Top 5 Benefits of Vitamin A & Best Food Sources
Vitamin A has many benefits and it plays a part in keeping you alive and functioning each day. Healthy skin and eyes, strong immunity and a whole range of important processes within your body rely on vitamin A.
Ahead is how getting the right amount of vitamin A can improve your skin, protect your eyes, boost your immunity, maintain cellular integrity and protect you from both internal and external infections.
1. Skin Benefits of Vitamin A
The overall health of your skin is directly affected by vitamin A. It promotes epidermal skin cell differentiation and influences natural growth of the dermal layer of skin.
Importantly for skin conditions like acne, blackheads and oily skin, having a good dietary intake of vitamin A can moderate sebaceous gland oil production. It also promotes skin cell turnover for less pore clogging comedones that lead to pimples and blackheads.
This enhanced new skin production can also help prevent fine lines and wrinkles and topical vitamin A is a well known treatment for aging skin (though many find better results improving their skin from the inside with probiotics).
Some of the many other benefits of vitamin A for your skin include improved wound healing, better skin tone, increased protection against skin cancer, reduced clustering of melanin for less age spots and enhanced cellular hydration for overall healthier skin.
2. Eyes and Vision
Vitamin A is perhaps best known for its role in maintaining healthy eyes and vision. The retinal form of vitamin A (also called retinaldehyde) is concentrated in the retina. Retinal is involved in the conversion of light into nerve impulses for interpretation by the brain into everything we see.
The ability to make things out when it’s dark is especially dependent on good levels of vitamin A in your body as retinal is used in the formation of the visual pigment rhodopsin.
Rhodopsin is also known as visual purple and allows the rod cells in the eyes to detect very low levels of light. Night vision relies on this process and ‘night blindness’ is a common symptom of a low intake of vitamin A.
A lack of vitamin A can also lead to a condition known as xerophthalmia, where the eyes do not produce tears properly, making them dry and itchy. If left untreated it can lead to corneal shriveling and ulceration and eventually blindness in prolonged cases.
3. Protection from Infection
Your body is lined both externally (skin, eyes and mucous membranes) and internally (lungs, digestive system and urinary tract) with epithelial cells that are your first line of defense against infection and damaging micro-organisms.
Vitamin A helps maintain the normal structure and immune function of these protective epithelial cells. Without well functioning epithelial cells, you would be vulnerable to all kinds of attacks from foreign invaders such as viruses, fungus and bacteria.
Skin disorders like rashes, psoriasis and rosacea can indicate a problem with proper vitamin A function. People who suffer from low immunity and regular infections should also consider the protective benefits of vitamin A and whether they are getting enough in their diet.
4. Growth and Maintenance Within Your Body
Vitamin A is vital for normal cell growth and differentiation. It directly affects gene expression, thereby influencing a whole range of physiological processes in your body.
For this reason, vitamin A is particularly important for both growing children and pregnant women with their unborn child.
Women who are pregnant should never take excessive doses of synthetic vitamin A supplements though. Both vitamin A deficiency and overdose have been associated with higher risk of birth defects. It’s far better to get your vitamin A from natural food sources like the ones listed ahead.
5. Boost Your Immunity with Vitamin A
Vitamin A is directly involved in boosting your immune system by stimulating white blood cells and increasing antibody activity to fight off harmful viruses and bacteria within your body. People who don’t eat food rich in vitamin A can be more susceptible to viral infections like pneumonia, chickenpox, measles and possibly the cold and flu viruses.
Personally, since increasing my vitamin A (and vitamin D) intake with cod liver oil, I’ve rarely had anything resembling a cold and haven’t had a day off work with any kind of flu symptoms in several years.
I can’t prove conclusively that it was the cod liver oil that prevented cold and flu viruses from taking hold, but prior to taking it I used to get colds regularly. Now, if I feel anything approaching a cold symptom, say a sniffle or cough after being stuck out in the rain, I have an extra teaspoon of cod liver oil for a few days and the cold never seems to develop.
Good cod liver oil like this will be tested for purity, high in EPA and DHA and with a good ratio of vitamin D to vitamin A. There’s much more about what to look for in Where to Buy Cod Liver Oil Online.
The Best Foods for Vitamin A
True preformed vitamin A can only be derived only from foods from animal sources. This means vegetarians and particularly vegans should be aware of the alternative sources of provitamin A ahead.
Liver is a rich food source of vitamin A but few people eat it regularly. Beef liver has almost the entire RDA of vitamin A in just one ounce. Chicken liver is another highly concentrated food source of vitamin A.
Other animal based food sources of vitamin A include eggs (especially free range), seafood like shrimp, salmon and sardines, and dairy products like milk, butter and cheese.
Chicken has a little but, despite often being listed as one of the best foods for vitamin A, meats like beef, lamb and pork are not high in the vitamin and can’t be considered reliable sources.
Other Sources of Vitamin A
Synthetic vitamin A can also be found in fortified foods like breakfast cereals and margarine, though there are much healthier ways to get your vitamin A that resorting to these fattening and nutritionally poor products.
Some multivitamin tablets can have synthetic preformed vitamin A added. Though there is some question as to whether these isolated chemical versions of vitamin A, usually retinyl acetate and retinyl palmitate, can be properly utilized by the body, and even whether they may even do more harm than good.
More commonly, provitamin A beta-carotene is used in supplements and listed as vitamin A, even though it is not the true form until converted by your body, a process that has been found to be ineffective for some people.
Studies have also found little benefit in supplemental beta-carotene and there is some suggestion it may be harmful in its isolated form. Like all nutrients, beta-carotene works best when it’s part of the food you eat regularly.
A safer strategy would be to increase your intake of beta-carotene and other provitamin A carotenoids from vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale in meals that contain some dietary fat for better absorption.
Keep in mind though that the conversion ratio of beta-carotene to retinol is estimated to be between 6 to 1 and 12 to 1 and is probably much higher for other carotenoids like alpha-carotene. You’d need a fairly large amount of carotenoid rich vegetables and fruits in your diet for them to be a reliable primary source of Vitamin A.
Vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat eggs or dairy can get more provitamin A from the vegan A vitamin sources here. Remember to include a healthy fat with the meal as vitamin A is fat soluble and won’t be absorbed properly without it.
Vitamin A: The Best Source
If you’re not a vegetarian but don’t like eating liver regularly, a much simpler option for getting a good amount of vitamin A in your diet is cod liver oil.
Cod liver oil is something I take a teaspoon of several times a week (usually every second day) to cover a few nutritional bases, including vitamin A.
A high quality cod liver oil, like this lemon oil flavored bestseller, is also rich in important vitamin D, which many people are deficient in, as well as the valuable omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. There’s more on the best way to take cod liver oil here.
The Importance of Vitamin A
Eating foods high in vitamin A can improve your skin and help treat acne and other skin conditions. It protects your eyes and improves your vision, enhances your immunity, guards against infections and is involved in numerous processes within your body that keep you alive and healthy each day.
It’s important to get the right amount to get all the benefits of vitamin A though. Too much can actually be just as bad as too little.
Next is the difference between vitamin A toxicity and deficiency and the symptoms and side effects of both. Thank you for reading and please leave any questions about vitamin A and food sources in the comments below.
Photo 1: David Masters / Photo 2: get directly down / Photo 3: Dbenbenn