Welcome everybody to More Than Healthy as we continue to share our weekly health tips. This week, we’re talking about Tip #68, the health benefits of the right amount of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A is often associated with good eyesight. You might also know of its benefits as retinol or retinoic acid, which is so good for skin health. But this powerful vitamin does a whole lot more.
In addition to vision and skin health, this vitamin is important to growth, cell division, reproduction, and immunity. Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties. We’ve talked about antioxidants a lot here at More Than Healthy, those all-important anti-aging substances that protect your cells against the damaging effects of free radicals.
Where does vitamin A come from?
Vitamin A compounds are found in both animal and plant foods and come in two different forms: preformed vitamin A and provitamin A.
Preformed vitamin A
Preformed vitamin A is known as the active form of the vitamin, which your body can use just as it is. It’s found in animal products, including meat, chicken, fish, and dairy, as well as in the compounds retinol, retinal and retinoic acid.
Provitamin A carotenoids, like alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin, are the inactive forms of the vitamin found in plants like green leafy vegetables, cantaloupe, and carrots. This is why you always hear that you must eat your carrots if you want to improve your eyesight.
Vitamin A deficiency
Interestingly, vitamin A deficiency can occur from conditions that interfere with normal digestion. Malabsorption can be caused by celiac disease, Crohn’s disease (which David was diagnosed with), cirrhosis, alcoholism, and cystic fibrosis. Even a mild deficiency of vitamin A may cause fatigue, susceptibility to infections, severe dryness of the eyes (which, left untreated, can cause blindness), night blindness, irregular patches on the white of the eyes, or dry skin and hair.
Too much vitamin A
Too much vitamin A can also be a problem. We always talk about “the right amount” when it comes to vitamins and minerals, because too much is equally problematic. Rarely does too much vitamin A come from food. It often comes from too much of a supplement that’s not being monitored.
One reason that vitamins can be toxic is that they are fat-soluble. Any amount not immediately needed by the body is absorbed and stored in fat tissue or the liver. If too much gets stored, then it becomes toxic. Signs of toxicity include vision changes such as blurry sight, bone pain, nausea and vomiting, dry skin, and sensitivity to bright light.
Four benefits of the right amount of vitamin A
So let’s talk about four of our favorite benefits of getting the right amount of vitamin A.
Benefit #1: Vitamin A protects your eyes
The most obvious benefit is that the right amount of vitamin A protects your eyes from night blindness and age-related vision decline.
Did your mom use to tell you to eat your carrots so that you’d have good eyesight? Well, it turns out your mom was right. A carrot’s main nutrient, beta-carotene (which also gives it that bright orange color) is a precursor to vitamin A. It helps your eyes to adjust in dim light conditions.
Vitamin A is needed to convert the light that hits your eye into an electrical signal that can be sent to your brain. That’s why one of the first symptoms of vitamin A deficiency can be night blindness. And, the next most common symptom of vitamin A deficiency is age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, which is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world.
The right amount of vitamin A can help prevent both. One study took 3640 participants, aged 55-80 years, and followed them over 6 years. Participants who received an antioxidant supplement, including the beta-carotene found in vitamin A, reduced their risk of developing AMD by 25%.
Fight to keep your eyes healthy
David frequently shares about his goal to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary when he will be 95 years old. He often says he wants to be healthy, vibrant, and active; specifically, he wants to be able to dance with me in celebration. After learning about the specific benefits of vitamin A, he now jokes that he wants to be able to still see me clearly, too.
I couldn’t agree more. I don’t want to get older and just accept the side effects that frequently accompany aging. At More Than Healthy, we’re working hard to prove that age is just a number. We wholeheartedly believe that you can become biologically younger as your birthdays continue. We’ve proved it so far with David’s biological age being tested at 43 right now, even though he’s actually 66.
Benefit #2: Vitamin A promotes healthy bones
The second benefit is that the right amount of vitamin A helps with bone health. Again, this is something we talk about quite a bit, and I’m all about looking for ways to improve my bone health. Since osteoporosis is in my genetic makeup, I’m predisposed to that condition. So I’m doing all I can to maintain healthy bones.
We’ve discussed other ways to protect and promote bone health in previous posts, including the importance of protein, calcium, and vitamin D for maintaining healthy bones. However, eating enough vitamin A is also necessary for proper bone growth and development.
Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to poor bone health. People with lower blood levels of vitamin A are at higher risk of bone fractures than people with healthy levels. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of observational studies found that people with the highest amounts of total vitamin A in their diet had a 6% decreased risk of fractures.
Conversely, those with too much vitamin A also had a higher risk of fractures as well. So you can’t just load up on vitamin A. It’s critical to get the right amount, and to try and get it mostly from your food.
Bone health is critical to aging well. Balancing out all these vitamins and minerals is so important to every part of our health journey.
Benefit #3: Vitamin A protects against cancer risk
The right amount of vitamin A may help reduce the risks of some cancers. As you probably know, cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow or divide in an uncontrolled way. That’s what happened eight years ago in David’s bladder when we began our frightening battle with his recurring bladder cancer.
We’ve since learned that vitamin A plays an important role in the growth and development of your cells. Its influence on cancer risk and its role in cancer prevention is something that scientists are studying.
In observational studies, eating higher amounts of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene has been linked to a decreased risk of certain types of cancer, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cervical, lung, and even bladder cancer.
With David’s history of bladder cancer, it’s obvious why we’re so interested in making sure we get the right amount of vitamin A in our diet. We’re doing everything we can that reduces the risk of that terrible cancer returning, especially when it’s as simple as eating more foods containing beta-carotene.
