What is vitamin A and what does it do?

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Vitamin A is an important fat-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in human growth, immune function, vision, skin, and cell differentiation. Here is detailed information about vitamin A:

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Vitamin A is a group of naturally occurring compounds, including retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid. Retinol is the most common form, which can be derived from precursor substances beta-carotene found in animal foods. Vitamin A is primarily found in animal-based foods (such as liver, dairy products, and egg yolks) and can also be obtained from plant-based foods containing beta-carotene (such as carrots, pumpkins, and spinach).


The main functions of vitamin A include:


1. Vision protection: Vitamin A is a component of the visual pigment in the retina, crucial for maintaining normal vision and adapting to light changes. It helps protect the eyes from visual problems such as night blindness and dry eyes.


2. Cell differentiation: Vitamin A plays an important role in cell differentiation and growth. It promotes the normal development and differentiation of epithelial cells, helping maintain the health of the skin, respiratory tract, and digestive system.


3. Immune support: Vitamin A plays a critical role in the normal functioning of the immune system. It helps enhance the body's resistance to infections, promotes the activity of immune cells, and the production of antibodies.


4. Growth and development: Vitamin A is crucial for the growth and development of children. It is involved in bone growth, teeth formation, and tissue repair, helping maintain normal body development.


5. Antioxidant action: Vitamin A has antioxidant properties that can help combat free radical damage, protecting cells from oxidative stress.


The daily intake of vitamin A varies by age, gender, and physiological status. The following are the recommended dietary allowances provided by the National Institutes of Health:

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- Birth to 6 months: 400 micrograms RAE

- Infants 7–12 months: 500 micrograms RAE

- Children 1-3 years: 300 micrograms RAE

- Children 4-8 years: 400 micrograms RAE

- Children 9-13 years: 600 micrograms RAE

- Adolescent males 14-18 years: 900 micrograms RAE

- Adolescent females 14-18 years: 700 micrograms RAE

- Adults males: 900 micrograms RAE

- Adult females: 700 micrograms RAE

- Pregnant adolescents: 750 micrograms RAE

- Pregnant adults: 770 micrograms RAE

- Breastfeeding adolescents: 1,200 micrograms RAE

- Breastfeeding adults: 1,300 micrograms RAE


Smokers need additional vitamin A, as smoking can reduce the body's concentration of vitamin A. For smokers, an additional intake of about 35% of vitamin A is recommended daily.


Vitamin A is found in many foods. Here are some common foods rich in vitamin A:


1. Liver: Animal liver is one of the best sources of vitamin A. Chicken liver, beef liver, and cod liver oil are all rich in vitamin A.


2. Dairy products: Milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt are also good sources of vitamin A.


3. Eggs: Egg yolks are rich in vitamin A.


4. Animal-based foods: Other animal-based foods such as fish, pork, and poultry also contain a certain amount of vitamin A.


5. Orange-colored vegetables and fruits: Carrots, pumpkins, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes, among other orange-colored vegetables and fruits, are rich in beta-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A.


6. Dark green vegetables: Spinach, kale, collard greens, and turnip greens, among other dark green vegetables, also contain a certain amount of vitamin A.


Vitamin A can also be obtained through dietary supplements. Dietary supplements can be used as a way to supplement vitamin A, but should be used according to the advice of a doctor or nutritionist.


Vitamin A deficiency may lead to a range of health problems, including:


1. Night blindness: This is one of the most common symptoms of vitamin A deficiency, characterized by reduced vision in low light conditions, especially at night.


2. Dry eyes: Vitamin A deficiency can lead to dryness, stinging, and inflammation of the eyes.


3. Impaired immune function: Vitamin A is essential for normal immune function, and its deficiency may lead to weakened immunity and susceptibility to infections.


4. Growth retardation: Vitamin A deficiency in children may result in growth retardation and developmental issues.


Excessive intake of vitamin A can also lead to toxic symptoms, especially when consuming large amounts of vitamin A supplements. Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, dry skin, bone pain, and liver damage. Therefore, caution should be exercised when consuming vitamin A to avoid excessive intake.


Overall

Vitamin A plays a crucial role in maintaining normal vision, cell differentiation, immune function, and body development. By maintaining a balanced diet and using dietary supplements sensibly, the body's requirements for vitamin A can be met.