Vitamin A is essential in the right quantity for the healthy functioning of the human body. This vitamin is required by the retina of the eye in the form of a specific metabolite, which is the light-absorbing molecule, retinal. Retinal is absolutely vital for scotopic and color vision. In another version, called retinol, vitamin A is important for the working of both the female and male reproductive systems. It also works in an irreversibly oxidised form, retinoic acid that is an important hormone-like growth factor for cells like the epithelial cells and others. Hence, vitamin A is of key importance to preserve and improve the eyesight and to protect the body against viral infections.
Vitamin A is found in food items of animal origin. However, there are a few fruits and vegetables that contain compounds called carotenoids that can be converted into vitamin A by the body. For example, raw carrots and boiled spinach are rich sources of carotenoids.
Vitamin A deficiency has serious implications. Night blindness is among the first symptoms of this deficiency. Since vitamin A has a major role in phototransduction, its deficiency can also lead to complete blindness or Xerophthalmia. Vitamin A deficiency also causes maternal mortality and other poor conditions during pregnancy and lactation. It increases signs of respiratory and diarrheal infections in children and reduces the ability of the body to fight viral infections.
Deficiency of this vitamin also leads to a goose-pimpled look of the skin. Iron deficiency can affect vitamin A intake. Excess alcohol consumption affects the liver and leaves it more prone to vitamin A toxicity.
In general, people who have any problem related to fat malabsorption such as pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, tropical sprue, and biliary obstruction, must seek medical advice before taking vitamin A supplements. Its deficiency can be treated in both oral and injectable forms. The supplementation of vitamin A in oral form helps reduce the risk of morbidity from diseases like diarrhea, measles, and all-cause mortality.
The benefit from vitamin A supplements is transient and children require it every four to six months. It is beneficial for both the mother and child if provided during maternal conditions but excess vitamin A supplementation can lead to birth defects. Food fortification might prove to be the most useful way of dealing with vitamin A deficiency.
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