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Vitamin A (Beta Carotene)

Vitamin A: Overview

Vitamin A is also known as retinol or retinyl palmitate. Beta-carotene is sometimes confused with vitamin A but is in fact a precursor than can be converted to Vitamin A by the body as needed. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble essential vitamin that functions as powerful antioxidant and enzyme co-factor. The active form of Vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, is found in animal products only such as beef, eggs, fish liver oil and dairy products. Beta-carotene is found only in plants, particularly dark leafy green vegetables, bright orange/yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe.

Vitamin A is essential for eye health and vision maintenance, as well as for skin, mucous membranes, immune system health, growth, bone health, reproduction, and wound healing. As much as a year's supply can be stored in the liver, but levels are more rapidly depleted in times of illness or trauma.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency symptoms include vision problems, most noticeably loss of night vision. Those most susceptible to deficiency are individuals suffering from an intestinal parasite, Crohn's disease or HIV disease.

Vitamin A's Health Benefits

In addition to being necessary for good health, Vitamin A has been shown to have other benefits.

Vitamin A helps support the immune system and provides antioxidant protection to the body, helping it to recover when administered after serious wounds or burns. The nutrient has been shown to help fight certain cancers and bone marrow disorders. Low levels of Vitamin A are associated with an increased risk for infection and illness, Alzheimer's disease, miscarriage and food poisoning.

Vitamin A is important in the prevention of eye disorders such as cataracts, and can also benefit some types of skin disorders when applied topically.

Using Vitamin A Safely

Use as directed. Vitamin A is not dangerous but supplements should not be used carelessly or indiscriminately as there is a possibility of taking too much. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should not use a Vitamin A supplement or any other drug without first obtaining the advice of an ob/gyn. Excess Vitamin A taken during pregnancy can harm the fetus, and synthetic Vitamin A may cause birth defects. Doses of Vitamin A over 25,000 IU should only be used under a doctor's supervision. Consult your physician before using Vitamin A if you are currently taking any medications, as Vitamin A may interact with other medications.