Vitamin A for Good Vision and Eye Health
Do you remember being told to eat your carrots as a child because they were good for your eyes. It may have sounded silly at the time, but it turns out that carrots and other deep orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables are loaded with beta-carotene which is converted in the body to vitamin A, an essential ingredient for good eyesight.
If your believe your diet is lacking this essential compound, you can get supplements, but there are some drawbacks to doing so that you must keep in mind. It is always a far better idea to get all of your nutrition from natural sources, but for those with food sensitives or other issues, a supplement may be helpful.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance of daily vitamin A varies by age and gender:
- Children 1-3 years: 300 micrograms (µg)
- Children 4-8 years: 400 micrograms (µg)
- Children 9-13 years: 600 micrograms (µg)
- Males 14 and older: 900 micrograms (µg)
- Females 14 and older: 700 micrograms (µg)
- During pregnancy if age 14-18: 750 micrograms (µg)
- During pregnancy 19 and older: 770 micrograms (µg)
- During lactation if age 14-18: 1,200 micrograms (µg)
- During lactation age 19 and older: 1,300 micrograms (µg)
Signs of vitamin A deficiency
You may wonder how you would know if you are not getting enough vitamin A in your daily diet, without having painful and expensive blood work. One symptom of deficiency is night blindness. Do your eyes have trouble adjusting to a dark room? Does it take a long time to recover your vision after being temporarily blinded by a bright light? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you may be lacking in vitamin A.
But night blindness isn't the only condition that results from this vitamin deficiency. You could also experience xeropthalmia, which starts off with uncomfortably dry eyes and may lead to other symptoms including corneal ulcers, swollen eyelids and eventually blindness.
Vitamin A to prevent macular degeneration
Macular degeneration, a very serious and progressive eye disease, is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss among elderly people. A study conducted at the Harvard Medical School revealed that those who go the recommended dosage of beta carotene cut their risk of macular degeneration in half. In a similar study, those who got their beta carotene from food sources had the same amount of protection.
Sources of vitamin A
Many dark orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin A including:
- Carrots and carrot juice
- Sweet potatoes
- Pumpkin and squashes
- Cantaloupe and watermelon
- Mango or persimmon
Some dark green leafy vegetables are also good sources of vitamin A, such as:
- Collard greens
- Turnip greens
Eating fruits and vegetables in their raw form is optimal, however if you cannot get them fresh, choose frozen over canned because much of the vital nutrition is stripped away during the canning process.
You can get vitamin A from animal-based sources too, such as organ meats like chicken liver and beef liver, however, these should be consumed in moderation as they are high in cholesterol. (Fun fact: eating polar bear liver will lead to a toxic and potentially fatal dose of vitamin A.) Cod liver oil is also a good source of vitamin A.
You can also get vitamin A from supplements, but be careful not to take more than the recommended dose. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it can build up in the body, and it's toxic at high doses.
Some additional cautions and warnings
Alcohol consumption can interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins, as well as deplete what is already in your body. So when you drink, you will need to increase your vitamin intake to compensate. If you are also a smoker, you need to have extra vitamin A and beta carotene as well, but you are better served by getting them from food sources only. Excess vitamin A intake in a smoker is linked to an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
Vitamin A overdose
Vitamin A is stored in the body and can build up to toxic levels if you ingest too much of it. (Since the vitamin only occurs in small amounts in food sources, generally this would only occur if you're taking too many supplements.) Symptoms of vitamin A overdose may include fatigue, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, dryness or cracking of the lips or skin, yellow-orange colored skin, hair loss, or brittle bones.
Discussions with your doctor or eye care professional
Before taking any supplements, discuss your health and vision needs with both your medical doctor and your eye care professional. Their guidance will help ensure that you aren't taking a supplement that could be harmful to you in any way or one that could interfere with medications that you are taking for other conditions.
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