Vitamin A. benefit from Vitamin A. Vitamin A keeps these linings and the skin healthy so they keep out bacteria and viruses that cause infection.

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1 Vitamin A Introduction Vitamin A is a nutrient and an antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells from certain kinds of damage. Not having enough vitamin A can cause many health problems, such as blindness and an increased risk for infections. This is because vitamin A is needed by many different parts of the body. This reference summary will help you better understand the importance of vitamin A in the body and how you can make sure you are getting the right amount. Vitamin A Vitamin A plays an important role in your vision, bone growth, and reproductive system. Vitamin A also affects the functions of cells in your body. Your immune system also needs vitamin A to work correctly. The immune system fights off invading germs, such as bacteria and viruses. The surface linings of the eyes and the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts all benefit from Vitamin A. Vitamin A keeps these linings and the skin healthy so they keep out bacteria and viruses that cause infection. Vitamin A may also protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are formed when your body breaks down food into energy. There are also free radicals in the environment, such as air pollution and cigarette smoke. There are two categories of vitamin A. Vitamin A is found in foods that come from animal sources. Your body can also make vitamin A from provitamin A carotenoid. This is found in many yellow, orange, red and green fruits and vegetables. 1

2 Vitamin A Deficiency Not getting enough vitamin A is called vitamin A deficiency. Without enough vitamin A, you are more likely to get infections. Vitamin A deficiency can even cause blindness. Vitamin A deficiency is most common in developing countries. In developed countries like the United States, it may be seen in people who are on strict diets. It is also seen in people who drink too much alcohol. Early vitamin A deficiency may not cause any symptoms. Check with your healthcare provider if you are at risk or are concerned about vitamin A deficiency. Night blindness is one of the first signs of vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency can also lead to complete blindness by making a part of the eye called the cornea very dry. The cornea is the transparent part of the eye. It allows light to enter the inside of the eye. Vitamin A deficiency also increases the risk for infections because vitamin A usually protects the moist lining of organs. For example, in people with vitamin A deficiency the cells lining the lungs lose their ability to remove bacteria and viruses. This can cause pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs, causing them to become inflamed. Children with vitamin A deficiency may also grow and develop slower. Their bones are especially affected. People who are at risk for vitamin A deficiency include: People on strict diets People who drink a lot of alcohol People who live in developing countries Recent immigrants from developing countries 2

3 Children who are risk for vitamin A deficiency are: Toddlers and preschool age Living at or below the poverty level Not getting adequate healthcare or immunizations Living in areas with known nutritional deficiencies Also at risk for vitamin A deficiency are people with diseases that affect the pancreas, liver, or intestines. These diseases can affect the body s ability to absorb nutrients like vitamin A. Sources of Vitamin A You can get vitamin A in three ways: from animal food sources, from plant food sources, and from supplements. Preformed vitamin A is found in foods that come from animals. Examples of these foods include whole milk, eggs, and liver. There are also some foods that have preformed vitamin A added to them. These are known as foods that are fortified with vitamin A. Fortified foods include some breakfast cereals, as well as fat-free or nonfat milk. Check the label to make sure the products you buy are fortified with vitamin A. Sources of Preformed Vitamin A Your body can make vitamin A from plant food sources that contain provitamin A carotenoid. These foods include certain colorful fruits and vegetables. Examples are carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. Vitamin A that is found in animal food sources is easier for the body to absorb. Vegetarians who do not eat eggs or dairy should make sure they are getting enough vitamin A. 3

