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Tell-Tale Signs of Vitamin A Deficiency

by Cindy Gray

Everyone knows vitamins benefit the body, and good health starts at the beginning of the alphabet.  Vitamin A is an essential, fat-soluble vitamin important to the eyes, bones, gums, skin, reproductive system, and the respiratory and intestinal tracts.  Two different types of vitamin A are present in foods.  Preformed vitamin A (retinol) can be obtained through animal products, and pro-vitamin A (carotenoids) are found in certain fruits and vegetables.  When people don't get enough vitamin A in the diet, they may experience signs of vitamin A deficiency. 

Night blindness is one of the first signs of vitamin A deficiency

What is the first sign of vitamin A deficiency?

Because vitamin A plays a key role in eye health, people who are deficient in vitamin A first experience symptoms of night blindness.  While people with night blindness see normally during the day, they have problems adjusting when light fades.  A study published in The Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consumption of a daily vitamin A supplement protects against the development of night blindness.  If not treated, vitamin A deficiency can progress to dry eye syndrome and other serious vision problems.

What is dry eye syndrome?

Continued vitamin A deficiency can affect the conjunctiva (or the covering on the whites of the eyes) that keep eyes moist and lubricated.  The conjunctiva dry out and ulcers appear on the cornea.  If left untreated, vitamin A deficiency can lead to vision loss.

What are some other signs of vitamin A deficiency?

Vitamin A triggers inflammatory response and boosts production of collagen, which helps with repair and healing of wounds.  People who don't get enough vitamin A may experience slower healing and greater risks for infection.  In studies, vitamin A supplementation has been shown to be particularly helpful for people who take steroid medications because steroids impair collagen synthesis.  In addition to the skin, vitamin A also contributes to tooth and gum health.

Related:   The ABCs of Eye Floaters

How does vitamin A promote healthy teeth and gums?

In addition to promoting healthy skin (outer body lining) vitamin A helps maintain mucous membranes (inner body linings) like those of the gums, and healthy gums help anchor teeth. When gums become inflamed, adequate levels of vitamin A help to speed the healing process, but vitamin A deficiency impedes the healing process.  People with chronic gum problems may want to check with a medical professional for testing of vitamin A levels.

People can prevent signs of vitamin A deficiency by eating plenty of sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, fish, liver, and tropical fruits or by taking a daily vitamin A supplement.  As of this writing, for men over the age of 18, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin A is 900 micrograms (mcg).  For women over the age of 18, the RDA for vitamin A is 700 mcg.  Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consume 770 mcg and 1,200 mcg respectively.  People who suspect a vitamin A deficiency should consult with a health care professional for confirmation before starting a supplementary regimen.

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