Diet + Nutrition

Let’s Talk Vitamin A, Eh!

Did you know that vitamin A deficiency is a huge concern for Canadians?

Especially in Calgary, we suffer from being in one of the driest climates contributing to our dry skin, hair, nails and irritating nose bleeds. Those red bumps on the back of your arms or legs are also signs of severe dryness as well as itchy scalp, dandruff, and respiratory problems and dry/tired eyes. Since the skin is one of the last places your body shows signs of internal problems if any of these issues strike a cord with you, you may be deficient in vitamin A.

What is Vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, like our old friend vitamin D as well. This means that it is largely found in animal products, such as liver, fish, egg yolks, butter. This form of vitamin A is known as ‘performed’ or the retinol kind which is most active. You may have heard of ‘provitamin A’ which is a precursor of retinol. The most well-known provitamin A is beta-carotene and is found in yellow and orange fruits and veggies as well as dark leafy greens, but provitamins have to be converted to retinol-A.

Why Do We Need Vitamin A?

Retinol A was named because of its huge impact on our eye health, specifically related to, you guessed it… the retina. Night vision and blurry eyes were one of the first symptoms to be linked with vitamin A deficiency. An old friend of mine used to refer to carrots as ‘night sticks,’ and to this day I’ve never seen him with glasses or struggled with driving at night. Since it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is stored in the body in such places as the eyes, kidneys, lungs, fat and most predominantly in the liver (90%). As with a lot of vitamins, those areas where they are stored seem to show the areas where they are most used. Dry eyes are one of the most common issues in this climate and since vitamin A also is important in keeping mucous membranes lubricated, increasing your consumption may help to alleviate this problem.

Signs of Vitamin A Deficiency

This vitamin stimulates the growth and healing cycles of cells, such as the skin, internal layers of the digestive tract, mucous membranes, respiratory linings as well as many others. It helps maintain the proper functioning of these systems and keeps moisture in the cells. This is especially important in our climate as many illnesses, and infections can arise from dry, sluggish and dead cells accumulating in our body. Keeping our mucous membranes moist and our cell turn-over properly functioning helps to reduce inflammation, allergic responses, bacterial and viral attacks, and even cancer threats. Vitamin A helps stimulate the production of our base layer of skin and give structure and integrity to all cells, reducing the signs of aging such as wrinkles, sagging and dryness as well as helps give the skin a softer, smoother appearance. It has also been associated with reducing acne in larger doses using supplementation, but this should always be supervised as extremely high doses of retinol-A may cause side effects such as headaches because it is stored in the body.

Sun Defense

Keeping in line with skin protection, vitamin A is well known to help defend against sunburns and speeds up the healing process of repairing the skin if a sunburn were to occur. I usually recommend supplementing with vitamin A a few weeks before vacationing in hot, sunny destinations to help guard against sun damage.

What Depletes Vitamin A?

But, with the beautiful weather here in Calgary, Canada Day and Stampede all approaching soon, it is incredibly important to make sure you are getting your intake of vitamin A whether it be from the animal or vegetable sources. Unfortunately, those overindulgent late nights, (or early Stampede breakfasts) deplete your stores. Alcohol intake, as well as stress, and lack of sleep contribute to decreased vitamin A absorption. Other ways a reduction in absorption of vitamin A may occur are excessive iron intake (eg: anemics), illness, vitamin E deficiency as well as cortisone treatments.

Protect yourself by getting your daily dose of vitamin A; because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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