Understanding Vitamin A: Benefits, Sources, Deficiency & More

Written by Dr Sylvia Kama-Kieghe on Tue, 04 June 2024

Key Highlights

  • Vitamin A plays a vital role in supporting our immune system, vision, and cell growth.
  • Foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach are rich in this essential nutrient.
  • Experiencing dry skin or night blindness could be signs of a deficiency.
  • While crucial to our health, excessive intake of Vitamin A can be harmful.
  • Whether or not to supplement with Vitamin A depends on individual nutritional needs and should be discussed with a healthcare professional.
  • Retinoids and carotenoids, derivatives of Vitamin A, contribute to healthy skin and eyesight. 

Boom! Did you just blink at the bright light outside? Or squint at the tiny text on your cereal box? If you can do all this without much trouble, go ahead and give a mental high-five to Vitamin A. It’s silently championing your vision and much more behind the scenes.

How often do we realize that our ability to enjoy the vivid colors of a sunset or the detailed patterns of a butterfly wing depends on this humble nutrient? Probably not as much as we should!

Vitamin A, a nutrient we hear about now and then, often remains an unsung hero in our wellness journey. Yet, it plays a critical role in many bodily functions. From bolstering our immune system to maintaining healthy skin, Vitamin A is one multitasker we all need.

Curious to know more about this versatile vitamin and why it’s crucial for your health? Stay with us as we shine a spotlight on Vitamin A and its numerous benefits. Hang on tight; this is going to be an enlightening ride!

What is Vitamin A? An introduction

What is Vitamin A? An introduction

Let’s start by understanding what Vitamin A really is. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that our body needs for multiple functions. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it gets stored in the body and used when necessary.

Though primarily known for its role in vision health, Vitamin A plays a vital part in immune function, reproduction, and cellular communication. Our bodies can’t create Vitamin A on their own, so we need to source it from the foods we eat or supplements we take.

There are two forms of dietary Vitamin A. Preformed Vitamin A is found in animal products like dairy, fish, and meat (especially liver). At the same time, Provitamin A, known as carotenoids, comes from plant-based sources like fruits and vegetables.

What are the benefits of Vitamin A?

The consumption of Vitamin A has numerous health benefits. These include: 

  • Improved Vision: Vitamin A helps protect the cornea, which is vital for good vision.
  • Healthy Immune System: It aids in the functioning of the immune system by producing white blood cells that fight infections.
  • Skin Health: Vitamin A promotes healthy skin by encouraging cell production and growth.
  • Bone Health: It plays a crucial role in bone remodeling, a process in which old bone tissue is replaced with new tissue.
  • Reproductive Health: Both men and women need Vitamin A for reproduction and growth during pregnancy.

What foods are high in Vitamin A?

Plant-based foods rich in Vitamin A (primarily through beta-carotene) include: 

Sweet Potatoes

  • These root vegetables are not only delicious but also packed with beta-carotene. Their orange hue is a telltale sign of their high Vitamin A content.  
  • Whether roasted, mashed, or baked, sweet potatoes are a versatile and nutritious addition to any meal.


  • Known for their crunchy texture and sweet flavor, carrots are another excellent source of beta-carotene.
  • For a boost of Vitamin A, snack on them raw, add them to salads, or incorporate them into soups and stews.


  • Popey’s favorite superfood is not only rich in iron but also in beta-carotene.  
  • Whether eaten raw in salads or cooked in a variety of dishes, spinach offers a nutrient-packed punch.


  • This leafy green vegetable has soared in popularity due to its impressive nutritional profile, including high levels of Vitamin A.  
  • Enjoy kale in salads, smoothies, stir-fries, or baked into crispy chips for a healthy snack.


  • These sweet and juicy fruits are not only delicious but also a great source of beta-carotene.
  • Enjoy them fresh during the summer months or dried as a convenient snack year-round.


  • Bursting with tropical flavor, mangoes are rich in beta-carotene, making them a delightful way to boost your Vitamin A intake.  
  • Enjoy them fresh, blended into smoothies, or added to salsas for a sweet and savory twist.

Red Peppers

  • Vibrant and crunchy, red peppers are not only a colorful addition to meals but also a fantastic source of beta-carotene.  
  • Whether enjoyed raw with hummus, roasted in salads, or sautéed in stir-fries, red peppers can enhance both the flavor and nutritional value of your dishes.

What are the symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency?

Vitamin A deficiency can lead to several health issues. Some common symptoms include:

  • Night Blindness: One of the earliest signs is difficulty seeing in low light or darkness.
  • Dry Skin: Lack of vitamin A can lead to xerosis (dry skin).
  • Frequent Infections: Vitamin A deficiency can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.
  • Poor Wound Healing: Slow wound healing may indicate a vitamin A deficiency.

Can you get too much Vitamin A?

