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Eczema, poor night vision, and frequent infections. What do these things have in common? They are all related to vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for growth, reproduction, immunity, skin health, and vision. It’s also important for the maintenance of other internal organs. 

Vitamin A deficiency can be caused by low intake in the diet or an increased need for vitamin A during certain periods of life. It can also be caused by problems in absorbing or processing vitamin A or provitamin A.

Signs Of Vitamin A Deficiency

The following are clues that vitamin A may be deficient. These symptoms alone aren’t enough to identify a vitamin A deficiency though. A thorough investigation by your healthcare provider is recommended.

Skin ConditionsA man scratches a patch of itchy skin on his arm. (Sign of vitamin A deficiency)

Vitamin A is important for good skin health. A deficiency can cause skin dryness and inflammation. It has been implicated in skin conditions like acne, eczema, and keratosis pilaris. Low levels of vitamin A can also impair wound healing.

Dry Eyes & Night Blindness

Difficulty adapting the eyes to low light is one of the early signs of vitamin A deficiency. More severe vitamin A deficiency causes a specific dry eye condition called xerophthalmia which is very serious and can lead to the destruction of the cornea and blindness. 

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Growth & Reproductive Problems

Vitamin A is important for growth and reproduction. It is one of the nutrients that is implicated in delayed growth in undernourished children. It is also implicated in difficulty conceiving and frequent miscarriages. Both too much and too little vitamin A can cause problems for the fetus. 

Frequent Infections

Vitamin A is important for maintaining good immunity. It plays a role in maintaining barriers, regulating inflammation, and both innate and adaptive immunity. When vitamin A is low, people are more vulnerable to infections. Viral infections are more severe when people have vitamin A deficiency. 

To learn more about Vitamin A and viral infections, see Vitamin A Megadose For Viral Infections – Dr. Green Mom.

Anemia

Vitamin A is not the first nutrient that comes to mind when thinking of anemia; however, anemia is common in people with vitamin A deficiency. For people deficient in vitamin A, supplementation can correct anemia. 

Causes of Vitamin A Deficiency

Low Dietary Intake

Low dietary intake of vitamin A isn’t common in America, but it is possible. Foods containing high levels of vitamin A are frequently eaten in our diets. 

Problems Converting Provitamin A To Vitamin A

Vegan and vegetarian diets rely on consumption the of provitamin A (aka. beta carotene) because it is abundant in plant foods, whereas preformed vitamin A is only present in animal foods. Most people convert provitamin A to vitamin A effectively, but some genetic variations make this conversion less efficient which can lead to vitamin A deficiency. 

Problems Absorbing Or Using Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin; therefore, fat digestion in the body needs to be optimal to absorb vitamin A from the diet. Once absorbed, vitamin A is stored in the liver. Conditions like celiac disease, chronic diarrhea, cystic fibrosis, and cirrhosis can all lead to vitamin A deficiency.  Zinc is required to transport vitamin A out of the liver and around the body. Therefore, a zinc deficiency can cause vitamin A deficiency symptoms.

Vitamin A can be found in many foods. When mild symptoms of vitamin A deficiency (like mild night blindness and dry skin) are present, consuming more vitamin A foods usually resolves the deficiency. However, for more severe deficiency symptoms, or when there is a problem with vitamin A absorption and usage, supplementation may be necessary

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it is stored in the body. High levels of vitamin A can become toxic, so it is important to follow recommended doses and to work with a doctor if considering using vitamin A as a treatment for an extended period. 

Summary

Vitamin A deficiency can lead to problems with skin, vision, growth, reproduction, and immunity. It can be caused by low dietary intake, problems converting provitamin A to vitamin A, and health conditions that make absorbing or using vitamin A less efficient. Vitamin A deficiency can be corrected by increasing the intake of foods rich in vitamin A or vitamin A supplementation. Underlying health issues and/or zinc deficiency may have to be addressed to help resolve vitamin A deficiency.

 

References:

Semba, R. D., & Bloem, M. W. (2002). The anemia of vitamin A deficiency: epidemiology and pathogenesis. European journal of clinical nutrition, 56(4), 271–281. 

Wiseman, E. M., Bar-El Dadon, S., & Reifen, R. (2017). The vicious cycle of vitamin a deficiency: A review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(17), 3703–3714. 

Cañete, A., Cano, E., Muñoz-Chápuli, R., & Carmona, R. (2017). Role of Vitamin A/Retinoic Acid in Regulation of Embryonic and Adult Hematopoiesis. Nutrients, 9(2), 159.

Tunçez Akyürek, F., Saylam Kurtipek, G., Kurku, H., Akyurek, F., Unlu, A., Abusoglu, S., & Ataseven, A. (2020). Assessment of ADMA, IMA, and Vitamin A and E Levels in Patients with Acne Vulgaris. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 19(12), 3408–3413.

Napolitano, M., Potestio, L., De Lucia, M., Nocerino, M., Fabbrocini, G., & Patruno, C. (2022). Alitretinoin for the treatment of severe chronic eczema of the hands. Expert opinion on pharmacotherapy, 23(2), 159–167. 

Vitamin A Deficiency – Nutritional Disorders – Merck Manuals Professional Edition

Vitamin A – Health Professional Fact Sheet

Clagett-Dame, M., & Knutson, D. (2011). Vitamin A in reproduction and development. Nutrients, 3(4), 385–428. 

Simşek, M., Naziroğlu, M., Simşek, H., Cay, M., Aksakal, M., & Kumru, S. (1998). Blood plasma levels of lipoperoxides, glutathione peroxidase, beta carotene, vitamin A and E in women with habitual abortion. Cell biochemistry and function, 16(4), 227–231.

Oliveira, L. M., Teixeira, F., & Sato, M. N. (2018). Impact of Retinoic Acid on Immune Cells and Inflammatory Diseases. Mediators of inflammation, 2018, 3067126. 

Richardson, D. P., & Lovegrove, J. A. (2021). Nutritional status of micronutrients as a possible and modifiable risk factor for COVID-19: a UK perspective. The British journal of nutrition, 125(6), 678–684. 

Stephensen, C. B., & Lietz, G. (2021). Vitamin A in resistance to and recovery from infection: relevance to SARS-CoV2. The British journal of nutrition, 126(11), 1663–1672. 

Borel, P., & Desmarchelier, C. (2017). Genetic Variations Associated with Vitamin A Status and Vitamin A Bioavailability. Nutrients, 9(3), 246. 

Dr. Green Mom

Dr. Mayer is a naturopathic medical doctor and an expert in nutrition and wellness as it relates to pediatrics and families. Her passion for prevention of disease as cure fueled her desire to immerse herself into specializing in adult onset chronic conditions, as well as childhood chronic illness.

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