Vitamin A: Health benefits and risks

Vitamin A is an essential vitamin needed for growth and development, cell recognition, vision, immune function, and reproduction.

It is a powerful antioxidant and acts as a hormone in the body, affecting the expression of genes and thereby influencing phenotype.

It also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs to function correctly.

Fast facts about vitamin A

Vitamin A is vital for growth and development, cell recognition, vision, immune function, and reproduction and helps the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

Pregnant women and those in developing countries are most at risk of vitamin A deficiency.

Too much vitamin A can be toxic and cause hypervitaminosis.

Vitamin A can be found in orange plant foods, meat, eggs, and milk.

Types

Vitamin A
Vitamin A can be found in several different forms, and food like carrots contain a wealth of vitamin A.

Vitamin A is found in different forms.

Preformed vitamin A occurs in meat, fish, and dairy produce.

Provitamin A is stored in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products.

Retinol is the predominant, active form of vitamin A found in the blood. Retinyl palmitate is the storage form of the vitamin.

Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A and is found in plants.

This “pro-vitamin,” in itself an antioxidant, is converted into vitamin A as needed by the body, so there is no risk of overdose or toxicity.

Vitamin A leafy greens
Leafy greens are a rich source of Vitamin A

Ready-made retinol, the active form of vitamin A, only comes from animal sources.

The richest sources of retinol are:

organ meats, such as liver

fatty fish, such herring and salmon, and fish oils

butter, milk, and cheese

eggs

Plant-based foods contain carotenoids, antioxidant forms of vitamin A. These are converted to retinol in the body.

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