The Effects of Vitamin A: 4 Incredible Benefits for Your Health

friends on a sunflower field

Every vitamin is important for the body! That is why we are dedicating a section to vitamin A, a fat-soluble nutrient that helps us form and keep many organs and systems healthy.

Traditionally associated with carrots and visual acuity, this vitamin goes far beyond maintaining healthy eyes. This is because it participates in the creation, growth, and even health of our cells. Can you believe this incredible potential? Keep reading our article to learn more about it.

Key Facts

  • Vitamin A is a nutrient necessary to maintain the health of many body organs and systems, such as the skin and immune cells (our defences). 
  • You can obtain vitamin A from a balanced diet and food supplements. However, excessive intake of vitamin A can be toxic.
  • Beta-carotene (provitamin A) is a safer form of this nutrient. However, you could sometimes be prescribed supplements containing preformed vitamin A. Follow your doctor’s recommendations to avoid making mistakes!

The 4 Functions of Vitamin A That You May Not Know

Vitamin A is one of the four vitamins (A, D, E, K) that cannot be excreted in the urine. This means that it remains in the body for much longer after we consume it through food (1).

Vitamin A is stored in the liver until it is needed somewhere in our body, where it can fulfil the following functions (2):

Organs and systemsEffects
EyesImproved visual acuity 
HeartPrevention of heart disease
NeuronsPrevention of neuron degeneration
Immune systemProduction of immune cells
Prevention of autoimmune diseases
Reproductive systemImproved fertility
Support of babies’ health
OthersPrevention of diabetes and certain types of cancer

1. It improves visual acuity

One of the most widely known effects of vitamin A is its ability to preserve visual acuity, and more specifically night vision (3).

It does so because vitamin A is a precursor (like a fundamental ingredient) for the production of rod cells in our retina. These cells are responsible for capturing light, which means that we can suffer from night blindness if we don’t have them (4).

In addition, vitamin A appears to be involved in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration (5). High levels of certain types of vitamin A (carotenoids) such as beta-carotene and alpha-carotene reduce the risk of this disease by up to 25% (6).

blue eyes girl
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for keeping our vision, skin, and immune system healthy. (Source: Mclean: opwghqbpni0/ Unsplash.com)

2. It is a powerful antioxidant

Oxidation is a normal and necessary process for our survival. However, it can produce an excess of free radicals which leads to the premature ageing of our cells and the development of certain diseases.

Carotenoids derived from vitamin A fight these free radicals (7), which may protect you from oxidative stress related to certain chronic diseases such as (8):

  1. Cancer (lung, prostate, ovarian, bladder, and breast) (9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14)
  2. Heart diseases (15, 16, 17)
  3. Degeneration of neurons (Alzheimer’s disease) (18, 19) 
  4. Diabetes (type 2) (20)

The prevention of these diseases has been linked to the consumption of a diet high in vitamin A rather than to the use of supplements.

If you want to learn more about carotenoid-rich foods, check out our article here.

3. It is a valuable ally for your defences

Vitamin A is also referred to as the anti-inflammatory vitamin because of its ability to strengthen the immune system (21)

Researchers suggest that vitamin A is involved in the formation and development of cells that work to protect our bodies from infections and autoimmune diseases (where the body attacks itself) (22, 23).

In contrast, individuals with insufficient levels of vitamin A (due to malnutrition or chronic disease) experience far more complications than people with good nutritional status (24, 25).

fitness couple at gym
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for the functioning of our organs and systems. (Source: Ferli: 119372548/ 123rf.com)

4. It improves fertility and helps your baby grow

Since vitamin A is fundamental for the growth and maintenance of cells, it is also a vital nutrient for the creation of new life.

This is due to the role that vitamin A plays in the health of reproductive cells (ovules and sperm) (26) and its involvement in the development of the baby and the well-being of the mother during pregnancy.

A deficiency could lead to premature delivery and the development of night blindness in mothers (especially during the third trimester of pregnancy, when they have higher nutritional needs) (27). However, an excess of this vitamin (particularly through the use of supplements) could trigger malformations in the baby and toxicity (28, 29).

How Can You Make the Most of the Properties of Vitamin A?

Learning all the benefits of this vitamin may give you the urge to run to the store shelves and buy any supplement that comes your way. But be very careful! Vitamin A can build up in our bodies and cause a lot of harm.

Follow our recommendations below to learn how to get the most out of vitamin A.

happy girl
Vitamin A is a natural antioxidant. (Source: Prinsloo: rcxkmy0kd5o/ Unsplash.com)

It all starts with your diet

Vitamin A comes from animal foods such as beef and lamb liver, cheese, salmon, eggs, and butter.