While we need Vitamin A for good health, excessive intake can lead to toxicity, also known as Hypervitaminosis A. Symptoms might include dizziness, nausea, headaches, and even hair loss.  

Keep in mind that toxicity usually results from overconsumption of supplements rather than food sources.

Is Vitamin A supplementation necessary?

Is Vitamin A supplementation necessary?

Vitamin A supplementation may be necessary for certain situations, but for most people, obtaining Vitamin A from a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables is sufficient to meet daily requirements.

However, there are specific instances where supplementation might be recommended:

Nutrient Deficiency

Individuals who have a diagnosed Vitamin A deficiency may require supplementation under the guidance of a healthcare professional. In regions where malnutrition is prevalent, Vitamin A supplementation programs are sometimes implemented to address deficiencies, especially in children and pregnant women.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions can interfere with the absorption or utilization of Vitamin A, such as gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn's disease or celiac disease. In such cases, supplementation may be necessary to ensure adequate levels of Vitamin A in the body.

Pregnancy and Lactation

Pregnant and lactating women have increased nutritional needs, including Vitamin A, to support fetal development and breastfeeding. Prenatal vitamins often contain Vitamin A, but supplementation should be discussed with a healthcare provider to ensure appropriate dosing. 

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Some studies suggest that certain forms of Vitamin A, such as the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, may help reduce the risk of AMD, a common cause of vision loss in older adults. In such cases, supplementation with specific forms of Vitamin A may be recommended, but again, guidance from a healthcare professional is crucial.

Restricted Diets

Individuals following restrictive diets, such as vegan or vegetarian diets that may be low in preformed Vitamin A (retinol), may benefit from supplementation or careful attention to including Vitamin A-rich plant foods in their diet to ensure they meet their nutritional needs.

How does Vitamin A affect skin health?

Vitamin A is often hailed as the ‘skin vitamin’. It promotes the production and growth of new skin cells while helping to shed old ones. This renewal process is crucial for maintaining the health and glow of your skin.

Vitamin A also stimulates collagen production, which aids in preventing wrinkles and maintaining skin elasticity.

What are retinoids and carotenoids?


Retinoids are a class of compounds that include both preformed Vitamin A (such as retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid) and synthetic derivatives of Vitamin A.

Preformed Vitamin A is found in animal-derived foods such as liver, eggs, and dairy products. Once ingested, it is converted into active forms of Vitamin A in the body, primarily retinal and retinoic acid, which play essential roles in various physiological processes.

  • Retinol: Retinol is one of the active forms of Vitamin A, essential for vision, immune function, and skin health. It is commonly found in animal-derived foods and is also used in skincare products for its anti-aging properties.
  • Retinal: Retinal is another active form of Vitamin A that plays a crucial role in the visual cycle. It converts light into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain for visual perception.
  • Retinoic Acid: Retinoic acid is a metabolite of retinol that regulates gene expression and is involved in cell growth, differentiation, and immune function. It is also used in dermatology for the treatment of acne and other skin conditions.


Carotenoids are a group of pigments found in plants, algae, and some bacteria. While not technically Vitamin A, certain carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene, can be converted into Vitamin A in the body.

  • Beta-carotene: Beta-carotene is perhaps the most well-known carotenoid precursor to Vitamin A. It is abundant in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and mangoes. In the body, beta-carotene can be converted into retinol, serving as a source of Vitamin A.
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: These carotenoids are primarily found in green leafy vegetables and are known for their role in eye health, particularly in protecting against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. While they are not direct precursors to Vitamin A, they have antioxidant properties and contribute to overall health.

Both retinoids and carotenoids play crucial roles in human health, with retinoids primarily sourced from animal-derived foods and carotenoids primarily sourced from plant-based foods.

How does Vitamin A impact eye health?

Vitamin A plays a crucial role in maintaining eye health. It forms part of the protein rhodopsin, which helps the retina absorb light.

A deficiency in Vitamin A can lead to conditions like night blindness or, in severe cases, total loss of vision.


Vitamin A is vital for our overall well-being, from supporting immune function to promoting healthy skin and eyes. While it’s necessary to ensure we get enough of this nutrient, it's equally important not to consume too much, as it can lead to toxicity.

A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides sufficient Vitamin A in most cases. However, some individuals may need supplements. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your dietary habits or starting a new supplement regimen.      

The world of nutraceuticals is vast, but with the right knowledge and understanding, we can make informed decisions that benefit our health. 


Dr Sylvia Kama-Kieghe

Dr Sylvia Kama-Kieghe is a UK-based General Practitioner with a special interest in Women's Health and founder of Askawayhealth. She's also a tutor and medical student examiner. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners (FRCGP), Fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health (FRSPH), Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine (FRSM), and holds a Diploma of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (DFSRH).

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