4 Vitamin A is available in the form of a supplement if you can t get enough of it from your diet. Supplements are most often pills and can be found at drugstores, grocery stores, and health food stores. Check with a healthcare provider to see whether you need vitamin A supplements and how much you should take. Vitamin A may affect or be affected by other medications that you are taking. Recommended Amounts The amount of vitamin A that a person should take each day is described in International Units, or IU. The recommended amount depends on the age, gender, and health of the person. Infants 0 to 6 months old should get 1,300 IU of vitamin A per day. The amount of vitamin A needed by 7 to 12 month old children is 1,700 IU daily. Children ages 1 to 3 should get 1,000 IU of vitamin A per day. Children 4 to 8 years old should get 1,300 IU. Children who are 9 to 13 years old should get 2,000 IU of vitamin A each day. The daily recommended amount of vitamin A is different for males, females, and women who are pregnant or lactating after age 13. Men ages 14 and older should get 3,000 IU per day. Women 14 and older who are not pregnant or lactating need 2,300 IU per day. Women ages 14 to 18 who are pregnant need 2,500 IU of vitamin A per day. If a woman is older than 18 and pregnant, she needs 2,600 IU each day. Women who are age 14 to 18 and are lactating need 4,000 IU of vitamin A daily. Women over the age of 18 who are lactating need 4,300 IU per day. In addition to the daily recommendations, your healthcare provider will also recommend an upper limit. Infants up to 3 years of age should not consume more than 2,000 IU per day. Children ages 4 to 8 should not consume more than 3,000 IU per day. Children ages 9 to 13 should not consume more than 5,667 IU per day. 4

5 All 14 to 18 year olds should consume no more than 9,333 IU of vitamin A per day. Anyone older than 18 years old should not consume more than 10,000 IU of vitamin A per day. Talk to your healthcare provider about recommended dosing if you are at an increased risk of vitamin A deficiency. Vegetarians, young children, and people who drink a lot of alcohol may need extra vitamin A. Children with measles may benefit from taking a vitamin A supplement. Talk to your child s healthcare provider about vitamin A if your child has measles. Certain medical conditions can prevent the body from absorbing enough vitamin A. Talk to your healthcare provider about how you can make sure you get enough vitamin A if you have: Celiac disease Crohn s disease Pancreatic disorders Celiac disease is a digestive disease that causes a person to get sick when they eat a protein called gluten. Gluten is found in wheat and some other grains. Celiac disease can damage the small intestine. Crohn s disease is a condition in which the gastrointestinal tract is inflamed for a long period of time. It usually affects the small intestine and colon. Pancreatic disorders can cause problems with the way vitamin A is absorbed. This is because the pancreas makes proteins, also known as enzymes, that help the body absorb nutrients. Pancreatic disorders may affect the formation of these enzymes. Vitamin A Toxicity Vitamin A toxicity is also called hypervitaminosis A. Usually vitamin A toxicity is caused by taking too many supplements. However, vitamin A toxicity may sometimes happen when large amounts of liver are eaten regularly. 5

6 Vitamin A toxicity can lead to: Birth defects Liver abnormalities Osteoporosis Central nervous system disorders Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become fragile. Central nervous system disorders are conditions that affect the brain and spinal cord. This can affect your ability to think, move, see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include: Nausea Vomiting Headache Dizziness Blurred vision Loss of muscle coordination Vitamin A toxicity can be treated by stopping the use of any vitamin A supplements. Patients with vitamin A toxicity who eat a lot of liver products should stop doing so. Medication and hospitalization may also be needed. It is important to stay within the recommended dosage range and talk to a healthcare provider before starting vitamin supplements. Doing so can help prevent vitamin A toxicity. Summary Vitamin A is a nutrient that the body needs to function and stay healthy. Vitamin A plays an important role in your vision, bone growth, reproductive system, and cell functions. It also plays an important role in your immune system by helping to fight off infections. 6

7 Not having enough vitamin A can cause many health problems, such as blindness and an increased risk for infections. This is because vitamin A is needed by many different parts of the body. You can get vitamin A in three ways: from animal food sources, from plant food sources, and from supplements. Vitamin A-rich foods include whole eggs, liver and many colorful fruits and vegetables. Some other foods, like cereal and some milk, often have added vitamin A. You can also take vitamin A supplements. Check with your healthcare provider to see how much you should take. 7

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