Vitamin A is a large group of allied nutrients. Each of these nutrients bestows us with health benefits, but these benefits may be quite varied and may be taken advantage of in different ways. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and helps in certain processes of the body. It is needed for healthy functioning of the immune system.
In addition, the vitamin has a role to play in normal vision and reproduction. Heart, lungs, kidneys and other bodily organs need it to function properly. Epidemiological evidence suggests that a higher dietary intake of vitamin A lowers risks of breast cancer among pre-menopausal women with a positive family history of breast cancer.
What is it and what is it good for?
Vitamin A is found in two forms in nature. The first kind, called preformed vitamin A is found in meat and fish, as well as in poultry and dairy products. The second kind, called provitamin A, is obtained from plant sources such as fruits and vegetables.
According to the National Institutes of Health vitamin A is listed in different ways on food labels. In some places, it may be listed in micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) per day, while in others, it may be found in international units (IU), and not mcg RAE. It is not an easy task to convert these two units. All this confusion occurs because vitamin A is found in many forms. So for example, 900mcg RAE of vitamin A could be equivalent to anywhere from 3,000 to 36,000 IU of vitamin A.
How do you know if you’re getting enough?
It is rare to have vitamin A deficiency. However, certain groups of people are more likely to suffer from a vitamin A deficiency than others. These groups include premature babies, infants, young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers as well as those who have cystic fibrosis.
Natural foods rich in vitamin A
- Certain types of fish, including salmon
- Organ meats, such as beef liver
- Green leafy vegetables, and green, orange and yellow vegetables
- Fruits including apricots, mangoes and cantaloupe
- Dairy products
Effects of vitamin A on health
Getting enough beta-carotene prevents or slows down age-related macular degeneration, which leads to the loss of central vision, mostly seen in older adults. Studies have also looked at whether vitamin A is associated with curing certain cancers, cataracts and HIV, but haven’t yet been conclusive.
Interactions with medication
Weight loss drugs and certain skin medications can also cause vitamin A deficiency. So, it is essential to check with your doctor before taking it in supplement form, or the amount of vitamin A in your body could build up to harmful levels and can cause birth defects.
The most effective way to meet the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, legumes (dried beans), lentils and whole grains. The amount of vitamin your body can consume depends on your age and gender. Your doctor can be the best guide in determining what amount of Vitamin A is best for you.
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