Vitamin A is popularly known to be a fat-soluble vitamin. It occurs naturally in different types of colorful foods. Now, we say colorful foods because vitamin A contains pigments called carotenoids. They are present in fruits that are typically red, orange and yellow in color.
Carotenoids are also present in vegetables and that is where they get their color from. When we eat these fruits and veggies, the human body converts some of these carotenoids into the vitamin under discussion. Vitamin A has a lot of health benefits for the human body and that’s what we will go through in this article.
Let’s get started.
How To Get Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is also artificially added to certain foods like cereal and milk. This is so that the human body can get all the health benefits of this vitamin. But if you are looking for natural sources, you can find vitamin A in the following foods.
- Dairy products like cheese and milk
- Fish such as salmon and herring
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Fruits like apricots, mangoes and cantaloupe
- Green leafy veggies
- Organ meats like beef liver (but you should not eat too much of them because their cholesterol levels are quite high)
- Yellow and orange veggies like sweet potatoes, broccoli and winter squash
You can also get vitamin A from dietary supplements that are available under the names retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate or beta-carotene. You’ve probably heard of the third one more than the others. Keep reading and you will know why.
Vitamin A is also present in a combination of any of the above-mentioned supplements. Consuming multivitamin supplements with minerals is also a good source of vitamin A.
3 Things Vitamin A Does For The Human Body
This is a vitamin that is known to do a lot of good to the immune system, reproductive system, vision and the general development and growth of the cells in the human body. That’s why it also has a role to play in the longevity of our lifespan.
Vitamin A helps vital organs like the heart and lungs perform their daily duties effectively. And we don’t have to emphasize on the importance of those organs doing their job promptly without, you know, skipping a beat.
1. Age-Related Problems And Night Blindness
As mentioned above, vitamin A is good for your eyesight. It gives our eyes the ability to convert light into electrical signals. These signals are then sent to the brain and that makes normal vision possible.
If you have a vitamin A deficiency, you might experience nyctalopia, better known as night blindness. This vitamin is a big part of rhodopsin, a pigment that is present in the retina of the human eye. This pigment is very sensitive to light which is how it helps the eyes function properly.
Now, people with night blindness are usually able to see everything just fine in the daytime. But the problem occurs when there isn’t enough light. At the time, the lack of this pigment which makes the eye sensitive to light and hence helps detect light makes it difficult for them to see things clearly or at all.
Not having enough rhodopsin in the system makes their eyes non-responsive to the lack of light. Now, you can also prevent the decline of eyesight that often comes with age called age-related macular degeneration. You can do so by consuming the right amount of beta carotene. It will also help prevent night blindness.
Macular degeneration, which comes with age, is one of the leading reasons for blindness the world over. But it is more so especially in developed nations. The exact cause of this medical condition is still not known for sure. But it is believed to be caused because of damage to the cells in the retina as a result of oxidative stress.
Studies have found that people who are over 50 years of age might be able to reduce the risk of advanced levels of macular degeneration by roughly 25 percent. They can do so by taking supplements of antioxidants like beta-carotene.
However, it is important to note here that taking supplements of beta-carotene alone won’t do the trick when the problem is age related.
2. Might Contain Risk Of Some Cancers
Cancerous cells in the human body often cause abnormal growth and division of cells and this happens uncontrollably. Since vitamin A has a role to play in the development and growth of cells, it might be able to contain the damage caused by this behavior of cancerous cells.
Studies have shown that consuming more beta-carotene can reduce the risk of developing certain cancers like bladder, lung and cervical cancer. While this is true for plant foods that contain vitamin A, the same has not proved to be true for animal foods with vitamin A.
Unfortunately, even supplements don’t really offer the same benefits. For example, some studies have shown that there is an increase in the risk of lung cancer among smokers who consume beta-carotene supplements.
Now, this relationship between cancer risk and the human body based on the level of vitamin A is not fully clear. But there is some evidence that it might help when the vitamin A is coming from plant foods.
3. Good For A Healthy Immune System
Vitamin A is important in maintaining the natural defense system of the body. For example, it does a good job containing infectious agents like bacteria through mucous barriers in our genitals, gut, lungs and eyes.
Vitamin A is also essential to produce and maintain the functioning of white blood cells in the human body. WBCs are responsible for keeping pathogens like bacteria from entering the bloodstream.
So, a vitamin A deficiency could also decrease your body’s ability to fight infections and recover when you are unwell. In countries where malaria and measles are a common threat, it has been observed that fixing vitamin A deficiency in children has reduced the risk of death due to these diseases.
PS: Impact On Longevity
It was found that if the amount of vitamin A intake is increased in fruit flies in stages of growth where they are not getting enough of it, it can increase the (median) lifespan by about 17.5 percent.
This is specifically true for the Drosophila species and all it took was increasing 4-8 International Units per gram of food.
Could Vitamin A Be Bad?
If you take more than the necessary amount of vitamin A, it could be harmful. This is not a vitamin you want to overdo. Whether you get it from medicines or supplements, too much preformed vitamin A could cause the following.
- Blurred vision
- Coordination problems
- Muscle pain
If it is a severe case, it might even put you in a coma or lead to death. High levels of vitamin A supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding could lead to birth defects like abnormal heart, lungs, skull and eyes in the baby.
Taking too much beta-carotene does not lead to the same results, but it can turn your skin into a yellow or orange color. It’s a harmless situation and it will go away as you reduce your consumption. That’s why there is no upper limit for beta-carotene intake.
There are exceptions, of course, when your doctor prescribes a certain amount after analyzing your specific condition.
Vitamin A is a necessary vitamin, and it makes sure that your eyes, immune system and white blood cells do their job like they are supposed to. But you don’t want to overdo it. Get it naturally from fruits and vegetables and if that is not enough, your medical practitioner can give you advice specific to your situation.