Daily Dose: Vitamin A

Find out why your body needs vitamin A and how to get enough in your diet!

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Vitamin A is a critical player in many different systems in the body. Fortunately, it can be found in many different foods that will fit a variety of diets.

Why does my body need vitamin A?

Vitamin A’s most critical role is in vision. While vitamin A has many forms, it’s converted into a form called retinal in the light sensing portion of the eye. Retinal changes shape when light enters the eye and triggers a signal that eventually tells your brain that light has been picked up. Vitamin A can also be converted to a compound called retinoic acid, which plays an important role in deciding which genes get used when. This is especially important in the eye.

 

What foods contain vitamin A?

Vitamin A can come in either a readymade form or a form that can be converted into vitamin A by the body. Both can be used equally well. The readymade form is found in animal products like egg yolk, liver and butter. Vegetables that contain the convertible form include sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, green leafy vegetables, and some fruits like papayas and mangos.

 

What happens when I don’t get enough vitamin A?

Because the eye depends so heavily on vitamin A for its essential functions, deficiency can rapidly lead to blindness. Often this blindness starts at night and progresses to daytime blindness. The eye can also become dry and the white of the eye can become blistered and malformed as its structure starts to break down.

 

Who’s most at risk for deficiency?

Vitamin A deficiency is a major problem for many children living in developing countries that don’t have regular access to vegetables or the animal products mentioned above. Fortunately, deficiency is very rare in the U.S. and is almost never seen except in situations of severe malnutrition.