Vitamin A is a very important nutrient for our bodily functions and can have many health benefits when it comes to our vision, cell division and immunity. Vitamin A can be found in certain foods and in supplements.
What is Vitamin A?
We often talk about Vitamin A as if it is a singular nutrient. However, Vitamin A is the name given to a group of fat-soluble compounds. Some of these compounds include retinol, retinal and retinyl esters. Fat-soluble means that these compounds (Vitamin A) are stored in our bodies’ tissue to be used by our body later. Most of the Vitamin A in our body is kept in our liver.
Functions in our Body
So, what role does Vitamin A play in our body? Vitamin A is considered essential for our overall health by supporting cell growth, vision, fetal development and our immune system.
We hear a lot about Vitamin A and vision. So, why is that? It is because retinal (the active form of Vitamin A) combines with the opsin protein to form rhodopsin. Rhodopsin is an important molecule that is essential for color vision and low-light vision. Vitamin A is also very important to protect and maintain the cornea of the eyes (outermost layer) as well as the thick membrane that covers the surface of our eyes known as the conjunctiva.
Other functions of Vitamin A include maintaining surface tissues such as our skin, intestines, lungs, bladder and inner ear. It also supports healthy skin cells, fetal development and male and female reproduction. Finally, Vitamin A helps support our immune system function through supporting the growth of T-cells. T-cells are a type of white blood cells that protect our body from infections.
Beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are precursors of Vitamin A and they all have antioxidant properties. This means that they can help fight the negative effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are produced when our body breaks down food and when it is exposed to tobacco smoke and radiation. When free radicals build up, they can put oxidative stress on our cells and may cause damage to the DNA and structure of our cells.
Essential for our Eye Health
We already saw that Vitamin A is very important for many functions of our eyes. Getting sufficient amounts of Vitamin A may help protect against certain diseases of the eyes including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD usually begins in people in their 50s and 60s and may lead to reduced vision that can make everyday activities like reading difficult.
Essential for Reproduction and Fetal Development
Vitamin A is vital for the reproductive health of both men and women because it supports the development of sperm in men and eggs in women. It is also very important for fetal development and fetal tissue development in the womb as well as for placental health.
Boosts our Immune System
Vitamin A is also very important for boosting our immune system. It does this by supporting the development of B-cells and T-cells that help support our body’s immune responses that protect us against infections, illnesses and disease. Being deficient in Vitamin A may lead to reduced immune system response and function. This means that Vitamin A deficiency may lead to increased risk of infections and illnesses such as common colds and the flu.
Vitamin A can be found in both animal and plant foods. Preformed Vitamin A is found in foods from animal sources including:
- Egg yolks
- Beef Liver
- Chicken Liver
- Cheddar Cheese
- Liver Sausage
- King Mackerel
Plant foods high in provitamin Vitamin A carotenoids such as beta-carotene are:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Red Peppers
- Collard Greens
- Butternut Squash
Vitamin A as a Supplement
It is recommended that everyone eats a healthy and varied diet including fresh fruit and vegetables to provide the necessary required amounts of Vitamin A. However, some people may need more Vitamin A. Vitamin A can also be found in supplements such as this one.
Be an Informed Consumer
It is always recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider before taking any nutrition supplements.
Article Source: Healthline (Vitamin A: Benefits, Deficiency, Toxicity and More)