The fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, are stored in the body for long periods of time and generally pose a greater risk for toxicity when consumed in excess than water-soluble vitamins. Eating a normal, well-balanced diet will not lead to toxicity in otherwise healthy individuals. However, taking vitamin supplements that contain megadoses of vitamins A, D, E and K may lead to toxicity. The body only needs small amounts of any vitamin. While diseases caused by a lack of fat soluble vitamins are rare, symptoms of mild deficiency can develop without adequate amounts of vitamins in the diet. Additionally, some health problems may decrease the absorption of fat, and in turn, decrease the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. Consult a medical professional about any potential health problems that may interfere with vitamin absorption.
Vitamin A, also called retinol, has many functions in the body. In addition to helping the eyes adjust to light changes, vitamin A plays an important role in bone growth, tooth development, reproduction, cell division, gene expression, and regulation of the immune system. The skin, eyes, and mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, throat and lungs depend on vitamin A to remain moist. Vitamin A is also an important antioxidant that may play a role in the prevention of certain cancers.
Food Sources for Vitamin A
Eating a wide variety of foods is the best way to ensure that the body gets enough vitamin A. The retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid forms of vitamin A are supplied primarily by foods of animal origin such as dairy products, fish and liver. Some foods of plant origin contain the antioxidant, betacarotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene, comes from fruits and vegetables, especially those that are orange or dark green in color. Vitamin A sources also include carrots, pumpkin, winter squash, dark green leafy vegetables and apricots, all of which are rich in beta-carotene.
How much Vitamin A
The recommendation for vitamin A intake is expressed as micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE). Retinol activity equivalents account for the fact that the body converts only a portion of betacarotene to retinol. One RAE equals 1 mcg of retinol or 12 mcg of beta-carotene. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A is 900 mcg/ day for adult males and 700 mcg/ day for adult females. Compared to vitamin A, it takes twice the amount of carotene rich foods to meet the body’s vitamin A requirements, so one may need to increase consumption of carotene containing plant foods. Recent studies indicate that vitamin A requirements may be increased due to hyperthyroidism, fever, infection, cold, and exposure to excessive amounts of sunlight. Those that consume excess alcohol or have renal disease should also increase intake of vitamin A.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency is rare, but the disease that results is known as xerophthalmia. It most commonly occurs in developing nations usually due to malnutrition. Since vitamin A is stored in the liver, it may take up to 2 years for signs of deficiency to appear. Night blindness and very dry, rough skin may indicate a lack of vitamin A. Other signs of possible vitamin A deficiency include decreased resistance to infections, faulty tooth development, and slower bone growth.