The main benefit of eating is to extract nutrients from food with the purpose of processing them for sustaining life. There are several categories of nutrients our body needs on a daily basis to keep us alive and healthy. Vitamins and dietary minerals are one such category of essential nutrients, essential meaning our body cannot keep us healthy for very long without them. Each vitamin and dietary mineral fulfills its own separate functions in the human body, but also readily interacts with other nutrients maintaining a fragile balance and our good health.
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient our body relies on for good immunity, skin and eye health, anticancer protection, increased life expectancy, normal development , bone health and all of the less noticeable processes that contribute to such benefits. It is a fat-soluble nutrient, meaning we need to consume fats (lipids) in order to absorb it. Fats help transport vitamin A through our body and into our bloodstream. They also help deposit it into tissues where it can accumulate so the body can use it to meet demands later on when intake is low.
Here are 10 facts you need to known about vitamin A:
1) It is soluble in fats, so it needs fats to be absorbed.
2) It comes both in plant form (carotenoids) and animal form (retinol).
3) Vitamin A from plant sources is harder to absorb.
4) Vitamin A supplements may cause toxicity when recommended intake is exceeded.
5) It accumulates in deposits in our tissues together with fat.
6) Our body has a harder time eliminating it from tissues than it does eliminating water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C with the help of our kidneys.
7) Unborn babies and children need vitamin A for normal development.
Young children are most likely to suffer from a severe vitamin A deficiency.
8) It is essential for good vision.
9) Is great for dry skin and acne.
10) Vitamin A is vital for a strong immune system.
We can easily get most or all of our vitamin A (700 mcg for adult women and 900 mcg for adult men) from a good diet. The best sources include: beef liver, chicken and turkey liver, giblets, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, kale and other green leafy vegetables. Second best sources include apricots, sweet red pepper and other orange-red fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, eggs. Combining orange fruits and orange and green leafy vegetables with healthy fats can boost our absorption of vitamin A and contribute to some wonderful health benefits.
Vitamin A is especially important for good health because of the variety of processes that rely on us meeting our daily demands. The roles of vitamin A in human health are diverse, the nutrient being actively involved in several aspect of our health. Here is what vitamin A is good for:
1) Normal growth and development. Vitamin A is directly involved in ensuring normal growth and development in young children. Research has linked low blood levels of vitamin A with a reduced production of growth hormone in children and short stature. Correcting the deficiency has been shown to improve growth hormone secretion (Vitamin A deficiency and nocturnal growth hormone secretion in short children). Children severely deficient in vitamin A do not grow in height, put on muscle mass or gain weight as they should (Effects of vitamin A on growth of vitamin A-deficient children: field studies in Nepal). Adequate supplementation with vitamin A can help children grow in height faster.
2) Strong immune system. Vitamin A shapes the way our immune system responds to various threats, improving the immune function. A deficiency leads to less efficient T-cells and a poor immune response. Moreover, vitamin A ensures the health of mucous membranes such as those at the level of the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, lungs etc. All these areas are in one way or another connected to parts of the outside world and susceptible to infections from pathogens that may break through if the mucous membranes are not in perfect health. Research further confirms the role of the nutrient in the immune function. Studies on children suggest a prolonged, severe deficiency results in atrophy of the main organs that produce white blood cells (example: spleen, lymph nodes).
3) Skin health: dry skin and acne. Vitamin A regulates skin cell turnover, or the rate at which skin cells renew themselves. Once formed in the lower layers of the skin, new skin cells take on different functions and rise to the surface, promoting a sort of natural exfoliation process in which old, worn out skin cells are shed to make room for new ones. Without sufficient vitamin A, the cells at the surface of our skin might produce too much keratin (a protein) and become dry and rough. Even more, skin impact causes cells at the surface of the skin to become more worn out if they are not replaced regularly, further accentuating dry skin.
As far as its anti-acne action, vitamin A in the form of retinoids is used an efficient topical treatment for acne vulgaris. It boasts an antiseptic action and encourages normal skin cell turnover. Moreover, its antibacterial action contributes to reducing sebum production, limiting the growth of bacteria that live off it and even engendering changes in the nature of sebaceous glands meant to reduce oil production.
4) Damaged hair. Vitamin A may have a beneficial action on scalp and hair health as a result of its regulatory action on sebaceous glands and scalp oil production. Other nutrients for healthy hair include vitamins C and E, B vitamins, healthy fats, proteins and zinc.
5) Good vision. A generous intake of vitamin A improves vision in low light and night vision. The nutrient directly influences the eye mucosa to improve vision. Long-term benefits include a lower risk of macular degeneration. Vitamin A eye drops can help treat dry eyes. In children, a severe and prolonged deficiency can lead to blindness.
6) Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. Pro-vitamin A carotenoids such as beta-carotene boast impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and their action is particularly visible at the level of the eye mucosa. Moreover, research has shown that taking vitamin A supplements can help improve various inflammatory diseases ranging from skin disorders, particularly acne-caused inflammation and respiratory tract infections. Its anti-inflammatory action may also improve cancer-related inflammation, hence its potential as a future cancer-treatment (Vitamin A as an anti-inflammatory agent).
7) Bone health. Vitamin A contributes to bone renewal by helping create osteoclasts, bone cells that break down bone tissue. This process is important for bone health because it ensures bone repair in case of fractures and balances blood calcium levels. However, when there is an excess of vitamin A, osteoclasts may grow in numbers and break down too much bone tissue, resulting in frail bones, fractures and osteoporosis. Maintaining an adequate intake is thus crucial for healthy bones.
8) Reproductive health. A more severe vitamin A deficiency can cause infertility in both women and men. In women, vitamin A aids ovarian follicles mature as well as contributes to the development of egg cells, facilitating conception. Research also suggests the nutrient is involved in the production of hormones that help the egg cell embed into the uterus, supporting pregnancy. However, too much vitamin A (more than 770 mcg RAE) can cause problems to the fetus.