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How to Choose Vitamin A Supplements?

Updated on January 3, 2014

When we realize we are lack of vitamin A, we usually just go out buy whatever we can find at lowest possible prices, or some may go for a particular brand they believe with so called good reputation (mostly influenced by their ads, honestly). But do most of us really know what we are buying into?

Vitamin A has three functions, most notably the protection of eyesight. Vitamin A is one of the major components of rhodopsin (mostly formed by protein) in the eye retina. Rhodopsin absorbs lights and stimulates biochemical reactions, eventually causes nerves' sensitivity. Second, vitamin A can also initiate gene expressions and ultimately control cell mutation. Vitamin A also affects our immune system, taste, hearing, appetite, skin renewal and bone development. Vitamin A's another role is to control embryonic development. Retinoic acid can also regulate the expressions of certain genes, which results in dominating the muscle and organ development.

Lack of vitamin A is a common health problem in developing countries. Every year about 500,000 preschool children go blind due to vitamin A deficiency. Millions of people showed symptoms of blindness at night due to the same reason. It is estimated one million children in the world showing no symptoms at all even they are actually lack of Vitamin A.

Vitamin A is actually a generic term for a large number of related compounds. Couple of major forms:

1. Retinol - Absorbed when eating food of animal origin, is a yellow, fat-soluble substance. The vitamin is found in tissues in a form of retinyl ester and gets converted into alcohol retinol in the small intestine. It is commercially produced and administered as esters such as retinyl acetate or palmitate.
2. Carotenoids (carotenes) - Found mainly in food of plant origin. Fruits and vegetables have about 50-60 species of carotene.

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Vitamin A naturally exist in many of our foods:

  • liver (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish) (6500 μg 722%)
  • carrot (835 μg 93%)
  • broccoli leaf (800 μg 89%) - According to USDA database broccoli florets have much less.
  • sweet potato (709 μg 79%)
  • butter (684 μg 76%)
  • kale (681 μg 76%)
  • spinach (469 μg 52%)
  • pumpkin (400 μg 41%)
  • collard greens (333 μg 37%)
  • Cheddar cheese (265 μg 29%)
  • cantaloupe melon (169 μg 19%)
  • egg (140 μg 16%)
  • apricot (96 μg 11%)
  • papaya (55 μg 6%)
  • mango (38 μg 4%)
  • pea (38 μg 4%)
  • broccoli (31 μg 3%)
  • milk (28 μg 3%)

Since vitamin A from food of animal origin is fat-soluble, disposing of any excesses taken in through diet is much harder than with water-soluble vitamins B and C, thus vitamin A toxicity may occur, such as nausea, jaundice, irritability, loss of appetite, vomiting, blurred vision, headache, hair loss, muscle and abdominal pain and weakness, fatigue and mood swings (altered mental status). Usually when intake reaches doses as 25,000 IU / kg body weight,acute toxicity may occur. Liver toxicities can occur at levels as low as 15,000 IU per day to 1.4 million IU per day. In people with renal failure 4000 IU can cause substantial damage.

However, the carotenoid forms (such as beta-carotene as found in carrots), give no such symptoms. It is converted into vitamin A base on our body needs. But excessive dietary intake of beta-carotene can lead to carotenodermia, which causes orange-yellow discoloration of the skin. Once you stop taking or reduce the dosage of the vitamin, discoloration usually disappears. Those reports that relate large doses of vitamin A to brittle bones all refer to the preformed vitamin A, not carotenoid. β-carotene is known as the best among all. β-carotene in food does not increase toxins in blood or liver. So if you need vitamin A, the ones labeled with "Vitamin A (as β(beta)-Caratene)" is your best choice!


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    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      I agree with going with Beta-Carotene which is a precursor to vitamin A. That way the body can use beta-carotene as needed. Whatever your body does not need, it will urine out because beta-carotene is water soluble. And so you will not have a problem with vitamin A toxicity.

    • ilitek profile image

      ilitek 6 years ago

      Great hub as I am looking for supplement information for myself.

    • gjcody profile image

      gjcody 7 years ago

      Snakebaby ...Thank you for sharing the information on Vitamin A. Always looking for any information that is helpful best to you!!

    • profile image

      kcs 7 years ago

      Thank you for the detail discription, I will try it.

    • snakebaby profile image

      Sabrina Yuquan Chen (陈玉泉) 7 years ago from Boston, MA, USA

      Thank you both for the nice comments!

    • profile image

      youngql 7 years ago

      Thanks a lot for the tips. Now I know what to buy. Great article too!

    • profile image

      cc 7 years ago

      Great advice! Thank you so much!