salad_spinach_eating_pregnancy Vitamin A, also called retinol, is a fat-soluble vitamin. Our bodies store fat-soluble vitamins in the liver and fatty tissues. The active form of vitamin A is found in animal tissue. Red, orange, and dark green vegetables and fruits contain precursor forms of vitamin A called carotenoids. Our bodies can convert some of these carotenoids into vitamin A.

Functions

Here are some of vitamin A's functions:

  • Plays an essential role in vision
  • Plays an important role in cell differentiation and cell division
  • Helps in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin and hair
  • Helps with proper bone growth and tooth development
  • Helps the body regulate the immune system
  • Plays an essential role in the reproduction process for both men and women

Recommended Intake:

The recommended daily dietary allowance for vitamin A is measured in Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE).

Age Group (in years)Recommended Dietary Allowance
FemalesMales
1 – 3300 RAE300 RAE
4 – 8400 RAE400 RAE
9 – 13600 RAE600 RAE
14 – 18700 RAE900 RAE
14 – 18 Pregnancy750 RAEn/a
14 – 18 Lactation1,200 RAEn/a
19+700 RAE900 RAE
19+ Pregnancy770 RAEn/a
19+ Lactation1,300 RAEn/a

Vitamin A Deficiency

Here are symptoms of vitamin A deficiency (rare in the US):

  • Night blindness
  • Dry skin
  • Dry hair, broken fingernails
  • Follicular keratinosis–hardened, pigmented goose bumps on the arms, legs, and hair follicles
  • Decreased resistance to infections
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased growth rate

Vitamin A Toxicity

As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A is stored in the body and not excreted in the urine like most water-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is possible for vitamin A to accumulate in the body and reach toxic levels. For adults, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for vitamin A from dietary sources and supplements combined is 2,800 RAE daily. Symptoms of toxicity include the following:

  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Liver damage

Vitamin A toxicity can cause severe birth defects. . Pregnant women, and those who may become pregnant, should limit their intake of vitamin A from dietary sources and supplements.

Major Food Sources

FoodServing size Vitamin A content
(RAE)
Beef liver, cooked3.5 ounces8,025
Milk, fat-free8 ounces150
Whole egg, boiled1 large70
Milk, whole8 ounces70

The following foods contain carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A.

FoodServing size Vitamin A content
(RAE)
Sweet potato, mashed1/2 cup1,290
Carrots, raw1 medium515
Collards, frozen, boiled½ cup490
Mango1/2 medium40
Red bell pepper, raw½ cup115
Cantaloupe½ cup150
Kale, boiled½ cup445
Apricots3 medium100
Spinach, raw1 cup140
Tomato1 medium150
Papaya½ medium85
Orange1 medium15

Health Implications

Populations at risk for vitamin A deficiency

The following populations may be at risk for vitamin A deficiency and may require a supplement:

  • People with a reduced ability to absorb dietary fat. Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, fat is required for its absorption. Some conditions that can cause fat malabsorption include Crohn's disease , cystic fibrosis , celiac disease , pancreatic enzyme deficiency, and liver disease.
  • Children living in developing countries.

Tips for Increasing Your Vitamin A Intake:

Here are some tips to help increase your intake of vitamin A:

  • Pack cut carrots in your lunch for an afternoon snack.
  • Slice a peach, mango, or apricot on to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal.
  • Substitute a sweet potato for your baked potato. Just poke holes in the sweet potato and cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes to an hour (or microwave for 6 to 8 minutes).
  • Eat fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible. Vitamin A can be lost during preparation and cooking.
  • Steam vegetables, and braise, bake, or broil meat instead of frying. This will help retain some of the vitamin content.