What is vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a a fat-soluble organic compound and an antioxidant that helps combat free radicals (waste products that are continuously formed by various systems of the body). Antioxidants, like vitamin A, help neutralise free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, and decrease cellular damage.

When stored in the blood, the most abundant form of vitamin A is retinol. Retinol is a form of vitamin A often used in skincare formulas to promote healthy skin cell formation and boost collagen production. Vitamin A is good for skin – often used as a treatment for acne and other skin conditions thanks to its antioxidant properties, reducing the mucous layer under the skin.

Vitamin A is used throughout the body, promoting a healthy immune system, vision, bone growth as well growth and development and reproduction.

Different kinds of vitamin A

Vitamin A comes in two forms, the first is provitamin A, which is found in plant-based food. The second type of vitamin A is known as “preformed” or “active” vitamin A1, which is found in meat and dairy.

Vitamin A1 

Vitamin A found in animal sources, often referred to as vitamin A1, contains retinoids, retinal, and retinoic acid. Retinoids are known as preformed or “active forms” of vitamin A, which means that they are bioactive and more readily absorbed by the body.

Provitamin A

Provitamin A, found in plants, is referred to as the “inactive” form of vitamin A. This form is made up of compounds including alpha-carotene and beta-carotene.

Health benefits of vitamin A

Vitamin A has many important health benefits in the body but the main ones include:

1. Enhances bone health

Vitamin A is essential for bone health. Vitamin A influences the production of osteoblasts (cells that create new bone) and osteoclasts (cells that absorb bone tissue). People who have lower concentrations of vitamin A are more prone to bone fractures.

2. Supports skin health

Vitamin A has been used in some people suffering from acne. Vitamin A can help remove excess skin, sebum, and oils that build up in acne-prone skin. Some medical acne treatments contain retinoids, which are compounds of vitamin A that help regulate skin cell growth.

3. Reproduction & growth

Vitamin A plays a key role in reproduction and the formation of a healthy human foetus. Both male sperm production and female egg quality require adequate amounts of vitamin A for optimal fertility.

4. Strengthens the immune system

Vitamin A reduces susceptibility to disease by optimising your body’s natural immune defenses. Thanks to vitamin A’s anti-inflammatory properties. Conversely, a low vitamin A status is associated with a greater risk of death from diseases like malaria and measles. Reduced levels of vitamin A in your blood may put you at risk for contracting diseases and impair your ability to recover quickly.

5. Improves eyesight

We have all probably been told as a kid to eat your carrots because they make you see in the dark. There is some merit to this. It’s no coincidence that the name retina, referring to the part of your eye that receives light, and retinol (vitamin A1) sound similar. Vitamin A is critical for healthy eyesight. Vitamin A helps protect the cornea, the surface of the eye, and it’s anti-inflammatory processes may play a role in decreasing vision loss from the deterioration of the central part of the eye (the macula). Beta-carotene may even prevent night blindness and slow the progression of age-related sight issues.

Signs & symptoms of vitamin A deficiency:

  • Dry skin
  • Dry eyes
  • Night blindness
  • Infertility
  • Delayed growth and development in children
  • Frequent chest infections
  • Poor wound healing
  • Acne and breakouts

Animal foods rich in vitamin A

Retinol (Vitamin A1) is found in animal foods. Animal foods that contain high amounts of retinol include:

  • Beef liver
  • Cod liver oil
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Pate
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Feta

Plant-based foods rich in provitamin A

Plant-based foods richest in provitamin A include:

  • Sweet potato (cooked)
  • Turnip Greens
  • Winter squash
  • Brassica vegetables or dark green leafy vegetables (cooked)
  • Kale (cooked)
  • Carrots (cooked)
  • Spinach (raw)
  • Red capsicum
  • Mango
  • Rockmelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Watermelon
  • Papaya
  • Apricots

Vitamin A can be toxic

High doses of vitamin A supplementation can be dangerous, especially for pregnant women and infants. Vitamin A supplements usually use preformed vitamin A and should only be taken if recommended by a healthcare professional.

Excess intake of vitamin A may result in dry skin, headaches, dizziness, and vomiting. People with a substance use disorder, as well as those who take medications or have kidney or liver disease, should consult their healthcare practitioner before supplementing with vitamin A.

It’s important to note that too much provitamin A from plants will do you no harm. From time to time, people will experience yellowing of the skin after consuming high quantities of provitamin A.


Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin meaning that it’s best absorbed when consumed with healthy fats. As a rule of thumb, foods high in vitamin A are red or orange in colour; think of bell peppers, sweet potatoes, turmeric, and carrots. Orange fruits and vegetables contain a compound called beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the human body. Therefore, these types of foods (orange fruits and vegetables) contain what is called “provitamin A”.

Vitamin A doesn’t necessarily have be taken as a stand-alone supplement in you have a varied diet. However, there might be some conditions e.g. acne where supplementation may assist BUT you should always consult your health practitioner before taking a supplement.

Book an appointment with a Nutrition professional at https://www.healthbank.io/.