Health Wellness

Vitamin A: Health benefits, food sources, deficiency, and blood test

Vitamin A: A vital nutrient

There is no denying that vitamins are important nutrients for day-to-day body functions and optimum growth. Vitamins can be of two types: Fat-soluble and water-soluble. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient that exists naturally in the foods you eat and plays a vital role in your body. It can also be taken through supplements.

The vitamin A found in food items is of two forms:
1. Preformed vitamin A (retinol and retinyl esters) that occurs exclusively in animal products, like dairy and fish

2. Provitamin A carotenoids that are abundant in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables and oils.

Your body needs to convert these forms of vitamin A to retinal and retinoic acid. These are the active forms of the vitamin that can be further utilized by organs and organ systems.

Food items rich in Vitamin A

Before we take a look at what food items can enrich your body with vitamin A, it is important to note that out of the two forms found in the food, animal-based preformed vitamin A is more readily absorbed and utilized by your body than plant-based pro-vitamin A carotenoids. For this reason, people who follow plant-based diets (vegans) should be cautious about getting enough vitamin A-rich foods.

Animal-based sources of vitamin A:

  • Egg yolks
  • Butter
  • Cod liver oil
  • Chicken liver
  • Salmon

Plant-based sources of vitamin A:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Red peppers

Health benefits of Vitamin A:

Vitamin A is vital for a healthy you- it supports cell growth, immune system, fertility and eyesight. In fact, the role of vitamin A in vision and eye health is the most well-known of all.

For a better vision: The active form of vitamin A, retinal A, combines with a protein called opsin to form rhodopsin. This molecule is essential for your color vision and low-light vision. Furthermore, a scientific study has shown that higher blood levels of certain forms of vitamin A (beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin) may decrease the risk of age-related mascular degeneration by up to 25%.

Boosts your immune system: Vitamin A is involved in the formation of B- and T-cells that are key players in regulating immunity and guarding against diseases. Studies have demonstrated that vitamin A deficiency can cause increased levels of pro-inflammatory molecules, which play against your immune system.

Fertility and fetal development: Both male and female reproductive systems need vitamin A for optimal functioning as it plays a role in sperm and egg development. This vital vitamin supports fetal development too.

Other functions: Vitamin A helps maintain surface tissues such as your skin, intestines, lungs, bladder, etc.

Vitamin A deficiency:

A lack of sufficient vitamin A levels in the body can hamper several bodily functions and pose a risk of multiple health complications, including:

  • Night blindness
  • Infections, particularly in the throat and chest
  • Hyperkeratosis (dry, bumpy skin) and acne
  • Fertility issues in men and women
  • Delayed growth in children

According to the WHO, deficiency of vitamin A is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children globally. In addition to this, vitamin A deficiency adversely affects pregnant women and fetus by raising the risk of anemia and slowing growth and development, respectively.

Check your vitamin A levels with a simple blood test:

The vitamin A blood test measures the level of vitamin A in your blood. Another name of vitamin A test is retinol test. It is a simple blood test that people can get done with not much discomfort. The needle usually feels like a prick.

Interpreting vitamin A test results

Your test results will tell if you have too much or too little vitamin A in your blood.

Normal values range from 15 to 60 mcg/dL or 0.52 to 2.09 micromol/L. The normal levels can vary slightly among different laboratories since they may use different measurement units or test different samples.

A lower than normal range means you can be deficient in vitamin A and may need to increase your vitamin A intake or take supplements. This may cause mild symptoms like:

  • Dry or inflamed eyes
  • Night blindness
  • Recurring infections
  • Skin rashes
  • Dry skin

A higher than normal value means you have an excess vitamin A in your blood. Too much of vitamin A can also pose health risks and cause symptoms like:

  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Double vision
  • Liver and spleen enlargement
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Don’t get too much of it
Vitamin A is fat-soluble and stored in your body. Thus, it can reach unhealthy levels over time if an excess of it is consumed. Make sure to stick to sufficient levels, get tested from time to time, and steer clear of high dose supplements.

The Takeaway
It is important to keep an eye on your vitamin A levels. Falling short of this vital vitamin can cause multiple health problems ranging from night blindness to chest infections. You can check your vitamin A levels with a simple blood test. Always consult a doctor to know what your test results suggest and how you should move ahead.  

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