Vitamin A, also called retinol, is a fat-soluble vitamin. Our bodies store fat-soluble vitamins in the liver and fatty tissues. The active form of vitamin A is found in animal tissue. Red, orange, and dark green vegetables and fruits contain precursor forms of vitamin A called carotenoids. Our bodies can convert some of these carotenoids into vitamin A.
Here are some of vitamin A's functions:
- Plays an essential role in vision
- Plays an important role in cell differentiation and cell division
- Helps in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin and hair
- Helps with proper bone growth and tooth development
- Helps the body regulate the immune system
- Plays an essential role in the reproduction process for both men and women
The recommended daily dietary allowance for vitamin A is measured in micrograms (mcg) of Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE).
|Age Group (in years)||Recommended Dietary Allowance|
|1 – 3||300 mcg of RAE||300 mcg of RAE|
|4 – 8||400 mcg of RAE||400 mcg of RAE|
|9 – 13||600 mcg of RAE||600 mcg of RAE|
|14 – 18||700 mcg of RAE||900 mcg of RAE|
|14 – 18 Pregnancy||750 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|14 – 18 Lactation||1,200 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|19+||700 mcg of RAE||900 mcg of RAE|
|19+ Pregnancy||770 mcg of RAE||n/a|
|19+ Lactation||1,300 mcg of RAE||n/a|
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the US, but it is common in developing countries. Here are some of the symptoms:
- Night blindness
- Decreased resistance to infections
- Decreased growth rate
- Problems with the cornea of the eye, including ulceration and scarring
Vitamin A Toxicity
As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A is stored in the body and not excreted in the urine like most water-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is possible for vitamin A to accumulate in the body and reach toxic levels. For adults, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for vitamin A from dietary sources and supplements combined is 3,000 RAE daily. It is less in children. Symptoms of toxicity include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Poor coordination
Too much vitamin A can cause severe birth defects. Pregnant women, and those who may become pregnant, should not take too much vitamin A from dietary sources and supplements.
Major Food Sources
Vitamin A content
(mcg of RAE)
|Beef liver, cooked||3 ounces||6,582|
|Milk, fat-free||8 ounces||149|
|Whole egg, boiled||1 large||75|
|Sockeye salmon, cooked||3 ounces||59|
The following foods contain carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A.
Vitamin A content
(mcg of RAE)
|Sweet potato, baked in skin||1 whole||1,403|
|Carrots, raw||½ cup||459|
|Mango, raw||1 whole||112|
|Red bell pepper, raw||½ cup||117|
|Cantaloupe, raw||½ cup||135|
|Apricots, dried, sulfured||10 halves||63|
|Spinach, cooked||½ cup||573|
|Tomato juice, canned||12 ounces||42|
Populations at risk for vitamin A deficiency
The following populations may be at risk for vitamin A deficiency and may require a supplement:
- People with a reduced ability to absorb dietary fat. Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, fat is required for its absorption. Some conditions that can cause fat malabsorption include Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, pancreatic enzyme deficiency, and liver disease.
- Children living in developing countries.
Tips for Increasing Your Vitamin A Intake:
Here are some tips to help increase your intake of vitamin A:
- Pack cut carrots in your lunch for an afternoon snack.
- Slice a peach, mango, or apricot on to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal.
- Substitute a sweet potato for your baked potato.
- Eat fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible. Vitamin A can be lost during preparation and cooking.
- Steam vegetables, and braise, bake, or broil meat instead of frying. This will help retain some of the vitamin content.
American Society for Nutrition http://www.nutrition.org
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics http://www.eatright.org
Dietitians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Vitamin A. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-A. Updated February 2015. Accessed February 24, 2016.
Fairfield KM, Fletcher RH. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: Scientific review. JAMA. 2002;287(23):3116-3126.
Vitamin A. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional. Updated August 31, 2016. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Vitamin A deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115371/Vitamin-A-deficiency . Updated February 16, 2017. Accessed February 24, 2017.
Vitamin A Toxicology. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T526141/Vitamin-A#Toxicology. Updated February 6, 2017. Accessed February 24, 2017.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 02/2017
- Update Date: 02/24/2017