The Benefits of Vitamin A

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“A friend of mine suggested that I get more vitamin A to help my immune system. I’ve always heard that vitamin D is better. Do you think that’s a good idea?”
–P.K., Rockwall, Texas

Answer: Yes, just keep in mind that vitamin A is not the be-all and end-all for immune function. You need adequate supplies of all vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system in tip-top shape which will prepare you for the upcoming cold and flu season.

Vitamin A helps maintain the integrity of your skin and mucous membranes, both of which serve as first line protective barriers against the invasion of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. When you have a runny nose, you assume it’s the vengeance of your cold. Yeah, I know it’s unpleasant, but making mucous is a natural part of fighting infections. Mucous membranes line your nose, throat,  intestines and vagina. When those body parts lack a thick, slimy layer of mucous protection, you’re a sitting duck for infections. There are numerous studies that show A’s profound effect on immune function, particularly Rheumatoid arthritis. In the July 2012 issue of the Journal of Immunology researchers found that vitamin A could suppress formation of a pain-causing compound (Interleukin-17) and simultaneously reduce antibodies that attack your joints and collagen.

Adequate supplies of vitamin A also supports healthy DNA, so in this regard, it may help reduce one’s risk for free radical damage, which is associated with a higher risk of cancer. There are studies supporting A’s anti-cancer benefits.

Vitamin A supports eyesight, especially your nighttime vision. A is fabulous for skin, and can help clear up acne. The drug Retin-A is based upon a vitamin A derivative, and dermatologists frequently prescribe it for blackheads, whiteheads, and cystic acne. Vitamin A boosts collagen formation; collagen keeps your skin firm and springy so you might say this nutrient erases wrinkles.

The Daily Reference Intake for vitamin A is 5,000 IUs daily, but you may need more, like 15 – 25 thousand IUs, if you take a drug mugger, for example, a fat-blocking supplement or drug, acid-reducing medications or mineral oil.  You could eat your way to sufficient levels of vitamin A if you consume a lot of meat, cheese, and milk. Plant foods contain beta-carotene and if you’re in good health, your body will convert this to vitamin A, without ever putting you at risk for toxicity. You get beta-carotene (and other healthy carotenoids) from carrots, red peppers, spinach, tomatoes and pumpkins. It’s a good idea to educate yourself about what vitamins and minerals can do for your body, and how to make sure you get enough of each nutrient to support healing and hopefully protect against disease. One of the best sources I keep in my library is the book NutriCures by Alice Feinstein, available through most major bookstores and online.