Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for different bodily functions, including good vision, a strong immune system, reproduction, and skin health.
Preformed vitamin A and provitamin A are the two types of vitamin A found in food.
Preformed vitamin A, also known as retinol, is a type of vitamin A commonly found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
Carotenoids in plant foods, such as red, green, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are converted by the body into vitamin A. While vitamin A deficiency is uncommon in developed countries, many developing countries do not get enough.
Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, infants, and children are the most vulnerable to deficiency. Chronic diarrhea and cystic fibrosis may also increase your risk of deficiency.
Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms
1. Dry Skin
Vitamin A is necessary for the growth and repair of skin cells. It also aids in the treatment of inflammation caused by certain skin conditions.
Inadequate vitamin A intake may be to blame for the development of eczema and other skin problems.
Eczema is a skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. Alitretinoin, a prescription medication with vitamin A activity, has been shown in several clinical studies to treat eczema effectively.
People with chronic eczema who took 10–40 mg of alitretinoin per day for 12 weeks saw a 53 percent reduction in symptoms.
Keep in mind that dry skin can be caused by various factors, one of which is a chronic vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin A is essential for skin repair and aids in the fight against inflammation. A lack of this nutrient can result in inflammatory skin conditions.
2. Dry Eyes
Eye problems are among the most well-known consequences of vitamin A deficiency.
In severe cases, a lack of vitamin A can result in total blindness or dying corneas distinguished by Bitot’s spots.
One of the first signs of vitamin A deficiency is dry eyes, or an inability to produce tears.
Young children in India, Africa, and Southeast Asia who consume vitamin A-deficient diets are most at risk of developing dry eyes.
This condition can be improved by taking vitamin A supplements.
In one study, high doses of vitamin A reduced the prevalence of dry eyes by 63% in infants and children who took supplements for 16 months.
A lack of vitamin A can cause dry eyes, blindness, or dying corneas, also known as Bitot’s spots. The inability to produce tears is frequently one of the first signs of deficiency.
3. Night Blindness
Night blindness can result from severe vitamin A deficiency.
Several observational studies have found that night blindness is common in developing countries.
Because of the severity of the problem, health professionals have worked to raise vitamin A levels in people at risk of night blindness.
Women with night blindness were given vitamin A in the form of food or supplements in one study. Both forms of vitamin A improved the condition. For six weeks, the women’s ability to adapt to darkness increased by more than 50%.
Adequate vitamin A intake is critical for eye health. Dry eyes and night blindness are two of the first symptoms of vitamin A deficiency.
4. Infertility and Trouble Conceiving
Vitamin A is required for both male and female reproduction, as well as proper baby development.
If you’re having trouble getting pregnant, a lack of vitamin A could be one reason. In both men and women, vitamin A deficiency can lead to infertility.
According to research, female rats with vitamin A deficiency have difficulty getting pregnant and may have embryos with congenital disabilities.
According to other research, infertile men may require more antioxidants due to higher levels of oxidative stress in their bodies. Vitamin A is one of the nutrients in the body that acts as an antioxidant. Miscarriages are also linked to vitamin A deficiency.
A study that looked at the blood levels of various nutrients in women who had recurrent miscarriages discovered that they were deficient in vitamin A.
Fertility problems can affect both men and women who do not get enough vitamin A. Parental vitamin A deficiency may also result in miscarriages or congenital disabilities.
5. Delayed Growth
Children who do not get enough vitamin A may grow slowly. This is because vitamin A is required for the proper development of the human body.
Several studies have found that vitamin A supplements, either alone or in combination with other nutrients, can improve growth. The majority of these studies were conducted on children in developing countries. A study of over 1,000 children in Indonesia discovered that those with vitamin A deficiency who took high-dose supplements for four months grew 0.15 inches (0.39 cm) faster than children who received a placebo.
However, a review of studies found that vitamin A supplementation combined with other nutrients may have a greater impact on growth than vitamin A supplementation alone. In South Africa, for example, children with stunted growth who received multiple vitamins and minerals had a half-point better length-for-age score than those who received only vitamin A.
