THE DANGERS OF TOO LITTLE VITAMIN A
Imagine having the ability to prevent up to 3 million childhood deaths every year for under two-pennies.
Optimal levels of vitamin A can actually reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and other chronic illnesses. Recent research has demonstrated that when vitamin A is low, the immune response to foreign invaders is also low.
So although toxicity of vitamin A is quite dangerous, it is rare and the amounts of vitamin A we receive from our diet is below what the body needs to perform the many physiologic functions associated with it.
Over 2,000 years ago, Egyptians physicians observed that eating liver could help reverse “night blindness.” While they didn’t know why it worked, but they still helped those suffering from it.
Here are some of the important functions of vitamin A along with what an insufficiency can cause:
- Vision- night blindness, impaired vision, total blindness.
- Immune function- increased susceptibility to infection, including viral infections, loss of immune tolerance leading to other health issues, including allergies, autoimmune disease.
- Skin health- hyperkeratosis, dry skin, dry hair, itching, brittle nails, hair loss, skin cancers.
- Regulation of cell growth and bone metabolism- increased cancers of the lung, colon, breast, prostate. Bone loss.
- Stimulates hormone synthesis- estrogen, growth hormone and testosterone deficiencies.
One of the biggest obstacles we have in getting optimal amounts of vitamin A is in conversion and absorption. Most of us get vitamin A through the conversion of ingested carotenoids in the intestinal lining cells. Vitamin A synthesis from carotenoids is often impaired if the intestinal lining is suffering from any of the following;
- Helicobacter Pylori infection in the stomach.
- Hidden Gluten Sensitivity
- Food allergies
- Abnormal gut micro-organisms
- Fat malabsorption
- Pancreatic insufficiency
- Gall bladder disease
- Gastric Bypass surgery
In addition, a low working thyroid otherwise known as hypothyroidism (low free T3 or high reverse T3 for example), will not allow the carotenoids to be converted to vitamin A. If you notice the bottom of your feet cracking, or an orange tinge to the palms and soles, you may be suffering from a hypothyroid-vitamin A issue. NOTE, measuring a TSH level is not an adequate way to screen for thyroid disease.
SHOULD YOU TAKE VITAMIN A?
At a minimum, everyone should take at least 10,000 IU of vitamin A daily. This dose is easily found in most high quality multivitamins. Women in their first trimester are generally advised not to take more than 10,000 – 15,000 IU daily because of increased risk of birth defects (although one study showed it to reduce birth defects). In very high doses, vitamin A can be toxic to anyone, but there’s controversy about exactly what those levels may be. A recent Venezuelan study showed that giving preschool children with anemia 200,000 IU of vitamin A showed improvement of their anemia. In another study, for treatment of acne, teenage girls took 300,000 IU of vitamin A daily and teenage boys 400,000 to 500,000 IU daily for five months. All showed improvement of their acne and none became toxic. Combining mixed tocopherols (vitamin E- 800 IU daily) seemed to have made the vitamin A work better.
However, these are high quantities of vitamin A. If you use too much, early signs of possible vitamin A toxicity include headache (the first sign), fatigue, joint pain, muscle aches, bone pain, and dry skin. Don’t use hundreds of thousands of units of vitamin A at home for any longer than a few days to help chase an infection away without consulting with a physician skilled and knowledgeable in natural and nutritional medicine. Be safe!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Retinol and retinal are known as preformed vitamin A. Retinal is converted to retinoic acid, which is a form of vitamin A that acts like a hormone and affects the functions of more than 500 genes. In medicine, we use retinoic acid in creams to get rid of wrinkles. Pretty amazingJ