What is Vitamin A and why do we need it?
Primarily absorbed in the small intestine, Vitamin A is critical for healthy skin, bone growth, reproduction, and immune function. But what pops into most of our minds when we think about Vitamin A is probably vision. You heard it from your parents and teachers “eat your carrots – they’re good for your eyes!” Let’s take a look at that and the different types of Vitamin A.
There are two forms of Vitamin A:
1. Preformed Vitamin A (Retinol)
Retinol is considered the active form of Vitamin A. It’s easily absorbed and used effectively by the body. Where do you get it? Animal sources: meat, fish, poultry, and dairy.
- Beef liver and organ meats
- Dairy – Butter fat
- Cod Liver Oil
- Egg Yolks
2. Pro Vitamin A (Carotenoids)
Carotenoids are the inactive form or pre-cursor to active Vitamin A and is found in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods (think red, orange, yellow). It’s a member of the carotinoid family of pigments with the most well known and researched being beta-carotene.
- Sweet Potato
- Dandylion Greens
Carotenoids must be converted into the active form of Vitamin A, Retinol.
Herein lies the problem. Not everyone can make that conversion and of those who can, the conversion varies dramatically from person to person. It all comes down to…what? Yes, my friends, biochemical individuality and functionality. Stress, alcohol, gut dysbiosis, and even thyroid health can all be factors in how well you make that conversion. Beta-carotene is an important part of the diet because of it’s anti-oxidant properties which protect the body against free radicals but it’s not a good idea to use it as your only source of Vitamin A since studies show that many people do not convert beta-carotene into retinol well enough.
Fat-soluble vitamins need fat to be absorbed.
So, what do you do? For starters, make sure you’re eating a varied diet rich on both forms of Vitamin A.
Nutrients in foods work synergistically. There are enzymes and co-factors that are needed to actually absorb and assimilate vitamins and minerals from foods, which is why, first and foremost, it’s important to eat a whole food diet. With that said, it can still be pretty hard to get everything you need on a daily basis so supplementation might be needed, which is okay as long you supplement wisely and with quality products. Cod Liver Oil (CLO) is my favorite way to get concentrated Vitamin A. One of the benefits of taking CLO for Vitamin A is that it also contains Vitamin D which offsets the need to worry about toxicity. At this time, Green Pastures is the brand I recommend due to the quality of their products and the transparency of their company. My one year-old grandson gets a half teaspoon a day and he takes it right out of the spoon!