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Vitamin A: Importance, Sources, and Deficiency Symptoms

All you need to know about this essential micronutrient.

Vitamin A is an important micronutrient that helps keep your immune system healthy, supports vision in dim light, and keeps your skin healthy.

Also knows as retinol, vitamin A is an essential nutrient for humans.

This micronutrient can’t be synthesised in the body and so has to be obtained through our diet.

What is vitamin A good for?

Vitamin A supports your body in its natural defence against illness and infection. It’s also needed for the proper functioning of the eyes and skin.

While the link isn’t perfectly clear, it is believed consuming foods rich in vitamin A can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

All humans require vitamin A for adequate growth, cell and tissue differentiation, vision, development and function of the immune system, and survival.

How much vitamin A do you need?

This will depend on your age and sex. The National Institutes of Health recommends you consume the following amounts:

Life StageRecommended Amount in micrograms of retinol activity equivalents
Birth to 6 months400 mcg RAE
Infants 7–12 months500 mcg RAE
Children 1–3 years300 mcg RAE
Children 4–8 years400 mcg RAE
Children 9–13 years600 mcg RAE
Teen boys 14–18 years900 mcg RAE
Teen girls 14–18 years700 mcg RAE
Adult men900 mcg RAE
Adult women700 mcg RAE
Pregnant teens750 mcg RAE
Pregnant women770 mcg RAE
Breastfeeding teens1,200 mcg RAE
Breastfeeding women1,300 mcg RAE

Vitamin A sources

vitamin a sources like cheese, eggs, and milkSource: Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Vitamin A rich foods include dairy products such as:

  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Liver and pâté

Vitamin A is stored in the livers of animals, which make liver and pâté an incredibly rich source of this nutrient.

Additionally, consuming foods containing high amounts of beta-carotene can help with vitamin A levels, as your body can convert these into the vitamin. Good sources of beta-carotene include:

  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Sweet potato
  • Mango
  • Papaya

Vitamin A deficiency symptoms

According to the NHS, most people should get all the vitamin A they need through their diets, and any additional vitamin A you consume is stored for future use.

Vitamin A deficiencies are rare, however, if you do suffer from a deficiency watch out for the following symptoms:

  • Poor night vision: vitamin A deficiency can lead to degradation of vision, especially during the night. A lack of vitamin A can prevent visual pigments to form in your eyes, causing them to become less sensitive to light. This is known as night blindness.
  • Changes to your skin: cells on the surface of your body begin to deteriorate with a vitamin A deficiency, so you might suffer from dry skin, itchy, or inflamed skin.
  • Decreased reproductive health: low levels of vitamin A have been linked with infertility and trouble conceiving, and can also lead to miscarriages and birth defects.  
  • Poor wound healing: vitamin A promotes the creation of collagen, which is essential for healthy skin.
  • Acne: low vitamin A levels can lead to acne breakouts.

People with vitamin A deficiency often also suffer from low iron, which can lead to anaemia. A deficiency can also increase the severity (and mortality risk) of other infections such as diarrhoea and measles.


What are the benefits of taking vitamin A?

Vitamin A’s main benefit comes in the field of vision health, but this nutrient also supports a healthy immune system, supports bone health, and promotes healthy growth and reproduction.

Do athletes need vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a potent antioxidant that helps to fight free radicals caused by oxidative stress and can also improve your bone health.

However, there are other micronutrients such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamins D and B that can have a bigger impact on performance. So far, no link has been found between low levels of vitamin A and decreased performance.

Should I take vitamin A supplements?

Most people get enough vitamin A through a varied and balanced diet and should not worry about supplementation.

Can I take too much vitamin A?

Yes, and taking too much can be harmful. Some research suggests taking too much vitamin A can have a negative effect on your bones, making them more likely to fracture when you’re older.

Who is most at risk of inadequate vitamin A levels?

Premature infants, infants and young children in developing countries, pregnant and lactating women in developing countries, people with cystic fibrosis.

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