getting too much daily Vitamin A over an extended period of time. [R]

Plant sources of Vitamin A (e.g. beta carotene) do not typically cause toxicity.

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Eat generous portions of carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and kale, as these are great plant sources of beta-carotene.

Potential Life Enhancements

  • May reduce risk for some types of cancer
  • May help slow the progression of retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary cause of blindness
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