Put down your vitamins and step away: Vitamin A

I’ve decided to do an intermittent series on supplements as they seem to be all the rage nowadays.

So to be clear vitamins and minerals are two different things. Supplements are a more broad category that include: vitamins, minerals, and then you have your group of herbs, spices, oils, plants, etc. You will know the difference as vitamins are labeled as vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, K)…. Minerals have the same names that you may remember from 10th grade Chemistry and the periodic table of elements (Zinc, Calcium, Iron, Iodine, Potassium etc).

Now our bodies need all of these things, to some degree. I’m going to start this series by going over the fat soluble vitamins: Vitamin A, D, E, and K. Then I will discuss multivitamins, water soluble vitamins, minerals, and other supplements.

When a vitamin is fat soluble that means a couple of things: 1) fat is required for absorption 2) these vitamins can be stored in/with fat and there toxicity can be more likely in some cases.

Vitamin A— Vitamin A is important for vision, and immune health, as well as helping the heart, lungs, and other organs work properly. Vitamin A is also and antioxidant.

There are two types of Vitamin A
1) preformed Vitamin A
2) provitamin A (the most common type of this is Beta Carotene)

Deficiency is rare, but possible- more likely to occur in developing countries. The most common symptom of deficiency is problems with vision- mainly inability to see in low light- which can progress to blindness if untreated. The groups most likely for deficiency are:
-premature infants
-young children
– pregnant/lactating women in developing countries
-individuals with Cystic Fibrosis
-individuals with disease that may affect fat absorption (celiac, crohns etc)

Excess intake of Vitamin A is possible and can be dangerous.
Excess amounts of the preformed Vitamin A- which what is found in most supplements. It can cause dizziness, nausea, coma, and even death. Excess amounts if a woman is pregnant can cause birth defects in the infant as well as harm the mother.
Excess of provitamin A/Beta Carotene is not as severe but can change the color of the skin.

Vitamin A is found commonly in foods so by eating a balanced (and colorful) diet deficiency can be avoided. Common sources are:
-Beef liver and organ meats (these are also high in cholesterol so limit these)
-Some types of fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel
-Green leafy veggies, and veggies that are green, yellow, and orange in color (broccoli, squash, peppers, carrots)
-Fruits such as strawberries, cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos
-Dairy products
-Fortified cereals


In terms of what is needed-
Recommended intake for those 14 years and older is 700-900 mcg micrograms- smaller than a milligram) RAE (retinol activity equivalent) and women who are pregnant/lactating 1200-1300 mcg RAE is recommended.

The tolerable upper limit is 10,000 IU (International Units). As you can see these are two different units of measure which can be tricky for people.

The moral of this vitamin tale is that you are very unlikely to develop a deficiency. In fact it’s much more likely you will get too much. But eating a balanced a diet will prevent a deficiency.

Do you take any vitamins or supplements?

What about supplements do you find interesting, or would like to hear more about?

-The Natural Standard
-The Office of Dietary Supplements (affiliated with the National Institute of Health)

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