On the other hand, provitamin A, which is transformed into vitamin A in our body, can be found in vegetables such as the well-known carrot, canary melon, pumpkin, broccoli, peas, and apricot.

Food will rarely cause vitamin A toxicity, so you can enjoy its properties without fearing the side effects of hypervitaminosis (30).

Take supplements with caution

If you have a condition that makes you vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency such as intestinal problems or chronic illness, your doctor may prescribe vitamin A supplements. 

Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions carefully when taking these supplements, especially when it comes to the daily dose and the length of the supplementation period.

An intake of more than 25,000 IU per day for more than 6 years or more than 100,000 IU/day for more than 6 months is considered a toxic intake. However, some individuals may develop symptoms of hypervitaminosis earlier and with lower doses (31).

pregnant girl at the beach
Vitamin A is also a fundamental nutrient for the creation of new life. (Source: Johnson: ilnkpdi0pzg/ Unsplash.com)

Choose the best type of vitamin A for you

There are two types of vitamin A supplements you can choose from depending on your specific needs:

  • Preformed vitamin A: You can find it as retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate. It is available immediately but will accumulate in the liver. 
  • Provitamin A (beta-carotene): it is transformed into vitamin A whenever the body needs it, preventing it from accumulating and generating hypervitaminosis.

The two types of vitamin A may be combined in the same formulation or with other nutrients to help meet several nutritional needs at once.

Avoid supplements if…

As mentioned earlier, vitamin A supplements should be used only by people who, for whatever reason, cannot obtain enough of this nutrient from their diet or when their body needs more nutrients than it can consume.

In addition, some individuals should refrain from taking vitamin A, as it may have serious consequences on their health (32)

  • Individuals on certain medications: anticoagulants, retinoids, weight loss drugs (Orlistat), and drugs metabolised in the liver. 
  • Pregnant women: avoid taking vitamin A supplements unless prescribed by your doctor, as they could harm you and your baby.
  • Children and adolescents: do not give them unless instructed by a paediatrician.
elder man on a clinical date
Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions carefully when taking these supplements, especially regarding the daily dose and length of supplementation. (Source: Stylephotographs: 122707989/ 123rf.com)

Our Conclusions

Vitamin A is essential for the functioning of our organs and systems. Through its role in cell formation and its anti-inflammatory properties, this nutrient appears to be involved in the prevention of major diseases such as cancer. 

A balanced diet has proven to be the best way to get enough vitamin A and many of its benefits. However, some people cannot rely on a balanced diet to meet their nutritional needs; this is when vitamin supplements come into play to save the day. 

Don’t forget to check out our other articles to learn more about nutrition and health! Feel free to leave us a comment with your questions and to share this article.

References (32)

1. Gilbert C. What is vitamin A and why do we need it? Community Eye Health 2013;26:65.
Source

2. Personal de Mayo Clinic. Vitamin A. MayoclinicOrg n.d.
Source

3. The mechanism for vitamin A improvements in night vision. EbmconsultCom n.d.
Source

4. Dowling JE, Wald G. Vitamin a deficiency and night blindness. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1958;44:648–61.
Source

5. Khoo HE, Ng HS, Yap W-S, Goh HJH, Yim HS. Nutrients for prevention of macular degeneration and eye-related diseases. Antioxidants (Basel) 2019;8:85.
Source

6. Wu J, Cho E, Willett WC, Sastry SM, Schaumberg DA. Intakes of lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids and age-related macular degeneration during 2 decades of prospective follow-up. JAMA Ophthalmol 2015;133:1415–24.
Source

7. Fiedor J, Burda K. Potential role of carotenoids as antioxidants in human health and disease. Nutrients 2014;6:466–88
Source

8. Pizzino G, Irrera N, Cucinotta M, Pallio G, Mannino F, Arcoraci V, et al. Oxidative stress: Harms and benefits for human health. Oxid Med Cell Longev 2017;2017:1–13.
Source

9. Maria AG, Graziano R, Nicolantonio D. Carotenoids: potential allies of cardiovascular health? Food Nutr Res 2015b;59:26762.
Source

10. Shareck M, Rousseau M-C, Koushik A, Siemiatycki J, Parent M-E. Inverse association between dietary intake of selected carotenoids and vitamin C and risk of lung cancer. Front Oncol 2017;7:23.
Source

11. Norrish AE, Jackson RT, Sharpe SJ, Skeaff CM. Prostate cancer and dietary carotenoids. Am J Epidemiol 2000;151:119–23.
Source

