Vitamin A is vital to vision, cell function, and immunity. This vitamin plays an important role in cell growth and differentiation and the formation of embryos. It is necessary for all humans, though particularly for developing children and pregnant/lactating mothers.  Also, women who are trying to become pregnant should be sure to get enough of this vitamin. 

We get this vitamin from the food we eat. Preformed vitamin A is found in animal sources, though particularly in fish and liver oils. Vegans shouldn’t despair because it is also synthesized from provitamin A or beta-carotene. Foods high in beta-carotene include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, melons (cantaloupe), squashes, carrots, sweet potatoes, red cayenne peppers, sour cherries, mangoes, persimmons, papayas, apricots, and some vegetable oils.

This vitamin is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E, and K, are stored in fatty tissues and in the liver. Our bodies use those stored vitamins as we need them.  Large quantities of fat-soluble vitamins are more toxic because our body stores them rather than expels them.  Furthermore, for more information visit our Vitamins and Deficiencies blog.

Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is uncommon in the United States. This condition mostly affects young children from Africa and Southeast Asia, among other developing nations. Deficiency is linked to limited access to foods containing beta-carotene. The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed strategies to deliver this vitamin to infants and children around the world, through national health policies. Additionally, pregnant women in many developing nations are deficient. This deficiency negatively impacts fetus development during pregnancy, lactation, and developing infants and children. 

In addition, there is an association between measles and vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Studies show that treatment with supplements somewhat reduced the risk of mortality associated with pneumonia.  However, this phenomenon was most effective in children under two.  Chronic diarrhea also leads to vitamin A deficiency as large numbers of nutrients are being lost and may not be replaced. 

Deficiency Signs & Symptoms

  • Xerophthalmia (abnormal dryness and inflammation)
  • Night blindness
  • Diarrhea
  • Low iron leading to anemia
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Failure to thrive

Toxicity

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and the body stores excess quantities. These levels can accumulate in the body and cause toxicity. Eating too much typically only occurs in populations that eat a lot of liver and animal-sourced vitamin A. It is difficult to expel from the body after it has been metabolized, so too much vitamin A can cause liver damage.  Consuming excess animal-sourced vitamin A for pregnant women was also associated with some birth defects

Beta-carotene toxicity is not associated with any of the beforementioned conditions or risks. However, excess beta-carotene is known as carotenemia. Carotenodermia is a condition where the skin becomes a yellow or orange pigment. It is a harmless condition that can be reversed by eating less beta-carotene. 

Toxicity Signs & Symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Increased intracranial pressure
  • Irritated skin
  • Joint pain

Keep all adult medications and vitamins far out of reach of children.  Do not leave pill bottles out or open and store them way above kids’ reach.  Additionally, kid vitamins are harder to overdose on and are less likely to cause damage than adult vitamins.  Choose a good kid vitamin your little one can take regularly to fill in any nutrient gaps. 

Furthermore, the FDA doesn’t typically test or regulate supplements. Problems with safety, contamination, and quality are common, even if purchased from a reliable source.

 


Vitamins

Finally, it can be hard to include the right balance of vitamins your kids need through food alone. Therefore, it’s always important to provide good, balanced meals for your little ones. Because of dietary differences, families who are vegetarian or vegan may need to rely on supplements for some vitamins. Additionally, if your child has bad eating habits or poor access to healthful food, they may require supplements.

For those interested in the minimum RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances), refer to this National Academies chart.

Also, head to your local lab for a test identify if you or your child are deficient. If you choose to use supplements, it is still important to maintain good health in other ways. And, as always, keep all supplements out of the reach of children.

Check back in on our blog series for a more in-depth look, including the following:

Finally, for any and all of your questions or concerns, respond to this blog or contact us!