Properties and Benefits of Vitamin A: Most people are well acquainted with some of the amazing properties and benefits of vitamin A and are also aware of the fact that vitamin A deficiency may pose serious health risks for eye health and immunity in particular. Everyone can tell you that vitamin A is a great aid for vision and can be found in more than generous amounts in carrots. However, vitamin A is much more than a simple vitamin: it is a powerful antioxidant which can be found in the most surprising foods. Read more and find out everything you need to know about vitamin A.
One of the most important things you need to know about vitamin A is that it can be found in many green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, chard or lettuce and, of course, in orange-colored foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins and orange cantaloupe as well as in butter and milk. Other examples of vegetable sources of vitamin A can be found on this page.
The orange pigment in carrots and other similar foods indicates the presence of carotenes such as beta-carotene and alfa-carotene. Both beta and alfa-carotene are actually other forms of vitamin A which our body uses to perform the same functions as vitamin A proper. About 40% of carotenes are broken down by the body and converted into vitamin A, while the remaining 60% are used as antioxidants.
Our body knows just how much vitamin A is needed to work properly. This means it converts as much carotene as it needs and leaves the rest in its unaltered antioxidant form. Being such a finely tuned mechanism, our body knows how to avoid a surplus of vitamin A, which can be toxic.
Carotenes, however, pose no problems because they act purely as antioxidants, preventing free radical damage caused by oxidation processes. Carotenes come in a variety of forms, the most famous being beta-carotene, alfa-carotene, gamma-carotene and lycopene. While beta-carotene, alfa-carotene and gamma-carotene can be converted into vitamin A, lycopene and other carotenes cannot, but preserve their antioxidant properties.
Vitamin A can be found in both vegetable and animal sources such as butter and milk (excellent sources), chicken, turkey, fish and pork liver, cheese and eggs. However, vegetables sources of vitamin A such as sweet potatoes, orange carrots, pumpkin, chard, turnip greens, spinach, cabbage, Romaine lettuce, cantaloupe, apricots or papaya also contain potent antioxidants.
But irrespective of the food source, vitamin A boasts the following 5 impressive health benefits:
1) Essential for a healthy vision. It appears that vitamin A supports the activity of the retina, making it possible for us to see in low light and in no light. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to impaired vision and, ultimately, night blindness.
2) Helps create a barrier against bacteria and viruses by reinforcing our body’s first line of defense: mucous membranes. Our eyes, nose, throat, lungs and digestive system all share a common feature: mucous membranes. An adequate intake of vitamin A can strengthen our body’s mucous membranes and skin so neither bacteria, nor viruses can breach and infect us.
3) Strengthens the immune system by supporting the production of lymphocytes. Basically, lymphocytes are cells that fight off bacteria that make our body sick. Vitamin A deficiency may manifest through recurrent ear infections, urinary tract infections, among others.
4) Is a potent antioxidant. Carotenes which are converted into vitamin A show both vitamin and antioxidant activity. As antioxidants, they protect against DNA damage and subsequent cell mutations caused by free radicals.
5) Important for healthy babies. According to the Infant and young child feeding fact sheet from the World Health Organisation (WHO), nursing babies during the first 6 months of their life supplies them with much-needed amounts of vitamin A to help them grow and develop normally and develop good immunity.
Overall, vitamin A is an essential nutrient with great health benefits. Although it can be found in both animal and vegetable sources, it is recommended to get most of our vitamin A intake from fruits and vegetables, which also contain carotenoid antioxidants which our body uses both for antioxidant protection and converts into vitamin A.