Vitamins are essential for our health and we should include them in our diet. One of such vitamins with varied benefits is Vitamin A. It is essential for keeping our skin, eyes and vision healthy and curing any infection.
Our body cannot produce Vitamin A on its own, so it must be obtained through other means. You can suffer from the deficiency of vitamin A if you don’t include enough of this vitamin in your diet. It can result in a variety of health issues over time, like low immunity, eyesight problems etc. Long term and very serve deficiency may lead to death also.(1,2)
What Are The Reasons For The Deficiency of Vitamin A?
- Deficiency of Vitamin A is caused by the long term insufficient consumption of Vitamin A. It usually happens when a vital part of your diet is rice as it doesn’t have any carotene in it.(3)
- Lack of Carotenoids- Red, orange and yellow pigments that algae and plants produce, in the diet causes vitamin A deficiency mainly in Southeast Asia and Africa. It is estimated that around 250 million children suffer from this deficiency there.(3)
- The deficiency can also be seen in people with gastrointestinal problems that make it difficult for vitamin A from being absorbed.(4)
- People living in poor countries or countries having very little or no availability of food with vitamin A, suffer from a severe deficiency.(3)
- Infants, children, pregnant or breastfeeding women have a high risk of developing vitamin A deficiency. This deficiency can also be caused due to chronic diarrhea and cystic fibrosis.(5)
- Developed countries have a low rate of Vitamin A deficiency, on the other hand the developing countries have a high rate of Vitamin A deficiency.(2,3)
Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency
Below are given 5 symptoms of vitamin A deficiency and ways to treat it:
Vitamin A is necessary for skin cell formation and healing. This vitamin helps in the reduction of inflammation caused by some skin conditions. A lack of vitamin A can cause other skin conditions like eczema in which the skin becomes itchy, dry and dull. One can also suffer from inflammation. Similar problems with the hair and scalp, like Itching, dryness and scaling may be experienced by some people. Vitamin A with other medicines is proved to be beneficial in curing this condition. This condition can be caused by a variety of factors, including the deficiency of vitamin A.(6)
More Prone To Infections:
Vitamin A is essential for our immune system to function well. People having Vitamin A deficiency may be more susceptible to infections because they are unable to fight them off effectively.(7)
The deficiency of vitamin A can cause vision problems. If the deficiency is severe, then one may experience dry corneas with some marks known as Bitot’s spots. Due to this, the cornea may experience sores, become hazy and eventually it can be damaged in the long run. Severe deficiency may lead to complete blindness also. One of the earliest symptoms of this deficiency is that the person experience difficulty in producing tears.
One of the initial signs of vitamin A deficiency is night blindness, according to WHO (World Health Organization).You need to see a doctor right away in case you discover any symptoms of severe deficiency of this vitamin, like night blindness.
Children who do not consume a sufficient amount of vitamin A are at the highest risk of suffering from dry eyes. Vitamin A supplementation can help with this problem. As per research, vitamin A reduced the problem of dry eyes by 63 percent in new-borns and children who are given high doses of this vitamin for 16 months.(8,9)
Vitamin A helps in the development of healthy cells. Lack of this vitamin can lead to slow bone growth in children. Doctors may also suggest X-ray for long bones to evaluate bone growth.(10)
Problems in Conceiving:
Vitamin A is important when it comes to fertility. Lack of vitamin A can cause issues in conceiving and it may lead to infertility.(11)
Ways to Treat Vitamin A Deficiency
Mild deficiency can be treated without causing long-term complications. Vitamin A-rich meals are part of the treatment for mild deficiency.
Food items such as chicken, oily fish, liver, eggs, sweet potato, carrots, beef, leafy green vegetables, fortified milk and mangoes can be helpful.
Your doctor may advise you to eat more vitamin A-rich foods and vitamin pills if you have a severe deficiency. The amount of vitamin A you require from supplementation is determined by your age.
Your doctor may recommend you some blood tests if he thinks you have vitamin A deficiency. He may also be a little suspicious of you being anaemic or suffering from some other health-related conditions. Other tests may include an eyesight test mainly to check how a patient’s vision adapts to darkness.(1,2)
Foods Rich in Vitamin A
There are two kinds of Vitamin A found in the food items- Provitamin A and preformed vitamin A.
Preformed vitamin A is present in dairy products, eggs, fish and meat. It is also called retinol. Carotenoids found in plant-based food like orange, yellow, red and green vegetables and fruits is converted into vitamin A by our body. There are plenty of food items that are loaded with vitamin A to recover from mild deficiency of vitamin A. Let us look at vitamin A rich food items:
- Fish: A good amount of Vitamin A is found in shellfish, oily fish and cod liver oil. You can have it with meals or in the form of supplements.
- Liver: Vitamin A is found in a plentiful amount in this food type. One serving of liver provides more vitamin A than a week’s suggested minimum dose.
- Fruits: Orange-colored fruits such as papaya, mango, apricots and cantaloupe melon are high in vitamin A. You can have them either fresh or dried.
- Vegetables: Vitamin A is found in the highest amount in veggies of orange colour. Carrot, pumpkin, squash and sweet potato are some of the examples. Leafy green veggies like lettuce and spinach also have high amounts of Vitamin A. To enjoy the full advantage of these food items, the healthcare experts suggest heating or preparing these vegetables to make them easier for us to digest and to make our body absorb the nutrients well.
- Dairy Products: Vitamin A is found in milk in a good amount. Full cream milk contains more Vitamin A when compared to skim milk. In the same way, cheddar cheese has more of this vitamin than other soft cheeses available.
Although vitamin A can be found in a variety of foods ranging from nonveg to vegetables and fruits, there is still a risk of deficiency. Dietary changes and taking supplements can help keep vitamin A levels adequate in your body.
As vitamin A is easily absorbed in the fat particles in the stomach or intestine, it is a good idea to include some healthy fats in the diet.(1,2)
What Is The Daily Recommended Amount Of Vitamin A?
An adult male is recommended to have 0.7 mg of vitamin A and for a woman, the recommendation is 0.6 mg on daily basis.
Food items containing vitamin A should be included in our daily diet to fulfil the need for this vitamin. So, there is no requirement for Vitamin A supplements for a healthy person if a proper diet is followed.
Pregnant women do require to consume higher amount of this vitamin and breastfeeding women are required to have around 1.3 mg of vitamin A in their daily diet. Infants and young babies receive sufficient amount of vitamin A from breast milk.
Our body can store any excess vitamin A. So, it is not mandatory to consume the required amount of this vitamin on daily basis.(1,2)
Vitamin A is really important for the body to function. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a great role in our skin health, reproduction, good immunity and eyesight. Although deficiency of vitamin A is not so common due to the abundance of vitamin A-rich foods, it may affect you.
Lack of enough amounts of Vitamin A in our diet causes Vitamin A deficiency in our body. If the deficiency remains for a long time, then you can have problems with your vision and your body may lose immunity to fight infections. Tiredness can be caused due to the deficiency of Vitamin A.
Itching, dryness and scaling are common symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. If the deficiency is severe, the patient’s eye can dry out continuously. There can be detected tissues build-up in the cornea. Vitamin A deficiency sometimes delays bone growth, especially in children.
Consult a doctor if you have any doubt about Vitamin A levels in your body or you notice any symptoms. This will help you in determining the cause of any symptoms. Oral supplements of vitamin A are recommended for patients who are experiencing a severe deficiency of vitamin A.
If you have any underlying disorders, then you should see your doctor frequently to ensure that you are not at risk of multiple deficiencies. You should monitor your vitamin intake and make required changes in your diet.