Vitamin A is often only known for its ability to “help you see I the dark”. Sure, it does that – but there’s so much more to this humble vitamin!
Vitamin A is part of a family of substances called retinoids. These are also known as preformed vitamin A because the body is able to absorb them readily, body readily uses. Retinol is the most usable of these forms.
Preformed vitamin A is found only in animal sources such as liver and eggs. Plant food sources contain provitamin A carotenoid, which the body converts to retinol.There are over 600 different carotenoids, but only 3 — beta-carotene (?-carotene), beta-cryptoxanthin (?-cryptoxanthin), and alpha-carotene (?-carotene) — can be converted to vitamin A.
Beta-carotene is a carotenoid pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their red, orange or yellow color. Eating foods rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately 50% of the vitamin A needed in the standard American diet.
Research has found that beta-carotene not only keeps our eyes and skin healthy, but it can help to prevent a range of diseases: certain cancers, heart disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
It’s also a powerful weapon against the bacterial infection that may cause ulcers (Helicobacter pylori infection). This is the bacteria that leads to peptic ulcers, acid reflux, and general gastrointestinal ills.
It’s been found that beta-carotene speeds up the healing of an inflamed and irritated gut, especially in the reparation of ulcers in the stomach and duodenum. Researchers have suggested that treatment with beta-carotene can be used as complex therapy for those with chronic kidney disease and gastroenteropathy.
Carotenoids such as beta-carotene also harbour excellent antioxidant properties. These help to free radicals that damage tissues in the body, particularly those damaged by alcohol, junk food, stress, and medications.
Vitamin A prevents ulcers
Vitamin A itself is shown to regenerate the epithelial cells lining the digestive tract. The preformed version of Vitamin A (retinol) is actually vital for the growth and development of healthy cells in the stomach. It’s even better when combined with glutamine, an important amino acid that helps to ‘glue’ the intestinal cells back together.
A study involving rats found that doses of vitamin A were able to significantly prevent both the number and severity of ulcers. Researchers have suggested that both vitamin A and beta-carotene are gastric cytoprotective agents – that is, able to protect the delicate lining of the gut. This is thanks to their ability to scavenge the factors that cause ulcers.
In fact, the maintenance role of vitamin A is vital for the entire body. Not only is the integrity of the digestive tract lining essential for protecting against ulcers, but the lining of the reproductive organs also plays an important role in fertility. Other parts of the body covered by epithelial cells include the skin, lungs, baby teeth, the inner ear, the cornea of the eye, sex organs, glands, and their ducts, the gums, nose, and the cervix – to name a few!
Evidence of vitamin A’s healing properties has led to many major authorities (including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer) recommending beta-carotene as part of the daily diet.
While some researchers suggest that taking high doses of vitamin A for a month can help to speed up the healing of ulcers, don’t go throwing handfuls of pills down your throat just yet!
Toxicity of Vitamin A
Health practitioners emphasize that vitamin A intake is best obtained from FOOD, rather than supplements. This is because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it’s retained in the body (in our fat cells, to be precise!) for long periods of time. Taking large amounts of supplements can lead to too much vitamin A being stored in the body, which in turn can lead to toxicity or hypervitaminosis.
Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity can include changes to your vision, skin, pain in the bones. If toxicity continues, it can progress to liver damage and or even pressure on the brain. High doses of vitamin A are especially not recommended during pregnancy.
Fortunately, it’s easy to top up your vitamin A levels with food. Just five servings of fruits and vegetables a day can provide up around 6-8 mg of beta-carotene. Most dietary provitamin A comes from leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits, and some vegetable oils.
For a concentrated source of preformed vitamin A, liver and fish oils are your best options. But if you don’t like liver, eggs and milk are also good sources.
Of course, a multivitamin containing vitamin A is still safe! Most products contain only limited amounts of fat-soluble vitamins. Just be sure to take only the recommended dose.
And keep your stomach A-ok!