Individualized Nutrition, Pharmacy and Healthy Living


Vitamin A for Healthy Immunity this Winter

by Heather Gunn | November 13, 2013

I don’t know if you realize it or not, but adequate food sources of pure vitamin A have been missing in our diets for years now. This is in part due to a decrease in the amount of liver and organ meats consumed in the Standard American Diet. It can also be attributed to avoidance of butter, whole milk and egg yolk for fear of rising cholesterol levels. Vitamin A is an essential fat soluble vitamin that is vital for growth and development of all organs, but with a special affinity for eye health. It’s no wonder that science is now witnessing an increase in vision related disorders, with the most dramatic being diabetic retinopathy. At this time of year, vitamin A is also so very important in dealing with the cold and flu season. It’s time to boost your health by getting adequate amounts of vitamin A for good health. 

Although vitamin A deficiency is very rare in the United States, I still have many clients whose levels are less than optimal. Vitamin A does play a significant role in the world of micronutrients and human health. It is important for:

  • Healthy eyes & vision
  • Cell growth & repair
  • Reproductive system health
  • Immune function
  • Good health of epithelial cells (digestive tract, gums, nose, skin, lungs)

Vitamin A is stored in the liver. Doses exceeding 25,000 IU’s of preformed vitamin A have been known to be toxic to the body. The best sources for vitamin A are cod liver oil, oily fish, whole milk and liver.

The challenge with having enough vitamin A in the body is each individual’s ability to absorb it. First, it is required that some fat and bile is present in the intestines to facilitate absorption. With that being said, those suffering from celiac disease, pancreatitis, or cystic fibrosis can be challenged. Excessive alcohol intake and liver disease also contribute to absorption of vitamin A.

On the other hand, beta carotene - the precursor to vitamin A, is found in red and orange fruits and vegetables. Beta carotenes (also known as carotenoids) are plant compounds that can also be converted into vitamin A. Common carotenoids can include lutein, lycopene and xeaxanthin. Not everyone has the ability to convert these compounds into pro vitamin A. Specifically, people suffering from hypothyroidism, diabetes or liver disease may have conversion issues. Beta carotene is converted in the intestinal wall and the liver by specific enzymes. If you are deficient in these enzymes this could of course also contribute to a vitamin A deficiency.

Here are some symptoms to help you determine if you could have a possible deficiency:

  • Thickened dry skin with small hard bumps near the elbows and knees
  • Impaired taste or smell
  • Chronic infections of the skin and respiratory system
  • Thyroid issues
  • Night blindness

With vitamin A having a protective effect against a wide range of immune related diseases, it is important that we take in appropriate levels. The winter season is quickly approaching and it is quite reasonable to suggest a good food source for supplementation. One of the most efficient food sources for vitamin A is cod liver oil, which comes from the liver of cod fish. The brand you choose for supplementation should be pure, free of heavy metals and toxins. Always choose a quality brand over price. One teaspoon should provide you with between 400-2,900 IU’s of vitamin A and give you a healthy foundation to survive the cold winter months to come.

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