Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that supports your immune system, vision, and skin health. There are two main types of vitamin A — retinol and carotenoids, both of which you can get from your diet. While vitamin A deficiency is rare in developed countries, dry skin and eyes could be a sign you’re not getting enough. 

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What is vitamin A?

Vitamin A is the name given to a group of similar fat-soluble compounds. There are two types of vitamin A you can get from your diet — retinol and carotenoids. 

What are the benefits of vitamin A?

Vitamin A is essential for a wide variety of things, including supporting your: 

  • immune function — as it helps form the protective lining around your organs, as well as helping form phagocytes (immune cells that engulf and destroy harmful materials)
  • vision — it’s an essential component of a protein that helps your eyes absorb light
  • skin and mucous membrane structure — like in your eyes, lungs, and digestive system
  • reproductive health 

What foods are good sources of vitamin A?

You mostly get vitamin A from your diet. There are two forms of vitamin A that you can get from food: 

  • retinol —  found in animal-derived foods like dairy, fish, and meat (particularly liver) 
  • carotenoids — found in plant-derived foods, usually in the form of beta-carotene (found in spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and mango)

Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is very rare in developed countries. Symptoms of deficiency include: 

  • dry skin
  • dry eyes
  • night blindness — impaired vision in low light
  • blindness — in severe cases
  • delayed growth 
  • wounds that take a long time to heal 

Low vitamin A levels are associated with a weakened immune system (increasing your risk of infection). 

Can you have too much vitamin A?

A varied and balanced diet should provide you with all the vitamin A you need. Too much vitamin A can also be harmful. For example, it can increase your risk of osteoporosis (a condition that weakens your bones) if you have more than 1.5 mg per day for years. To make sure you don’t have too much:

  • don’t eat liver or liver products, like pâté, more than once a week
  • don’t take any vitamin a supplement if you eat liver once a week
  • and if you do take a vitamin A supplement, don’t take more than 1.5 mg a day

If you’re pregnant, it’s important to avoid having large amounts of vitamin A — this can be harmful to your baby. Also, avoid taking a supplement containing vitamin A or eating liver and liver products.

Suggested daily amounts of vitamin A

The NHS recommends that the amount of vitamin A adults aged 19 to 64 years need is:

  • 0.7 mg a day for males
  • 0.6 mg a day for females

References 

British Nutrition Foundation (2020). Vitamins: Vitamin A. Retrieved 23 April 2020 from https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/vitamins.html?limit=1&start=2

National Health Services (2017). Health: A-Z: Vitamins and minerals: Vitamin A. Retrieved 23 April 2020 from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-a/

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