The Incredible Ways Vitamin A Benefits Your Health
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient that so much of your health relies on!
Since it’s so important for your health, let’s discuss what vitamin A does, its different forms, and what food sources to focus on.
How Vitamin A Benefits Your Entire Body
Various systems within your body need vitamin A to function well. Here are the top ways vitamin A benefits your health:
- Good vision: one of the first symptoms of a deficiency is usually night blindness
- Healthy skin: helps speed up skin healing
- Boosts immune system: strengthens resistance to infections
- Assists calcium absorption: the key to healthy bone growth and maintenance
- Improves digestion, cardiovascular and reproductive systems – through complex and indirect ways
Vitamin A Has Two Main Forms
The many forms of Vitamin A are divided into two main categories, retinoids and carotenoids.
Retinoids are the “active” form that your body can use right away. This form is fat soluble and comes from animal food sources.
Retinoids are best known for:
- Nourishing skin
- Protecting vision
- Improving bone health
Carotenoids are plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright orange, red or yellow color.
More importantly, they also act as powerful antioxidants to fight cell damage and disease.
With the help of dietary fat, your body converts carotenoids into retinoids.
Just one more reason why it’s critical to get enough (good) fat in your diet!
Even though there are over 500 different known carotenoids, only about 10% of them can be converted into retinoids. Regardless of conversion ability, carotenoids are crucial for your health.
A few well known carotenoids include:
- Beta carotene – found in carrots of course, but did you know that dark leafy greens like spinach and kale have higher levels than carrots? These greens just don’t appear orange because the green chlorophyll covers up other pigments.
- Lutein – critical for the health of your eyes and blood vessels
- Zeaxanthin – a powerful antioxidant that also protects your vision
Both lutein and zeaxanthin are concentrated in the retina of your eye to help filter harmful blue light and protect you against macular degeneration – an eye disease that causes permanent vision loss. Check out my blog on how to slow down or prevent macular degeneration.
Carotenoid Rich Foods
The fact that vitamin A is fat soluble means that excess amounts can be stored in your body.
The good news is that you’re not going to overdose on carotenoids because you’ll only convert them into retinoids on an ‘as needed’ basis.
Remember, carotenoids act as antioxidants, and you want plenty of these in your body!
These healthy foods are high in carotenoids:
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potato
- Dark leafy greens
Retinoid Rich Foods & Toxicity
You’ll find retinoids in these food sources:
You could potentially get too much retinoid (the active form of vitamin A) and consuming an excess of this form may lead to toxicity. Although this is rare, those with severe and specific health problems are at higher risk for experiencing toxicity.
Fun fact: The liver of polar bears, seals and walruses contain 50,000% of the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for vitamin A. Just how much is that? Well, acute vitamin A toxicity can develop at 25,000 IU – and a single polar bear liver contains 9 million IU!
While you certainly won’t see polar bear on a menu in the western modern world, it is a favorite gourmet meal among Arctic natives. Early explorers discovered vitamin A toxicity the hard way, and today native peoples know to avoid or really limit eating the bear’s liver.
If you’re curious why polar bears contain so much vitamin A, click here to learn more.
The Vitamin A Takeaway…
My best advice here is to fill your plate with colorful vegetables at every meal! Doing this will not only raise your antioxidant levels, but give you a wealth of disease-fighting phytochemicals, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals.
My next tip when it comes to your diet – go wild! By this, I mean choose pasture raised meat and wild caught fish options whenever possible.
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