12. Zhang S, Hunter DJ, Forman MR, Rosner BA, Speizer FE, Colditz GA, et al. Dietary carotenoids and vitamins A, C, and E and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 1999;91:547–56.
Source

13. Wu K, Erdman JW Jr, Schwartz SJ, Platz EA, Leitzmann M, Clinton SK, et al. Plasma and dietary carotenoids, and the risk of prostate cancer: a nested case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004;13:260–9.
Source

14. Doldo E, Costanza G, Agostinelli S, Tarquini C, Ferlosio A, Arcuri G, et al. Vitamin A, cancer treatment and prevention: the new role of cellular retinol binding proteins. Biomed Res Int 2015;2015:624627.
Source

15. Kritchevsky SB. beta-Carotene, carotenoids and the prevention of coronary heart disease. J Nutr 1999;129:5–8.
Source

16. Palace VP, Khaper N, Qin Q, Singal PK. Antioxidant potentials of vitamin A and carotenoids and their relevance to heart disease. Free Radic Biol Med 1999;26:746–61.
Source

17. Morris DL. Serum carotenoids and coronary heart disease: The lipid research clinics coronary primary prevention trial and follow-up study. JAMA 1994;272:1439.
Source

18. Ono K, Yamada M. Vitamin A and Alzheimer’s disease: Vitamin A and Alzheimer’s disease. Geriatr Gerontol Int 2012;12:180–8.
Source

19. Cho KS, Shin M, Kim S, Lee SB. Recent advances in studies on the therapeutic potential of dietary carotenoids in neurodegenerative diseases. Oxid Med Cell Longev 2018;2018:1–13.
Source

20. Sluijs I, Cadier E, Beulens JWJ, van der A DL, Spijkerman AMW, van der Schouw YT. Dietary intake of carotenoids and risk of type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2015;25:376–81.
Source

21. Green HN, Mellanby E. Vitamin a as an anti-infective agent. BMJ 1928;2:691–6.
Source

22. Baeke F, Takiishi T, Korf H, Gysemans C, Mathieu C. Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Curr Opin Pharmacol 2010;10:482–96.
Source

23. Mora JR, Iwata M, von Andrian UH. Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nat Rev Immunol 2008;8:685–98.
Source

24. Sommer A. Vitamin a deficiency and clinical disease: an historical overview. J Nutr 2008;138:1835–9.
Source

25. Chen K, Zhang X, Li T-Y, Chen L, Qu P, Liu Y-X. Co-assessment of iron, vitamin A and growth status to investigate anemia in preschool children in suburb Chongqing, China. World J Pediatr 2009;5:275–81.
Source

26. Clagett-Dame M, Knutson D. Vitamin A in reproduction and development. Nutrients 2011;3:385–428
Source

27. Radhika MS, Bhaskaram P, Balakrishna N, Ramalakshmi BA, Devi S, Kumar BS. Effects of vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy on maternal and child health. BJOG 2002;109:689–93.
Source

28. Bastos Maia S, Rolland Souza AS, Costa Caminha M de F, Lins da Silva S, Callou Cruz R de SBL, Carvalho Dos Santos C, et al. Vitamin A and pregnancy: A narrative review. Nutrients 2019;11:681.
Source

29. Miller RK, Hendrickx AG, Mills JL, Hummler H, Wiegand UW. Periconceptional vitamin A use: how much is teratogenic? Reprod Toxicol 1998;12:75–88.
Source

30. Personal de Medlineplus.Hipervitaminosis A. MedlineplusGov n.d
Source

31. Personal de Nutrifacts. Vitamina A / Retinol Seguridad. Nutri-FactsOrg n.d.
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32. Personal de Mayoclinic. Vitamin A. MayoclinicOrg 2020.
Source

