Vitamin A – A Nutrient with More Benefits than Meets the Eye

Vitamin A is synonymous with eye health. It is the most popular of all vitamins and well-known for its role in vision. But did you know that vitamin A does more than just benefit your eyes? Besides vision, vitamin A is necessary for growth, reproduction, skin, cell division and the integrity of the immune system. Consequently, a deficiency of this vitamin can lead to impaired immune function, skin issues, and age-related vision problems.

What is vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient that is found in two primary forms – active vitamin A (retinol) and beta-carotene. Retinol is the preformed vitamin A that comes from animal sources. Beta-carotene is the provitamin A form from bright-colored vegetables and fruits. Because of its fat-soluble nature, some dietary fat must be present for efficient vitamin A absorption.

Vitamin A plays a versatile role in your health, doubling as a nutrient and as an antioxidant. Vitamin A deficiency could lead to night blindness, scaly skin, weakened immune health, and even stunted growth in young children. In older adults, a deficient state leads to vision-related problems such as ARMD (age-related macular degeneration) of the eye, night blindness, and overall poor vision.

What are the benefits of vitamin A?

Eye health: Although eye issues can occur due to genetic reasons and aging, not consuming enough vitamins could amplify the problem. Vitamin A is a nutrient densely concentrated in the rhodopsin, a pigment found in the rods of the retina. The pigment gets activated when light enters the retina, which sends a signal to the brain that helps us see objects. As an antioxidant, vitamin A (carotenoids) plays a role in preventing macular degeneration of the eye, one of the leading causes of age-related blindness.
A randomized clinical study found that taking a daily multivitamin that included vitamin A, C, E, zinc, and copper showed a 25% reduced risk of advanced macular degeneration during a six-year study period[1].

Immune support: Vitamin A is also known as an anti-infective vitamin because it plays an essential role in cellular differentiation. Cellular differentiation is crucial for normal immune response, and low levels of vitamin A can severely impact immune health. Vitamin A is necessary for maintaining innate immunity (the ability to generate natural immune cells in the body). Vitamin A helps boost immunity in two pathways. Firstly, it regenerates the mucosal barriers damaged by infection. Secondly, it improves the function of neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells. In addition, it is necessary for adaptive immunity and plays a vital role in the development of T and B cells[2]. 

Boosts bone health: Most of us know that calcium and vitamin D is crucial for bone health. However, recent studies have shown a surprising link between vitamin A and bone health. A study from the Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Italy, found that low retinol levels were linked to reduced bone mineral density. Vitamin A may have a bone-sparing effect[3]. However, it is important to note that vitamin A alone cannot improve bone health and striking the right balance of nutrients like vitamin D, K, calcium, and magnesium offer overall bone protection. 

Promotes reproductive health: Vitamin A is a crucial nutrient your body needs for growth and development. It is one of the most recommended nutrients during pregnancy to prevent developmental disorders in the growing fetus. Studies show that vitamin A deficiency is often associated with an increased mother-to-child transmission of HIV- 1. Researchers recommend the dosage of vitamin A for a pregnant woman should be based on the current vitamin status of the expectant mother as the excess vitamin is harmful[4].

Wound and tissue repair: The first and foremost vitamin your body will need for tissue repair is vitamin A because of its cell regenerative ability. Since it forms an integral part of cell formation, it naturally promotes wound healing and tissue repair. Preliminary studies show that supplementing different forms of vitamin A in the diet helps to increase the wound healing process following surgery[5]. A study from Drexel University found that pretreating patients undergoing facial procedures with retinoids improved wound healing[6]. 

Improves skin health: Vitamin A in the form of retinoids is often prescribed by dermatologists to fight acne and wrinkles. A 2007 study found that applying retinoids to naturally aged skin helped improve fine wrinkles and increased the skin’s ability to withstand damage[7]. Vitamin A in the carotenoid form acts as a powerful antioxidant and exerts anti-inflammatory effects. In the state of retinoids, vitamin A may offer therapeutic effects for common skin issues such as psoriasis[8], dry skin, eczema[9], and acne[10]. 

