Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is an important nutrient that helps maintain good vision, keeps your skin healthy and contributes to the normal function of your immune system. It can be found in many everyday foods, like vegetables and organ meats. While a lack of vitamin A is linked to poor vision, deficiency is rare in developed countries, experts say.
The following text is based on information from the British National Health System (NHS), NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements and other trusted sources. It does not, however, constitute any form of nutrition advice, as it is meant for general purposes only. Do not rely on it as a substitute for actual guidance or diagnosis. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you think you may not be getting enough vitamin A or want to address any dietary concerns. Do not take supplements without consulting with a qualified health professional first.
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin important for vision, the immune system and reproductive function, among other aspects that are still being researched. You can find this nutrient in many everyday foods, like green leafy vegetables and other types of vegetables like broccoli or carrots. Fruits — apricots, mangos —, salmon, organ meats and dairy products are also good sources of vitamin A. Additionally, some foods are artificially fortified with vitamin A, like some breakfast cereals.
How much vitamin A you need, according to experts
Recommended daily intakes of vitamin A are usually measured in micrograms of retinol activity equivalents (RAE). The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends an average daily recommended amount of 900 mcg RAE for adult men and 700mcg RAE for adult women. The NHS, however, says adults aged 19 to 64 should get 700 micrograms a day in the case of men and 600 micrograms in the case of women. Pregnant and breastfeeding women may need higher intakes, according to the ODS, but women who are expecting should be cautious and check with their doctor to avoid an excess of this nutrient, which can damage unborn babies, experts say.
Vitamin A is important for vision. In fact, the main symptom of vitamin A deficiency in young children and pregnant women is a condition called xerophtalmia, a phenomenon that leaves people unable to see in low light and can lead to blindness.
However, both the ODS and the NHS say most people should be able to get all the vitamin A they need from a wide range of food sources. In fact, vitamin A deficiency is rare in developed countries, although some groups are more likely to suffer it, like premature infants, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women who are in developing countries, and people suffering from cystic fibrosis, the ODS explains.
It is worth noting that too much of some forms of vitamin A is harmful, experts say, and can lead to some serious health conditions, from dizziness and headaches to coma and even death, according to the ODS. Pregnant women and older people should are especially vulnerable to an excess of this vitamin. Additionally, supplements are known to interact with some medications, so you should not turn to supplements unless your doctor tells you to. For more information, check the ODS factsheet on the upper limits of vitamin A.