Have you ever experienced weakness, lack of energy, stomach upset, pain in multiple organs, irritation, depression and anxiety? While you may be bewildered by any or all of these symptoms, the fact may be quite simple – you are suffering from vitamin deficiency! Vitamins are indeed very vital for our health and so, Earth’s Wisdom is going to share with you some facts about the first in the lineup of vitamins, vitamin A. Eventually we will take a look at others too in the series.
What is Vitamin A?
While we know vitamin A as a single vitamin, unlike the B-complex which is a group of vitamin B, actually vitamin A IS a group, though of retinoids. It includes retinal, retinol and retinyl esters. All these are fat-soluble.
Why is Vitamin A Essential?
Vitamin A is responsible for proper functioning of our vision, immune system, reproductive system as well as cellular communication.
Vision: As you might have learned since childhood that carrot is essential for good vision because it contains vitamin A. This is because there is a protein named rhodopsin in our retinal receptors that absorbs light and is formed only when we consume vitamin A.
Cell Growth: Vitamin A supports cell growth and thus has a vital role in the formation and normal maintenance and functioning of all organs including heart, kidneys and lungs.
Vitamin A in Our Diet
We can take vitamin A through our diet in two forms:
Preformed vitamin A occurs in animal-based foods, like fish dairy products and meat. Provitamin A carotenoid occurs in different forms, like alpha carotene, beta carotene and beta cryptoxanthin. All these are plant pigments and our body converts them into vitamin A.
Both preformed vitamin A and provitamin A need to be metabolized inside the cells to form retinal and retinoic acid. These are the active forms of the vitamin. They perform important biological functions. Most of the vitamin A in the body is stored in the form of retinyl esters in the liver.
Other carotenoids occurring in foods, like lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin are not metabolized into vitamin A.
From Where can We Get Vitamin A?
Quantities of preformed vitamin A are the largest in fish oils and liver. Other foods that have preformed vitamin A in them are eggs and milk which also include some provitamin A.
Most of the dietary provitamin A can be taken through green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange veggies, fruits, tomato products and some vegetable oils. Carrots, cantaloupe, squash and broccoli are the major sources of provitamin A.
What can Happen Upon Not Getting Adequate Vitamin A?
In a developed country like the US, vitamin deficiency is quite rare, while it is common in several developing countries. This is mostly because residents don’t get much of animal-based foods that contain preformed vitamin A. Even chronic diarrhea results in loss of vitamin A and in turn vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of diarrhea. The commonest symptom of vitamin A deficiency is xerophthalamia which typically shows night blindness as an early symptom. Also vitamin A deficiency can lead to low iron in the body and consequently anemia. Also due to vitamin A deficiency, the severity and risk of mortality from infections increases (especially in measles and diarrhea) even prior to the onset of xerophthlamia.
So, you can imagine how important vitamin A is for our health. If you are avoiding the above-mentioned healthy foods full of vitamin A, include them in your diet!
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