Vitamin A Functions and Deficiencies

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 04/16/2024

While everyone knows vitamin A is important to maintain your health, not many are aware of the full range of benefits it can provide the body.

Learn about vitamin A's role in the body, the benefits it can provide, and how you can incorporate more into your diet.

Understanding Vitamin A: An Essential Nutrient

Vitamin A, a fat-soluble nutrient necessary for our well-being, can permeate cell walls, which makes it indispensable in many bodily processes. Unlike other nutrients outside the cells, vitamin A has the unique ability to penetrate cell walls. This trait makes it essential in many bodily functions.

Its primary role lies within vision and skin health. It contributes to creating the pigments in the retina of your eye; hence, deficiency can lead to night blindness or even complete loss of sight.

Furthermore, this vitamin helps maintain healthy and vibrant skin by ensuring proper growth and repair of skin tissues.

Beyond its vital roles for eyesight and skincare, vitamin A also supports reproduction processes and plays a crucial role in immune function by aiding regulatory T-cells' production.

Our bodies don't naturally produce this super-vitamin, so we need it from dietary sources like animal products rich in active forms (retinol) or vegetables containing pre-vitamin A.

The Role of Vitamin A in Skin and Vision Health

Vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining both skin health and vision. Without it, you can suffer from many symptoms.

Deficiency Symptoms

A deficiency can cause skin issues like flaking, white dots, and acne. Think of it as your body waving a red flag to alert you about low vitamin A levels.

Your eyes also need this nutrient. The first symptom of deficiency is often night blindness - imagine being an owl who can't see at night.

Vitamin A deficiencies can lead to more severe vision problems, such as corneal ulcers or total loss of sight.

Remember: You're not just eating carrots for their crunch; they could help keep your skin clear and your eyes sharp.

The Immune System and Vitamin A

Be aware that vitamin A is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system. It's like the bodyguard of your body, keeping infections at bay. But our immunity can take a hit if we don't get enough.

Vitamin A's Role in Preventing Infections

Vitamin A helps to strengthen the defense line of our bodies against invaders such as bacteria and viruses. According to research, it aids in preventing various types of infections, including sinus, ear, and lung.

Moreover, low levels might leave us vulnerable to these intruders, causing frequent illnesses. As per another study, people with lower vitamin A levels were more susceptible to respiratory infections.

Sources of Vitamin A

When it comes to vitamin A, there are two main types: active forms (retinol) and pre-vitamin A. Both have their unique sources, which we'll explore.

Animal Sources of Active Vitamin A

The top-notch sources for the active form of vitamin A come from animals. Cod liver oil takes the crown here, boasting a significant amount.

But don't forget about other rich animal-based foods, such as eggs - especially the yolks. And cheese will not only give you retinol but also make your meals tasty.

Vegetable Sources of Pre-Vitamin A

Veggies offer us a plethora of beta-carotene, which our bodies can turn into retinol. Take kale and spinach, for example – these leafy greens pack quite a punch in this department.

Carrots, too, are an excellent source, while cruciferous vegetables could easily be called a 'super-source.' The vibrant orange color is nature's way of telling you about its high content.

Our physiques are remarkable at utilizing what we consume. Take vitamin A, for example. We get two types from our diet: pre-vitamin A (like beta-carotene) and active vitamin A.

The interesting part? Our bodies can turn pre-vitamin A into the active form. This is done mainly in our liver, where enzymes chomp down on a beta-carotene molecule to produce two retinol molecules - the active form of vitamin A.

But here's a twist: not everyone's conversion process works at full throttle. For some folks, genetic factors may slow it down. Others might struggle due to health conditions like hypothyroidism or diabetes that hamper this conversion.

This variation underscores why eating a proper diet rich in both forms of vitamin A is crucial.

Causes of Vitamin A Deficiency

A vitamin A deficiency does not just occur randomly; it can be linked to specific situations or habits. It's often related to certain conditions or lifestyle choices.

Digestive Issues and Vitamin A Deficiency

Suppose you've got a leaky gut, are using antibiotics frequently, or have other digestive issues. In that case, these can all affect your body's ability to convert pre-vitamin A into active vitamin A.

Role of Bile in Vitamin A Absorption

Bile plays a significant role, too. Produced by your gallbladder, bile helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A from food.

Studies show insufficient bile during digestion due to gallbladder disease, for example, could lead to insufficient uptake and contribute towards a deficiency.

Three different faces of a woman

Role of Vitamin A on Mental Health

Vitamin A, primarily recognized for its importance in vision and immune function, also plays a role in promoting mental health, particularly in the context of managing stress and anxiety.

While it might not be as well-known as other vitamins for stress and anxiety, vitamin A's impact should not be underestimated.

Vitamin A synthesizes essential neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, closely associated with mood regulation and stress management. A deficiency in vitamin A can disrupt these processes, potentially leading to increased stress and anxiety levels.

Therefore, maintaining an adequate intake of vitamin A through a proper diet that includes foods like carrots and spinach is crucial for overall mental well-being.

Incorporating a variety of vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin A, into your diet can provide comprehensive support for mental health, helping you better cope with stress and anxiety.


While vitamin A is commonly recognized for its importance in maintaining overall health, its comprehensive range of benefits often goes unnoticed.

From supporting vision and skin health to bolstering the immune system and promoting mental well-being, this essential nutrient plays a crucial role in various bodily functions.

Moreover, understanding the sources of vitamin A and the causes of deficiency underscores the importance of incorporating a diverse range of foods into our diet to ensure adequate intake.

By prioritizing foods rich in both pre-vitamin A and active vitamin A forms, such as leafy greens, carrots, and animal products, we can harness the full potential of this vital nutrient and support our health effectively.

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