Vitamin A, also called retinol, is a fat-soluble vitamin. Our bodies store fat-soluble vitamins in the liver and fatty tissues. The active form of vitamin A is found in animal tissue. Red, orange, and dark green vegetables and fruits contain precursor forms of vitamin A called carotenoids. Our bodies can convert some of these carotenoids into vitamin A.
Here are some of vitamin A's functions:
Plays an essential role in visionPlays an important role in cell differentiation and cell divisionHelps in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin and hairHelps with proper bone growth and tooth developmentHelps the body regulate the immune systemPlays an essential role in the reproduction process for both men and women
The recommended daily dietary allowance for vitamin A is measured in micrograms (mcg) of Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE).
|Age Group (in years)||Recommended Dietary Allowance|
|1 – 3||300 mcg of RAE||300 mcg of RAE|
|4 – 8||400 mcg of RAE||400 mcg of RAE|
|9 – 13||600 mcg of RAE||600 mcg of RAE|
|14 – 18||700 mcg of RAE||900 mcg of RAE|
|14 – 18 Pregnancy||750 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|14 – 18 Lactation||1,200 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|19+||700 mcg of RAE||900 mcg of RAE|
|19+ Pregnancy||770 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|19+ Lactation||1,300 mcg of RAE||n/a|
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the US, but it is common in developing countries. Here are some of the symptoms: Night blindnessDecreased resistance to infectionsDecreased growth rateProblems with the cornea of the eye, including ulceration and scarringDiarrhea
As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A is stored in the body and not excreted in the urine like most water-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is possible for vitamin A to accumulate in the body and reach toxic levels. For adults, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for vitamin A from dietary sources and supplements combined is 3,000 RAE daily. It is less in children. Symptoms of toxicity include the following:
NauseaVomitingHeadacheBlurred visionLightheadednessPoor coordination
Too much vitamin A can cause severe birth defects. Pregnant women, and those who may become pregnant, should not take too much vitamin A from dietary sources and supplements.
Vitamin A content
(mcg of RAE)
|Beef liver, cooked||3 ounces||6,582|
|Milk, fat-free||8 ounces||149|
|Whole egg, boiled||1 large||75|
|Sockeye salmon, cooked||3 ounces||59|
The following foods contain carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A.
Vitamin A content
(mcg of RAE)
|Sweet potato, baked in skin ||1 whole||1,403|
|Carrots, raw||½ cup||459|
|Mango, raw||1 whole||112|
|Red bell pepper, raw||½ cup||117|
|Cantaloupe, raw||½ cup||135|
|Apricots, dried, sulfured||10 halves||63|
|Spinach, cooked||½ cup||573|
|Tomato juice, canned||12 ounces||42|
Populations at risk for vitamin A deficiency
The following populations may be at risk for vitamin A deficiency and may require a supplement:
People with a reduced ability to absorb dietary fat. Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, fat is required for its absorption. Some conditions that can cause fat malabsorption include
celiac disease, pancreatic enzyme deficiency, and liver disease.
Children living in developing countries.
Here are some tips to help increase your intake of vitamin A:
Pack cut carrots in your lunch for an afternoon snack.Slice a peach, mango, or apricot on to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal.Substitute a sweet potato for your baked potato.Eat fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible. Vitamin A can be lost during preparation and cooking.Steam vegetables, and braise, bake, or broil meat instead of frying. This will help retain some of the vitamin content.
Vitamin A. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-A. Updated February 2015. Accessed February 24, 2016.
Fairfield KM, Fletcher RH. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: Scientific review.
Vitamin A. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at:
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional. Updated August 31, 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Vitamin A Toxicology. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T526141/Vitamin-A#Toxicology. Updated February 6, 2017. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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