Submitted by Carolyn Devin
The first in a series of talks about the importance of vitamins.
The importance of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is stored in our body’s fat cells. It has three main functions in the body: cell development and growth, immune function and the most well know function, supporting good vision. How many of you have heard that eating carrots is good for your eyesight? That is because carrots are chock full of beta-carotene which gets transformed into vitamin A in the body. Half a cup of raw carrots provides nearly twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin A!
Vitamin A is also very important to the development of embryos. It helps babies in the development of their limbs, eyes, cardiovascular system and nervous systems. Deficiency in the early stages of pregnancy can result in birth defects.
Lastly, vitamin A is important to immune functions because it supports the skin cells, which is your body’s first defense against disease pathogens. Increased infection and illness can be a sign of vitamin A deficiency. Studies have also shown that having adequate vitamin A supplementation could help prevent skin cancer.
Here in Connecticut, there is very little risk of a vitamin A deficiency because so many of the foods to which we have access contain this vitamin, but not so in developing countries. Inhabitants of these countries struggle to meet even the minimum daily requirement of this vitamin.
Vitamin A toxicity can be a major problem, however, for pregnant women. There are many skin products out there that contain vitamin A as retinol (sometimes called Retin-A®) or retinoic acid (ex. Accutane®). These products are used for treating skin disorders such as psoriasis and acne, allowing the vitamin to be absorbed through the skin.
Pregnant woman should be especially careful using these products and should consult their doctor with questions.
One other important note, beta-carotene is naturally occurring in many vegetables. Sweet potatoes, carrots, kale and broccoli have some of the highest amounts. High amounts of beta-carotene have not been known to cause toxicity. The body will create the vitamin A that it needs and excretes the rest. Vitamin A is naturally occurring in animal products such as meat, cheese and eggs. The beta-carotene has already been transformed into vitamin A by the animals that ate the plants. It IS possible to get too much vitamin A from eating animal products if you are eating excessive amounts of organ meats like beef liver. Three ounces of beef liver contains over five times the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Vitamin A is also in many fortified food products such as cereal and margarine.
A simple way to get your daily amount of vitamin A is to cut up a sweet potato into one inch pieces, toss them in a little bit of olive oil, spread them out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with some seasoning and roast at 375 for 20 minutes or so. Or, even easier, eat a carrot!
Carolyn Devin is a Health and Wellness Coach. She helps individuals who are looking to lose weight, gain energy or just to feel better by teaching about nutrition and lifestyle changes.
“I don’t advocate “dieting” or quick fixes. I feel that everyone has the right to be happy and healthy, which means that I don’t propose radical changes to your lifestyle or starvation diets. I want to guide you on a path to healthier living.”