All About Vitamin A

When you think about vitamin A, you may think of it first as a benefit to eye health and vision. But this micronutrient plays other important roles in your body as well: it fights inflammation, plays a role in reproductive health, helps bolster your immune system, and supports the proper function of skin, kidneys, heart and lung. Vitamin A is also an antioxidant, which means that it attacks and controls the harmful free radicals that run through the body, causing damage to DNA that can ultimately lead to cancer formation.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that your body stores it in tissues and that it needs fats in the diet to be absorbed. This also means that it’s possible to “overdose” on vitamin, though it would be very difficult to do that if your intake is through food sources alone. Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the U.S., but it happens more often in developing countries, leading to tragic cases of night blindness.

Adult women should consume 700 mcg of vitamin A day and adult men, 900 mcg. This amount is easy to acquire in your diet, because it’s found in abundance in so many foods. Orange and red/ yellow foods are a particularly good source: sweet potatoes, for example have 1,400 mcg each and a mango has 112. It can also be found in abundance in green leafy vegetables like spinach (575 mcg in one-half a cup) and in beef liver or pate (6,500 mcg in 3 ounces!)

Occasionally we have people ask us about taking extra vitamin A to help their skin, especially for conditions like acne. We would most likely never advise vitamin A supplements for this, again because it’s so easy to get the recommended daily amount by diet. And too much vitamin A can be toxic. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat a diet that is rich in the foods that contain vitamin A; far from it! If you have acne, try incorporating more vitamin A rich foods (squash, tomatoes, pumpkin, carrots, broccoli, dairy products, greens) into your diet. As this nutrient helps many other organs in your body function properly, it will also help with the health of your largest organ, your skin.

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