What Is Vitamin A

What Does Vitamin A Do

Let’s talk about what is Vitamin A and what does Vitamin A do. Some of this may get slightly technical but it will provide you with some good background Vitamin A information.

So what is Vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin... similar to Vitamin E. This means it uses fat in order to be used and can be stored in your fat cells as well for later use. This can be both good and bad. We’ll go over why this is a little later.

Vitamin A plays a number of important roles/functions and has many benefits for your body. This includes being involved with your vision, aiding in cell differentiation, boosting your immune system, and helping with reproduction and growth of your body.

The reason for Vitamin A’s versatility is because it comes in a number of different forms.

Before we get into some of the technical stuff, here is some background Vitamin A information for you...

Vitamin A was the first vitamin to be discovered in the early 1900s. Vitamin A is part of a large family called retinoids. This is because Vitamin A is primarily needed by the retina (the part of the eye that lets you see light). But vitamin A does more than just "feed" your retinas.

Other than helping your eyes and eyesight, what does Vitamin A do? I go into more detail in the benefits of Vitamin A section but here’s a brief summary:

  • Acts as an antioxidant to boost immunity
  • Protects you from infection
  • Keeps your "frontline barrier" strong and your skin smooth
  • May help prevent certain cancers and heart disease

And to really know what is Vitamin A let’s discuss the different forms of it. This will also help you to understand what does Vitamin A do and how... at least on a basic chemical level.

There are 2 different sources you can get Vitamin A from: plant sources & animal sources.

Let me give an overall rundown of all the forms of Vitamin A inside the body. And if you’re feeling frisky and want to know the structure of each form... click on the link.

1) Retinyl Esters – This is the Vitamin A form found in animal products.

2) Beta Carotene – The Vitamin A form found in plant sources.

3) Retinol – This is the major form of Vitamin A which gets to “travel” throughout the body. It also supports the skin’s immune function and mucous membranes (which as a result helps keep your skin soft).

4) Retinal (aka. Retinaldehyde, Vitamin A Aldehyde) – This form is needed to help you with night vision.

5) Retinoic Acid – This form acts as a hormone. Affecting the genes of your cells and helps in the synthesis of proteins.

6) Retinyl Palmitate – This is the storage form found in your liver.

Now that you know the different forms of Vitamin A, let’s go over the differences in plant and animal forms.

Getting your Vitamin A from animal sources is called "preformed Vitamin A." This means that your body can use it right away, practically immediately. Retinyl esters is what’s found in animal foods. The thing with this form is it gets converted immediately to Retinol, which is the major form of Vitamin A being transported throughout the body.

Now for plant sources. The main form of Vitamin A from plant sources is carotenoids. There are over 600 carotenoids but the main ones are Beta Carotene and Alpha Carotene. Beta carotene basically looks like 2 Vitamin A molecules combined. Beta carotene is what gives fruits and vegetables their yellow and orange color. The beauty of carotenes is it gets converted to Retinal... which can either turn into retinol or retinoic acid.

The following figure gives you a visual of how the different forms of Vitamin A relate to each other.

relationship among the different forms of vitamin A

So you now know what is Vitamin A and along with some good Vitamin A information. And it’s important to get at least 10,000 to 15,000IU per day from both animal and plant sources to get the full benefits of Vitamin A.

The RDA for Vitamin A ranges depending on various factors (i.e. age, sex). Remember, the RDA is just the minimum daily requirement. Get at least 10,000 to 15,000IU per day but it’s good to know what the RDA is just in case.

It’s also good to know the best food sources where you can get beta carotene and Vitamin A. I always recommend whole foods over supplements but a good multi-vitamin can help you get the necessary amount of Vitamin A you need.

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