Vitamin A Benefits

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Vitamin A as an Antioxidant

Yes, one of the Vitamin A benefits is that it acts as an antioxidant. But it’s not exactly Vitamin A that’s acting as the antioxidant… it’s the carotenes. Let me explain.

Carotenes (i.e. beta carotene, alpha carotene) are the precursor of Vitamin A and are found in plant sources (i.e. carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin).

And the human body has 2 functions for carotenes… turn it into Vitamin A or turn it into an antioxidant.

About 40% of carotenes are converted to Vitamin A while 60% functions as powerful antioxidants.

This is good for you because your body will turn carotenes to Vitamin A only if your body needs it. The rest will circulate through your blood as antioxidants. This is helpful because there are some issues with Vitamin A overdose and toxicity. No need to really worry about that with carotenes.

And there are many types of carotenes that act as great antioxidants (i.e. alpha & beta carotene, lycopene). Carotenes specifically fight off the singlet oxygen free radical.

Another important thing to consider is only carotenes, like beta carotene, have antioxidant powers. The Vitamin A that comes from animal sources do not possess the same antioxidant powers as beta carotene.

Anti-Infection

One of the other main benefits of Vitamin A is their anti-infection powers. Picture this… think of an army of soldiers. There’s the frontline, the backline and everything else in between.

Now think of your body.

The frontline is your skin & the outer parts of your various tissues and organs. The backline are the more sensitive and crucial organs (i.e. brain, heart). Vitamin A helps to make that frontline stronger with growth and repair.

How does it do this?

Without getting too scientific… the frontline I mentioned that’s your skin & outer barrier is technically called “epithelial tissue.” And this frontline/epithelial tissue is mostly made of fat. And the structure of Vitamin A causes it to be a fat-soluble vitamin that benefits these fatty tissues.

And to go a little further, the frontline/epithelial tissues include your skin, the outer layer of your eyes, mouth, nose, throat, digestive tract and urinary tract.

Also, Vitamin A helps to strengthen the mucous membranes of your body. And the mucous membranes are another frontline defense for your body against infection.

Immunity Booster

We spoke on the anti-infective benefits of Vitamin A & the antioxidant properties. Another benefits of Vitamin A may also help to boost your immune system. Vitamin A plays a role in the development of lymphocytes. These are the cells of your immune system that fight off bacteria and disease. More research is being done to support this claim but a few examples to consider:

  • Treating measles and respiratory infections – especially helpful for children.• Viral infections• May help AIDS patients or anyone whose immune system is depressed by boosting their immune cells.

 Vitamin A, Cancer & Your Heart

So this may be a touchy/difficult subject to discuss… but let’s do it anyway! So far there’s strong evidence that shows that the benefits of Vitamin A and beta carotene (mostly beta carotene) can decrease your chances of certain cancers, heart disease & stroke.

Before we talk about cancer, something interesting you should know. If you’re a smoker, do not take Vitamin A or beta carotene supplements. Studies have shown that taking these supplements can actually increase your chance of getting lung cancer. Studies are still being done but stay away from Vitamin A. Taking Vitamin C is a better solution for smokers (and so is quitting smoking!!)

But other studies show a diet that includes whole food or supplemental Vitamin A and beta carotene can help prevent the chances of colorectal and prostate cancer. And may even fight off breast cancer but more studies are being done on this one.

As far as your heart is concerned… one major study involving female nurses shows the ones who got their beta carotene from foods had about 20% fewer heart attacks than those who didn’t. The nurses got their beta carotene from foods, not supplements. The verdict is still out on beta carotene supplements & heart health.

But I will say taking some form of Vitamin A and beta carotene supplement is much better than taking nothing at all.

How Much Vitamin A Do You Need?

To get the full benefits of Vitamin A, get at least 10,000 to 15,000IU per day. And it’s good to get both the preformed version (which comes from animal sources such as eggs, liver, poultry & dairy) and from carotenes (these come from plant sources).

This may seem like a lot but it really isn’t.

1 large egg has around 320IU of preformed Vitamin A while 1 medium carrot has about 8,000IU of beta carotene.

I definitely recommend food sources of Vitamin A… leaning more towards getting them from plant sources.

And if you decide on taking a Vitamin A supplement or multi-vitamin (better to go the multi-vitamin route)… the best choice is one with mixed carotenoids. But most of the supplements (especially multi-vitamins) come in a mixed form of retinyl palmitate or acetate & beta carotene. This works as well.

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