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Vitamin A, also called retinol, is a fat-soluble vitamin. Our bodies store fat-soluble vitamins in the liver and fatty tissues. The active form of vitamin A is found in animal tissue. Red, orange, and dark green vegetables and fruits contain precursor forms of vitamin A called carotenoids. Our bodies can convert some of these carotenoids into vitamin A.
Here are some of vitamin A's functions:
- Plays an essential role in vision
- Plays an important role in cell differentiation and cell division
- Helps in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin and hair
- Helps with proper bone growth and tooth development
- Helps the body regulate the immune system
- Plays an essential role in the reproduction process for both men and women
The recommended daily dietary allowance for vitamin A is measured in micrograms (mcg) of Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE).
|Age Group (in years)||Recommended Dietary Allowance|
|1 – 3||300 mcg of RAE||300 mcg of RAE|
|4 – 8||400 mcg of RAE||400 mcg of RAE|
|9 – 13||600 mcg of RAE||600 mcg of RAE|
|14 – 18||700 mcg of RAE||900 mcg of RAE|
|14 – 18 Pregnancy||750 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|14 – 18 Lactation||1,200 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|19+||700 mcg of RAE||900 mcg of RAE|
|19+ Pregnancy||770 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|19+ Lactation||1,300 mcg of RAE||n/a|
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the US, but it is common in developing countries. Here are some of the symptoms:
- Night blindness
- Decreased resistance to infections
- Decreased growth rate
Vitamin A Toxicity
As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A is stored in the body and not excreted in the urine like most water-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is possible for vitamin A to accumulate in the body and reach toxic levels. For adults, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for vitamin A from dietary sources and supplements combined is 3,000 RAE daily. It is less in children. Symptoms of toxicity include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Poor coordination
Too much vitamin A can cause severe birth defects. Pregnant women, and those who may become pregnant, should not take too much vitamin A from dietary sources and supplements.
Major Food Sources
Vitamin A content
(mcg of RAE)
|Beef liver, cooked||3 ounces||6,582|
|Milk, fat-free||8 ounces||149|
|Whole egg, boiled||1 large||75|
|Sockeye salmon, cooked||3 ounces||59|
The following foods contain carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A.
Vitamin A content
(mcg of RAE)
|Sweet potato, baked in skin||1 whole||1,403|
|Carrots, raw||½ cup||459|
|Mango, raw||1 whole||112|
|Red bell pepper, raw||½ cup||117|
|Cantaloupe, raw||½ cup||135|
|Apricots, dried, sulfured||10 halves||63|
|Spinach, cooked||½ cup||573|
|Tomato juice, canned||12 ounces||42|
Populations at risk for vitamin A deficiency
The following populations may be at risk for vitamin A deficiency and may require a supplement:
- People with a reduced ability to absorb dietary fat. Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, fat is required for its absorption. Some conditions that can cause fat malabsorption include Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, pancreatic enzyme deficiency, and liver disease.
- Children living in developing countries.
Tips for Increasing Your Vitamin A Intake:
Here are some tips to help increase your intake of vitamin A:
- Pack cut carrots in your lunch for an afternoon snack.
- Slice a peach, mango, or apricot on to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal.
- Substitute a sweet potato for your baked potato.
- Eat fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible. Vitamin A can be lost during preparation and cooking.
- Steam vegetables, and braise, bake, or broil meat instead of frying. This will help retain some of the vitamin content.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
American Society for Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
Health Canada Food and Nutrition
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin A. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/. Updated July 25, 2012. Accessed February 7, 2013.
Fairfield KM, Fletcher RH. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: scientific review. JAMA. 2002;287(23):3116-26.
Vitamin A deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated November 22, 2011. Accessed February 7, 2013.
Vitamin A overdose. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated June 22, 2010. Accessed February 7, 2013.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 02/2013
- Update Date: 02/07/2013