Why Mom Was Right About the Benefits of Vitamin A
Growing up, I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying that “carrots will help you see in the dark.” While this myth isn’t *entirely* true, carrots (namely, the vitamin A in the carrots) does reap enormous benefits that expand well beyond just our vision; vitamin A also improves our immune system, skin and hair, bones, and surface tissues that comprise our internal organs. So while the superpower aspect of the saying may be slightly fabricated, mom was still right about the benefits of vitamin A. But let’s be honest: moms are always right.
- Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in animal products and fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin A is critical for our eye health and immune system function, and it provides serious benefits for our skin and hair.
- To increase your intake of vitamin A, eat nutrient-dense foods. You can also consider taking a supplement.
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in a plethora of foods. A fat-soluble vitamin is one that easily dissolves in fats and oils: meaning they are absorbed and stored in our fatty tissues and liver, and our body has access to these stored micronutrients for later use (whenever we may need them.) The four fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. Contrarily, vitamins can also be water-soluble, meaning the body won’t, and can’t, store large amounts of it to keep the body balanced.
There are two main forms of vitamin A. The first is preformed vitamin A, which includes retinol and reitnyl esters. This type comes exclusively from animal products such as dairy, liver, and fish. Second, there is provitamin A cartenoids. These are abundant in our favorite plant foods (fruits and veggies!) The most common type is beta-carotene, which is found mainly in yellow, orange, and red fruits and vegetables; your body naturally converts beta-carotene into vitamin A.
The main active form of vitamin A is retinal; this is the biggest reason that vitamin A contributes to eye health (but we’ll talk about that later!) Additionally, this micronutrient contains antioxidant properties that play a role in protecting against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. All around, vitamin A is a game changer (and necessity) in keeping our bodies happy and healthy. So make sure to load up on fruits and veggies to ensure you’re absorbing all the micronutrients!
What are the benefits of vitamin A?
I’ve already started to touch on some of the benefits of vitamin A, but let’s dive in to exactly how this micronutrient plays a key role in our bodies.
Vitamin A is involved in an abundance of body functions, including:
- Immune system function
- Skin and hair
Starting off with the most obvious benefit, and the reason that the saying about carrots was created: let’s talk about how good vitamin A is for your eyes! Essentially, once absorbed, the main active form that I mentioned earlier, retinal, combines with a protein called opsin to form rhodopsin; a molecule that is critical for both color vision and low-light sight. (Hence the “seeing in the dark.”)
This protein also helps to preserve and protect the cornea (the outermost layer of the eye) and the conjunctiva (which covers the surface of the eye and inner eyelids.) Somewhere along the line, mom’s saying about carrots got lost in translation– so let’s clear up the rumors: although carrots themselves don’t *exactly* help you see in the pitch-black, they certainly help improve eye health and help to protect against eye infection and dry-eyes.
Additionally, vitamin A is involved in immune function and cellular communication. For the immune system, it works by supporting the growth and administration of T-cells (white blood cells that protect the body from infection,) as well as improving the bones and bone marrow. Furthermore, vitamin A plays a key role in facilitating immune tolerance across the gut lining; this is the foundation for good health.
In regard to the skin and hair, vitamin A encourages the production of sebum, an oil that retains moisture in the skin and hair, so they don’t become overly dry. It also helps with production of new skin cells to slow aging, minimize the appearance of acne scars, and manage skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis. It can help the skin via a nutrient-dense diet, or through a topical cream.
How to increase your intake
Vitamin A is found naturally in many foods and is added to others, such as milk and cereal. Consuming a nutrient-dense diet (or a rainbow diet!) is the most effective way to ensure you’re fulfilling your body’s vitamin A needs, not to mention fulfilling all of its needs for the other micronutrients. In other words, eating a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables will make sure you’re hitting all your targets!
Foods high in vitamin A include:
- Beef, liver, and organ meats (but these are high in cholesterol, so try to limit your intake!)
- fish (mostly salmon)
- Green leafy vegetables and other green, orange, and yellow vegetables (think: carrots, squash, broccoli)
- Fruits (think: cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos)
- Dairy products (this is a major source!)
Vitamin A is also available in the form of dietary supplements- usually in the form of retinyl acetate or retinyl palmitate (preformed vitamin A), beta-carotene (provitamin A), or a combination of the two. Additionally, most multi-vitamin supplements contain vitamin A. Recommended intake for adult men is between 900 micrograms and 700 micrograms for women. Retinol is also available in the form of a topical cream for the skin that has been seen to effectively control and treat acne.
Some signs and symptoms that may mean you face a vitamin A deficiency are
- Dry skin
- Dry eyes
- Night blindness
- Poor wound healing
- Chest and throat infections
- Infertility and trouble conceiving
If you notice any of these symptoms, or think you may have a vitamin A deficiency, don’t forget to consult with your doctor.
Considering all the benefits that vitamin A brings to the table, maybe it actually is safe to say that it does have some superpowers. Turns out mom was right (again!)
Written by Morgan Taylor