In children, a lack of vitamin A can lead to stunted growth. Vitamin A supplementation in combination with other nutrients may improve growth more than vitamin A supplementation alone.
6. Throat and Chest Infections
Frequent infections, particularly in the throat or chest, may indicate a vitamin A deficiency.
Although vitamin A supplements may help with respiratory tract infections, research results are conflicting.
In an Ecuadorian study, underweight children who received 10,000 IU of vitamin A per week had fewer respiratory infections than those who received a placebo.
A review of studies in children, on the other hand, discovered that vitamin A supplements might increase the risk of developing throat and chest infections by 8.
Supplements, according to the authors, should only be given to those who have an actual deficiency.
Furthermore, high blood levels of the provitamin A carotenoid beta-carotene may protect against respiratory infections, according to one study in the elderly.
Vitamin A supplements may protect underweight children from infections, but they may increase infection risk in other groups. Adults with high vitamin A levels in their blood may have fewer throat and chest infections.
7. Poor Wound Healing
A deficiency in vitamin A may cause wounds that do not heal properly after an injury or surgery. This is because vitamin A promotes the formation of collagen, which is an important component of healthy skin. According to research, both oral and topical vitamin A can help to strengthen the skin.
An oral vitamin A supplement improved collagen production in rats, according to a study. Even though the rats were on steroids, which can inhibit wound healing, the vitamin had this effect.
Further research in rats revealed that applying topical vitamin A to the skin appeared to prevent diabetic wounds.
Human studies have yielded similar results. Compared to men who did not use the cream, older men treated with topical vitamin A saw a 50% reduction in the size of their wounds.
Vitamin A, both oral and topical, can promote wound healing, particularly in wound-prone populations.
8. Acne and Breakouts
Because vitamin A promotes skin development and fights inflammation, it may aid in the prevention or treatment of acne.
Acne has been linked to low vitamin A levels in multiple studies.
In one study of 200 adults, those with acne had vitamin A levels that were more than 80 mcg lower than those who did not have the condition.
Acne may be treated with topical and oral vitamin A. According to research, creams containing vitamin A can reduce the number of acne lesions by 50%.
Isotretinoin, or Accutane, is the most well-known form of oral vitamin A used to treat acne. This medication effectively treats acne, but it can cause various side effects, including mood changes and congenital disabilities.
Acne has been linked to a deficiency in vitamin A. Both oral and topical forms of vitamin A are frequently effective in treating acne, but they can have unfavorable side effects.
Dangers of Too Much Vitamin A
Vitamin A is essential for good health. Too much of it, however, can be hazardous.
Hypervitaminosis A, also known as vitamin A toxicity, is commonly caused by taking high-dose supplements for an extended period. People rarely get too much vitamin A from their diet.
Excess vitamin A is stored in the liver, where it can cause toxicity and unpleasant symptoms such as vision changes, bone swelling, dry and rough skin, mouth ulcers, and confusion.
Pregnant women should be especially cautious about consuming too much vitamin A to avoid congenital disabilities.
Before beginning vitamin A supplements, always consult with your healthcare provider.
People with certain medical conditions may require more vitamin A. Most healthy adults need 700–900 mcg per day. Women who are nursing require more, whereas children require less.
Toxic vitamin A is usually caused by taking too much of the vitamin in supplement form. It can cause serious problems such as vision changes, mouth ulcers, confusion, and congenital disabilities.
The Bottom Line
Vitamin A deficiency is common in developing countries but uncommon in the United States and other developed countries.
Inadequate vitamin A intake can result in irritated skin, night blindness, infertility, delayed growth, and respiratory infections.
People who have wounds or acne may have low vitamin A levels in their blood and benefit from treatment with higher doses of the vitamin.
Meat, dairy, eggs, and red, orange, yellow, and green plant foods contain vitamin A. Consume various foods to ensure adequate vitamin A intake.
Consult your doctor or healthcare provider if you suspect you have a vitamin A deficiency. Fixing a deficiency can be simple with the right foods and supplements.