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Vitamin A

Vitamin A

You’ve probably heard people say that eating carrots will allow you to see in the dark. This is because they contain lots of vitamin A.

Vitamin A (also known as retinol) is important for healthy vision and will improve the way you see in low-light (although it won’t, contrary to belief, give you actual ‘night vision’). It is also needed for bone growth, skin health and good immunity.

Where do I find vitamin A?

  • Vitamin A comes from ‘retinol’ which is found in animal food sources such as: oil, butter, margarine, cheese, milk, eggs, yoghurt and liver.
  • Vitamin A is also derived from beta-carotene (which gets converted into vitamin A in the body). Beta-carotene is found in orange and dark green fruit and veg such as: carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe melons, mangoes and apricots, broccoli, spinach and kale.
  • You'll also find Vitamin A in some fortified cereals and spreads.
  • Most people can get all the vitamin A they need through their diet. Men need 0.7mg of vitamin A per day and women need 0.6mg daily.
  • Vitamin A can also be found in multivitamins and fish liver oil.

Why do I need vitamin A?

Vitamin A is important in many ways. It helps keep our skin and mucous membranes (such as the lining of the nose) healthy. It’s also vital for skeletal and soft tissue health and for keeping teeth in top condition. In addition, it strengthens the immune system assisting our bodies to fight infections.

How will I know if I am lacking in vitamin A?

People who are deficient in vitamin A risk night blindness, dry eyes, eye inflammation and dry or rough skin.

A shortage of vitamin A also weakens the immune system. Pregnant women who are vitamin A deficient are at greater risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth and children who do not get enough vitamin A may find it harder to recover from infectious diseases. They may also be more susceptible to slow bone development, respiratory and urinary problems.

Fortunately, a vitamin A deficiency is rare in the developed world. Most healthy Brits are unlikely to be short of vitamin A. If a person is found to be deficient they will usually be told to switch to a vitamin-A-rich diet. Vitamin A can also be taken in tablet or injection form with advice from your doctor.

Can vitamin A ever be harmful?

Unlike many other vitamins, your body can store vitamin A ready for future use. This means you should be able to get all you need from your daily diet.

Too much vitamin A is not good for you. If you consume more than 1.5mg of vitamin A per day over several years, you may be at greater risk of liver damage and reduced bone density increasing your chance of fracturing a bone.

If you eat liver or liver pate; more than once a week on a regular basis you may be consuming too much vitamin A.

People who are already deficient in vitamin D should be particularly wary as it’s thought excessive levels of vitamin A interferes with vitamin D and triggers an increase in cells that break down bone. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating calcium in the bloodstream which is needed for building strong bones and teeth, so an excess of vitamin A and a lack of vitamin D may put you at particular risk of weak bones.

If you take supplements check the label to ensure that your daily vitamin A intake from food and supplements does not exceed 1.5mg.

Pregnant women should not take supplements containing vitamin A unless advised by their doctor. Likewise women who have been through the menopause and older men should also watch vitamin A intake (keeping below 1.5mg per day) as bone mass lessens as we age.