A Closer Look at Vitamin A

By | January 6, 2016

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Want Improved Health (and Shiny Hair)? 5 Aspects of Vitamin A to Consider

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We’re all familiar with the phrase “you are what you eat.” Some of us have even uttered it once or twice when trying to convince family members – or ourselves – to choose healthy foods. After all, eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and protein-filled food fuels our body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly.
But, let’s face it. We can’t always get everything we need from our diet. For some of us, supplements can offer the exact nutrients our bodies are deficient in. Whether we get our vitamins from natural or supplementary sources, the important thing is that we get them – regularly. Here are five important aspects about vitamin A and why we specifically need it in our daily diet.

Vitamin A consists of biologically active compounds called retinoids that naturally occur in plant and animal tissue. This is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that it’s absorbed and stored in the body. To be exact, vitamin A is absorbed in our lymph nodes, then transported in our bloodstream and stored in our liver and fatty tissues. Since vitamin A, like vitamins D, E and K, can be stored in our bodies, we can build up excess – even toxic – amounts of it.

2. Why Do We Need Vitamin A?

Vitamin A helps keep our immune system running properly. It’s a powerful antioxidant that aids our skin and mucous membranes in fighting off viruses and bacteria. As if that’s not proof enough of its importance, vitamin A is also critical in maintaining our reproductive health and vision. It ensures growth and regeneration of skin, lung, heart and kidney cells.
Vitamin A’s central role in the turnover process of our skin cells explains why it’s used in treating skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis, among others. In fact, retinol, one of two forms of vitamin A, is a key ingredient in skin-care and anti-aging creams. This vitamin is also vital for our sebum production, which is the oil that keeps our hair and skin moisturized.

3. Forms of Vitamin A and Where to Find Them

As mentioned, vitamin A comes in two forms: retinol and beta-carotene. Its form depends on whether its source is plant- or animal-based.

  • Retinol is derived only from animal sources, such as liver, kidney, organ meats, dairy milk, cream, butter and eggs. It can also come from the liver of cod fish. This form is easy for the body to absorb.
  • Beta-carotene is the reason why fruits and veggies have their deep colors. Those with the highest amounts of vitamin A include carrots, tomatoes, broccoli and papaya. Leafy green lettuce and spinach as well as the yellow and orange vegetables and brightly colored fruits are great sources as well. The body has a harder time converting beta-carotene into vitamin A and absorbing it.

4. Recommended Daily Intake

How much vitamin A do we need on a daily basis? The answer varies, according to gender and age, says the National Institutes for Health. It recommends that men, 14 years and older, get 900 micrograms (mcg) a day. Meanwhile women, 14 years and older, should get 700 mcg a day. But remember that beta-carotene first needs to be converted into vitamin A before our body can use it? This means that we need to eat more to get the daily recommended dosage. The National Institutes for Health advises that one mcg of retinol equals 12 mcg of beta-carotene.

5. Are Vitamin A Supplements Necessary?

When it comes to supplements, it’s always best to consult your doctor before starting any regimen. Blood tests are a good way to show if your body has a vitamin A deficiency. If you suspect that you’re not getting enough of the vitamin, start eating more vibrantly colored fruits and veggies, meat and dairy. See if upping your vitamin A intake has an effect on your symptoms. At worst, you’ll have healthier, shinier-looking skin and hair!

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