Who will benefit the most from vitamin A supplements?
Although vitamin A supplements can be taken by people of all age groups, specific individuals benefit the most.

The elderly and immune-compromised: They are at increased risk for marginal vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A supplements benefit people that belong to this category.

Those with skin issues: People with chronic skin conditions like acne or dry skin can benefit from taking vitamin A supplements at specific dosages recommended by their providers.

People with malabsorption issues: Also, the intestinal absorption of vitamin A is associated with fat absorption. People with malabsorption issues, aged people who tend to eat less food or have absorption issues can boost their vitamin A levels through supplements.

Other health conditions: People with poor or restrictive diets or who suffer from conditions like pancreatic disease or eye disease and have an increased need for vitamin A may benefit from oral supplements.

Vitamin A is truly a versatile nutrient that benefits people of all age groups.

However, exercise caution under the following health conditions,

Pregnancy: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before taking vitamin A supplements. Excess vitamin A intake from supplements during pregnancy is linked to birth defects.

Anticoagulants: If you take anticoagulants, vitamin A supplements may increase the risk of bleeding.

Retinoid prescription: If you are already taking retinoid prescriptions, taking vitamin A supplements on top of that can be harmful as it may lead to excess vitamin A levels in your body, a condition called hypervitaminosis, which can be damaging to the liver.

As with any dietary supplement, always consult with your provider before starting vitamin A supplements.

Vitamin A is available in liquid and capsule forms; here are few choices for your convenience.

A-Mulsion by Genestra: This convenient liquid formulation offers 10000 IU/3000 RAE( Retinol Activity Equivalents) of vitamin A in an emulsified form. The supplement provides vitamin A palmitate, retinoids that are easily absorbed into the body and used efficiently. Genestra Brand A-Mulsion is suitable for vegans and has a pleasant natural lemon flavor. The recommended dosage is to take one drop daily orally or as suggested by your provider. One drop meets 200% of the daily value of vitamin A. The supplement is free of wheat, gluten, yeast, sodium, artificial coloring or flavoring, dairy, or animal products. 

Hi-Po Emulsi-A by Designs for Health: This high-potency formula delivers concentrated vitamin A in a convenient liquid form. One drop provides 5000 IU of vitamin A like retinol palmitate (1500 mcg retinol activity equivalents, or RAE), which meets 167% of the RDA. Designs for Health Hi-Po Emulsi-A uses a natural emulsion technology that allows for the production of 1500 mcg of vitamin A per drop that quickly and completely disperses in liquid. The cutting-edge technology enhances bioavailability, utilizing only naturally derived ingredients free of preservatives and artificial agents. The Hi-Po Emulsi-A makes dosing vitamin A convenient; it can be dropped into any beverage or simply on the tongue. The supplement provides accurate dosing, one drop at a time. Other ingredients include glycerine, purified water, and vitamin E. The recommended dosage is one drop per day orally.

Macular Support Formula by Pure Encapsulations: This supplement packs a combination of powerful antioxidants and botanicals in capsule form. It is designed to protect and support the macula, the central area of the retina responsible for sharp vision. Pure Encapsulations Macular Support Formula contains lutein and zeaxanthin to promote the integrity and density of the macular pigment, as well as help, maintain the health of the optical lens. It also contains carotenoids and vitamin C to support optimal macular protection and ocular health. It has a mix of antioxidants such as glutathione, anthocyanosides, polyphenols, and proprietary mixed carotenoid blend as lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin (1445 mg) that offers complete macular support. The recommended dosage is to take 2 capsules per day with meals. The supplement is gluten-free, non-GMO, and hypoallergenic. 

Vitamin A by Douglas Labs: Douglas Laboratories Vitamin A contains 10,000 I.U. per softgel of vitamin A palmitate derived in fish (cod) liver oil. The recommended dosage is one softgel a day or as directed by your provider.