Vitamin A is a necessary fat-soluble vitamin that helps to protect and improve eye health (1). Other Vitamin A benefits include helping to boost the immune system and being vital for reproduction (2), (3).
It is rare to be deficient in vitamin A, but it can happen (4). Vitamin A insufficiency is much more common. Insufficiency differs from a deficiency in that the signs and symptoms of insufficiency are less severe.
There are many signs and symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. It is necessary to get adequate levels of vitamin A in your daily routine to support a healthy immune system, maintain healthy skin, and more (2), (5).
Keep in mind that it is easier to take too much vitamin A than it is other vitamins that are water-soluble. That is because vitamin A is fat-soluble instead of water-soluble (6). You can excrete water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C through urine and sweat. It is typically difficult to take too much of a water-soluble vitamin for that reason.
Always remember that too much vitamin A from supplements can do a lot of harm to the body (7). An adequate amount from food is the best place to start getting more vitamin A.
Summary: Vitamin A is a crucial fat-soluble vitamin helpful for immunity, reproduction, skin and eye health, and much more. Vitamin A deficiency is rare and usually displays more severe symptoms than vitamin A insufficiency. Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can store easily in the body, and is more likely to cause toxicity.
Do you think you are getting too little vitamin in your diet? Learn more about the signs and symptoms of vitamin A deficiency below.
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Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency
Although vitamin A deficiency is rare, it is possible. However, it is the most common in those with gastrointestinal diseases or issues.
Gastrointestinal diseases or issues like intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, affect the gut microbiome (8, 9). When you have leaky gut, it affects what vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you can fully absorb into your cells.
Leaky gut allows food particles to enter freely through the bloodstream, where they should normally be blocked off. This allows downstream issues that can result in malabsorption of nutrients and much more (8).
Vitamin A deficiency affects the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes, so many of the signs and symptoms affect these areas of the body (9). Some common signs and symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include:
- Hazy vision (10)
- Keratomalacia – Drying and clouding of the cornea (13), (10)
- Xerophthalmia – The inability to see in low light, which if untreated can progress to permanent night blindness (11)
- Keratinization of major systems in the body, such as the urinary tract and digestive tract (12)
- Dry, bumpy skin rashes (13)
- Impaired immunity (which can lead to further infections) (14)
- Stunted growth or developmental delays in children (15), (16)
Vitamin A is a crucial vitamin for everyone, but it is especially necessary it is for pregnant women (2). The signs and symptoms of vitamin A deficiency prove just how necessary it is to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
It is important to remember that vitamin A must be in balance with other essential vitamins and minerals in the body, too. Other vitamins necessary for boosting the immune system, growth, and development include vitamin D, vitamin E, and more (17), (18), (19).
Summary: If you have gastrointestinal issues you may experience vitamin deficiencies, specifically vitamin A, because of malabsorption. Vitamin A deficiency affects the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes, causing blurred vision, clouding of eyes, night blindness, issues with digestive or urinary tracts, bumpy and dry skin rashes, impaired immunity, or even stunted growth.
How is Vitamin A Deficiency Diagnosed?
Vitamin A deficiency gets diagnosed through a blood test (20). You can ask your Doctor or Healthcare Professional to test your vitamin A levels at your routine visit if you suspect you may be low in this crucial vitamin.
Although vitamin A deficiency is a clinical diagnosis, it is not typically on a regular routine blood workup. It can be helpful to speak with your healthcare provider if you suspect a deficiency or insufficiency in vitamin A.
Certain medications can interact with vitamin A levels in the body, so it is important to keep that in mind. One example of this includes the regular use of the acne medications with retinoids. Using retinoids along with vitamin A supplement increases the risk of toxicity (21), (22). Vitamin A can react with other medications, too. Be cautious of cholesterol-lowering medications, such as cholestyramine, oral contraceptives and more (22).
Normal levels of vitamin A range between 20-60 mcg/dl, but it should not be too low (23), (24). If it is extremely low, it could be because of an underlying disease, which would need to be addressed right away by a doctor.
Vitamin A deficiency gets treated with oral supplementation and a change in diet (25). There are many foods high in vitamin A that can help to boost your overall levels. Read more about the importance of vitamin A and how you can get more in your diet below.
Summary: Vitamin A deficiency is diagnosed through a blood test. A normal range is 20-60 mcg/dl. It is generally not on routine bloodwork, so if you think you may have a deficiency ask your doctor for the test. Some medications may interact with vitamin A levels in the body, such as cholesterol-lowering, oral contraceptives, or acne medications.
The Importance of Vitamin A
Vitamin A plays an important role in maintaining tissues, cells, and the body overall. It is necessary to ward off illnesses, keep your immunity up, maintain and boost eye health, skin health, and more (26).
Too much vitamin A is also an issue at times. It is rare as well but be sure to never exceed the upper recommended limit of 10,000 IU of vitamin A through supplementation (23). Eating too much vitamin A from food is not typically possible (24).
If you keep a healthy balanced diet with plenty of vitamin A and be cautious about the amount and dosage in your supplements, you should get enough vitamin A in your diet.
Many foods are high in vitamin A. These include eggs, cod liver oil, cheese, butter, chicken, beef, and especially the liver, fortified cereals, skim milk, dark leafy greens like bok choy, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, carrot juice, oranges, and other yellow fruits and vegetables (13).
The daily recommended intake of vitamin A for men is 900 mcg and for women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding, it is 700 mcg per day (24), (13). Continue to eat a healthy diet and determine if it is necessary to supplement with this crucial vitamin.
Summary: Vitamin A helps with immunity, skin and eye health, and reproduction. Eggs, cod liver oil, cheese, butter, chicken, beef, liver, fortified cereals, milk, dark leafy greens, and yellow or orange fruits and vegetables are good sources. Men should aim for 900 mcg and non-pregnant women 700 mcg vitamin A per day. It’s best not to exceed 10,000 IU per day through supplements to avoid toxicity.
Vitamin A deficiency is typically rare, but it is possible, especially among children and pregnant women from developing countries (27), (28). Those with gastrointestinal problems can also be at a greater risk of vitamin A deficiency (29), (30).
If you want to make sure you maintain your eye health and prevent illnesses from the flu to a common cold, make sure to get adequate vitamin A in your diet.
Always remember to consider your diet and supplementation and ask your doctor or healthcare professional if you are unsure what your levels are. Checking your vitamin and micronutrient levels once a year is ideal for overall good health.
Remember to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and other foods high in vitamin A to meet your daily recommended requirement.