Benefit #4: Vitamin A supports a healthy immune system
Vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining your body’s natural defenses. It is especially protective of the mucus barrier in your eyes, lungs, gut, and genitals, which helps trap bacteria and other infectious agents.
It’s also involved in the production and function of white blood cells, which help capture and clear bacteria and other pathogens from your bloodstream.
Simply put, vitamin A deficiency can increase your susceptibility to infections and delay your recovery when you get sick. This has been shown in countries with common infections like measles and malaria. Correcting vitamin A deficiency in children has decreased the risk of dying from these diseases.
Foods with high levels of vitamin A
Now that we’ve discussed all the benefits of the right amount of vitamin A, let’s discuss what foods have the highest vitamin A content. It’s easy to find foods that are abundant in vitamin A, and they make a healthy addition to your diet.
Preformed vitamin A with high retinol levels are only found in animal-sourced foods. The foods highest in retinols are organ meats (read more about the health benefits of those here), certain cheeses, eggs, and dairy.
Here’s the list of foods with the highest amounts of retinol:
|Food||Amount of Retinol||% of the DV|
|Cooked Beef Liver, 3.5 oz.||7,730 mcg||859%|
|Cooked Lamb Liver, 3.5 oz.||7,780 mcg||864%|
|Liver Sausage, 3.5 oz.||8,310 mcg||923%|
|Cod Liver Oil, 1 tbsp||4,080 mcg||453%|
|Cooked King Mackerel, 3.5 oz.||252 mcg||28%|
|Cooked Salmon, 3.5 oz.||69 mcg||8%|
|Cooked Bluefin Tuna, 3.5 oz.||757 mcg||84%|
|Goat Cheese, 1 oz.||80 mcg||9%|
|Butter, 1 tbsp||95 mcg||11%|
|Limburger Cheese, 1 oz.||96 mcg||11%|
|Cheddar Cheese, 1 oz.||74 mcg||8%|
|Camembert Cheese, 1 oz.||68 mcg||8%|
|Roquefort Cheese, 1 oz.||83 mcg||9%|
|Eggs, one large||75 mcg||8%|
|Cooked Trout, 3.5 oz.||100 mcg||11%|
|Canned Clams, 3.5 oz.||101 mcg||11%|
|Cream Cheese, 1 oz.||86 mcg||10%|
|Canned Oysters, 3.5 oz.||98 mcg||11%|
|Whole Milk, 1 cup||76 mcg||8%|
The other type of vitamin A, the provitamin A carotenoids we talked about earlier, are sourced from plant foods. Our body uses the carotenoids found in plants to produce vitamin A. Generally, there is more vitamin A in vegetables than fruits.
The list of foods high in provitamin A are:
(Retinol Activity Equivalents)
|% of DV|
|Baked Sweet Potato, 1 cup||1,920 mcg||213%|
|Baked Butternut Squash, 1 cup||1,140 mcg||127%|
|Cooked Kale, 1 cup||172 mcg||19%|
|Cooked Collard Greens, 1 cup||722 mcg||80%|
|Cooked Turnip Greens, 1 cup||549 mcg||61%|
|Cooked Carrots, 1 cup||1,280 mcg||142%|
|Sweet Red Pepper, 1 large||257 mcg||29%|
|Cooked Swiss Chard, 1 cup||536 mcg||60%|
|Cooked Spinach, 1 cup||943 mcg||105%|
|Romaine Lettuce, 1 cup||205 mcg||23%|
|Mango, 1 cup||89 mcg||10%|
|Cantaloupe, 1 cup||270 mcg||30%|
|Grapefruit, half||89 mcg||10%|
|Watermelon, 1 cup||43 mcg||5%|
|Papaya, 1 cup||78 mcg||9%|
|Apricot, 2||67 mcg||7%|
|Tangerine, 1||37 mcg||4%|
|Nectarine, 1||29 mcg||3%|
|Guava, 2||34 mcg||4%|
|Passion Fruit, 2||23 mcg||3%|
Wow, that’s quite a list. Many of those are foods I really enjoy. (I’m still working on acquiring a taste for organ meats, but they’re so good for you, I’m working on it!)
We always recommend that you try and get your vitamins and minerals from healthy food sources. This is especially true for vitamin A, as studies show that supplements don’t necessarily provide the same beneficial effects as vitamin A sourced from the food you eat.
Do you need more vitamin A?
If you don’t know if you’re getting enough vitamin A in your diet, then a great way to find out is with hair analysis testing, an amazing, informative service now offered at More Than Healthy. With just a few strands of your hair, you receive a full report looking at toxins, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electromagnetic frequency exposure, chemicals, radiation, parasites, immune factors, and foods you should avoid. It truly is a phenomenal look into what’s going on inside your body!
Go to our website to learn more. You can schedule a local hair analysis or order it online to be mailed to you today.
Your More Than Healthy Coaches
As always, we enjoy hearing from you. If you have health questions on anything we’ve discussed or really any issue, you can go to our social media pages on Facebook or Instagram (@morethanhealthyliving) and ask it there or private message us. We try to respond to all questions.
We’d love to become your health coaches as you work to become “more than healthy.” Let’s work together to reclaim your health and live a full and vibrant life, no matter your age.
Thanks for joining us! We’ll see you next week.
Note: Remember, we’re not doctors. We’re just sharing with you what’s worked for us on our health journey. We always encourage you to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet and supplementation.