Many people who need more vitamin A don't even realize it. It's a subtle vitamin, one that helps many systems in our body but doesn't get a lot of credit.
What Is Vitamin A?
Most people have heard a bit of carotene, one of the four vitamin A carotenoids (Yes, they are named after the carrot). Carotenoids provide a rich orange color to fruits and vegetables. So anything orange will have a high amount of vitamin A naturally.
Most vitamin A are in animal products, particularly liver, and in the flesh of chicken, fish, and beef. This is the most bioavailable kind – the same as what we use in your body. Liver has a tremendous amount of vitamin A and you can get a decent amount of vitamin A from meats.
Other types of vitamin A are found in plants, including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. These have to be converted in the body before you can use them. For example, beta-carotene, the most popular vitamin A supplement, gets converted into retinol in our small intestine.
You need multiple forms of vitamin A and obtaining them through your diet is the best way to do that.
Protects Against Night Blindness and Age-Related Decline
Vitamin A helps convert the light you see into the electrical signals the nerves carry to your brain. When you're deficient in vitamin A, the first thing that starts to go is your ability to see at night. Nyctalopia, or night blindness, occurs when vitamin A is deficient and the pigment around the retina of your eye starts to deteriorate.
In the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, when people used a supplement that included beta-carotene, it reduced the risk of developing macular degeneration by 25%. Another study showed beta carotene won't prevent eyesight decline alone, but it's part of the whole that includes powerful antioxidants.
Supports Your Immune System
Vitamin A helps your body by being a coenzyme (something that helps things go faster) in producing white blood cells and producing mucus to help clear out your eyes, nose, and gut from bacteria and viruses.
Having enough vitamin A in your system can help reduce the chances of you getting sick by making sure those systems are strong. It's more about efficiency than strong protection.
May Prevent Certain Cancers
Studies show vitamin A can help lower the risk of some cancers, but in others, not so much. Cancers like lymphoma, cervical, lung, and bladder have a reduced risk with higher levels of plant-based vitamin A.
But, animal food-based vitamin A and supplement vitamin A don't seem to have the same effect. Right now scientists don't know why.
It may be the accompanying antioxidants that come as part of a high vegetable and fruit-based diet have more to do with the activation of vitamin A. Antioxidants help prevent many different issues that happen in the human body, including cancer.
Helps Your Skin Stay Clear
Retinol, one of the carotenoid vitamins, is well known for helping to reduce acne and improving your skin condition. Vitamin A-based medications are often used to treat acne and other skin problems. But, it hasn't been determined why it works.
It can improve the immune system, while other theories think vitamin A deficiency causes the body to overproduce the protein keratin, and that clogs up hair follicles. Either way, consuming vitamin A from your food is one of the best ways to help your skin stay clear.
Necessary For Maintaining Bone Health
You know vitamin D and calcium are essential for bone health, but most people don't realize how important vitamin A is. It's an essential coenzyme for proper bone growth and development. People who have low vitamin A levels tend to have more fractures and breaks than those who have healthy levels.
However, scientists are quick to say that people with low vitamin A levels are usually low in vitamin D and calcium. But, supplementing with vitamin A does have an impact on your bone health.
Your best bet for getting vitamin A is to consume it by eating at least one serving of orange vegetables every day. But, if you supplement, be sure to get a mixed carotenoid supplement. Some studies show getting too much beta-carotene alone is not healthy. Mixed carotenoids can give you the best of everything and help raise your levels to be healthy.