Scientific Article
Gilbert C. What is vitamin A and why do we need it? Community Eye Health 2013;26:65.
Go to source
Official website
Personal de Mayo Clinic. Vitamin A. MayoclinicOrg n.d.
Go to source
Official website
The mechanism for vitamin A improvements in night vision. EbmconsultCom n.d.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Dowling JE, Wald G. Vitamin a deficiency and night blindness. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1958;44:648–61.
Go to source
Artículo científico
Khoo HE, Ng HS, Yap W-S, Goh HJH, Yim HS. Nutrients for prevention of macular degeneration and eye-related diseases. Antioxidants (Basel) 2019;8:85.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trials
Wu J, Cho E, Willett WC, Sastry SM, Schaumberg DA. Intakes of lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids and age-related macular degeneration during 2 decades of prospective follow-up. JAMA Ophthalmol 2015;133:1415–24.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Fiedor J, Burda K. Potential role of carotenoids as antioxidants in human health and disease. Nutrients 2014;6:466–88
Go to source
Scientific Article
Pizzino G, Irrera N, Cucinotta M, Pallio G, Mannino F, Arcoraci V, et al. Oxidative stress: Harms and benefits for human health. Oxid Med Cell Longev 2017;2017:1–13.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Maria AG, Graziano R, Nicolantonio D. Carotenoids: potential allies of cardiovascular health? Food Nutr Res 2015b;59:26762.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Shareck M, Rousseau M-C, Koushik A, Siemiatycki J, Parent M-E. Inverse association between dietary intake of selected carotenoids and vitamin C and risk of lung cancer. Front Oncol 2017;7:23.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trials
Norrish AE, Jackson RT, Sharpe SJ, Skeaff CM. Prostate cancer and dietary carotenoids. Am J Epidemiol 2000;151:119–23.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trials
Zhang S, Hunter DJ, Forman MR, Rosner BA, Speizer FE, Colditz GA, et al. Dietary carotenoids and vitamins A, C, and E and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 1999;91:547–56.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trials
Wu K, Erdman JW Jr, Schwartz SJ, Platz EA, Leitzmann M, Clinton SK, et al. Plasma and dietary carotenoids, and the risk of prostate cancer: a nested case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004;13:260–9.
Go to source
Academic Article
Doldo E, Costanza G, Agostinelli S, Tarquini C, Ferlosio A, Arcuri G, et al. Vitamin A, cancer treatment and prevention: the new role of cellular retinol binding proteins. Biomed Res Int 2015;2015:624627.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Kritchevsky SB. beta-Carotene, carotenoids and the prevention of coronary heart disease. J Nutr 1999;129:5–8.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Palace VP, Khaper N, Qin Q, Singal PK. Antioxidant potentials of vitamin A and carotenoids and their relevance to heart disease. Free Radic Biol Med 1999;26:746–61.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trials
Morris DL. Serum carotenoids and coronary heart disease: The lipid research clinics coronary primary prevention trial and follow-up study. JAMA 1994;272:1439.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Ono K, Yamada M. Vitamin A and Alzheimer’s disease: Vitamin A and Alzheimer’s disease. Geriatr Gerontol Int 2012;12:180–8.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Cho KS, Shin M, Kim S, Lee SB. Recent advances in studies on the therapeutic potential of dietary carotenoids in neurodegenerative diseases. Oxid Med Cell Longev 2018;2018:1–13.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Sluijs I, Cadier E, Beulens JWJ, van der A DL, Spijkerman AMW, van der Schouw YT. Dietary intake of carotenoids and risk of type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2015;25:376–81.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Green HN, Mellanby E. Vitamin a as an anti-infective agent. BMJ 1928;2:691–6.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Baeke F, Takiishi T, Korf H, Gysemans C, Mathieu C. Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Curr Opin Pharmacol 2010;10:482–96.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Mora JR, Iwata M, von Andrian UH. Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nat Rev Immunol 2008;8:685–98.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Sommer A. Vitamin a deficiency and clinical disease: an historical overview. J Nutr 2008;138:1835–9.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trials
Chen K, Zhang X, Li T-Y, Chen L, Qu P, Liu Y-X. Co-assessment of iron, vitamin A and growth status to investigate anemia in preschool children in suburb Chongqing, China. World J Pediatr 2009;5:275–81.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Clagett-Dame M, Knutson D. Vitamin A in reproduction and development. Nutrients 2011;3:385–428
Go to source
Human Clinical Trials
Radhika MS, Bhaskaram P, Balakrishna N, Ramalakshmi BA, Devi S, Kumar BS. Effects of vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy on maternal and child health. BJOG 2002;109:689–93.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Bastos Maia S, Rolland Souza AS, Costa Caminha M de F, Lins da Silva S, Callou Cruz R de SBL, Carvalho Dos Santos C, et al. Vitamin A and pregnancy: A narrative review. Nutrients 2019;11:681.
Go to source
Scientific Article
Miller RK, Hendrickx AG, Mills JL, Hummler H, Wiegand UW. Periconceptional vitamin A use: how much is teratogenic? Reprod Toxicol 1998;12:75–88.
Go to source
Official website
Personal de Medlineplus.Hipervitaminosis A. MedlineplusGov n.d
Go to source
Official website
Personal de Nutrifacts. Vitamina A / Retinol Seguridad. Nutri-FactsOrg n.d.
Go to source
Official website
Personal de Mayoclinic. Vitamin A. MayoclinicOrg 2020.
Go to source
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