Vitamin A is the generic term for a group of fat-soluble compounds highly important for human health.
They’re essential for many processes in your body, including maintaining healthy vision, ensuring the normal function of your immune system and organs and aiding the proper growth and development of babies in the womb.
It’s recommended that men get 900 mcg, women 700 mcg and children and adolescents 300–600 mcg of vitamin A per day.
Vitamin A compounds are found in both animal and plant foods and come in two different forms: preformed vitamin A and provitamin A.
Preformed vitamin A is known as the active form of the vitamin, which your body can use just as it is. It’s found in animal products including meat, chicken, fish, and dairy and includes the compounds retinol, retinal and retinoic acid.
Provitamin A carotenoids — alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin — are the inactive form of the vitamin found in plants.
These compounds are converted to the active form in your body. For example, beta-carotene is converted to retinol (an active form of vitamin A) in your small intestine.
Here are 6 important health benefits of vitamin A.
1. Protects Your Eyes From Night Blindness and Age-Related Decline
Vitamin A is essential for preserving your eyesight.
The vitamin is needed to convert light that hits your eye into an electrical signal that can be sent to your brain.
In fact, one of the first symptoms of vitamin A deficiency can be night blindness, known as nyctalopia.
Night blindness occurs in people with vitamin A deficiency, as the vitamin is a major component of the pigment rhodopsin.
Rhodopsin is found in the retina of your eye and extremely sensitive to light.
People with this condition can still see normally during the day, but have reduced vision in darkness as their eyes struggle to pick up light at lower levels.
2. May Lower Your Risk of Certain Cancers
Cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow or divide in an uncontrolled way.
As vitamin A plays an important role in the growth and development of your cells, its influence on cancer risk and role in cancer prevention is of interest to scientists.
In observational studies, eating higher amounts of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene has been linked to a decreased risk of certain types of cancer, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as cervical, lung and bladder cancer.
3. Supports a Healthy Immune System
Vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining your body’s natural defenses.
This includes the mucus barriers in your eyes, lungs, gut, and genitals which help trap bacteria and other infectious agents.
It’s also involved in the production and function of white blood cells, which help capture and clear bacteria and other pathogens from your bloodstream.
This means that a deficiency in vitamin A can increase your susceptibility to infections and delay your recovery when you get sick.
4. Reduces Your Risk of Acne
Acne is a chronic, inflammatory skin disorder.
People with this condition develop painful spots and blackheads, most commonly on the face, back and chest.
These spots occur when the sebaceous glands get clogged up with dead skin and oils. These glands are found in the hair follicles on your skin and produce sebum, an oily, waxy substance that keeps your skin lubricated and waterproof.
5. Supports Bone Health
The key nutrients needed for maintaining healthy bones as you age are protein, calcium and vitamin D.
However, eating enough vitamin A is also necessary for proper bone growth and development, and a deficiency in this vitamin has been linked to poor bone health.
In fact, people with lower blood levels of vitamin A are at a higher risk of bone fractures than people with healthy levels.
Additionally, a recent meta-analysis of observational studies found that people with the highest amounts of total vitamin A in their diet had a 6% decreased risk of fractures.
6. Promotes Healthy Growth and Reproduction
Vitamin A is essential for maintaining a healthy reproductive system in both men and women, as well as ensuring the normal growth and development of embryos during pregnancy.
Rat studies examining the importance of vitamin A in male reproduction have shown that a deficiency blocks the development of sperm cells, causing infertility.
Taking Too Much Vitamin A Can Be Risky
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which is stored in your body. This means that excess consumption can lead to toxic levels.
Hypervitaminosis A is caused by consuming too much preformed vitamin A through your diet or supplements containing the vitamin.
Symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, headaches, pain and even death.
Though it can be caused by excessive intake from the diet, this is rare compared to overconsumption from supplements and medications.