Last updated: 17/10/2022

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Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that is essential for many processes in your body, including maintaining healthy vision, ensuring the normal function of your immune system and organs and aiding the proper growth and development of babies in the womb.

Vitamin A cannot be made by the human body and so it is an essential part of the diet. Vitamin A is important for healthy eyes, good eyesight (vision), healthy skin and to help you fight infections. It is also sometimes also called retinol. While vitamin A deficiency is not often seen in developed countries, people who partake in extreme weight-loss diets can become deficient.


  • Vitamin A has multiple functions: it is important for growth and development, for the maintenance of the immune system and good vision
  • These vitamins should not be taken in high doses. Provitamin A (beta-carotene) supplements offer a safer and equally effective alternative.
  • Beta carotene is a red/orange pigment found in many fresh fruits and vegetables. It is converted into vitamin A, an essential vitamin.

The best vitamin A: Our Picks

Choosing the right supplement isn’t always easy. There are several different types of supplements out there, and it can be difficult to know which is the right one for you. In this section, we have put together a detailed outline of the best vitamin A supplements available on the market to help make your decision even easier.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for healthy vision, teeth, skeletal tissue, and skin. It can be found in natural food sources such as carrots. There are two types of vitamin A: preformed vitamin A, also called retinol, is found in animal products such as milk, eggs, meat, and cheese, Pro-vitamin A is found in plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin A is a natural antioxidant.
(Source: Abetlanda: 110743755/

What is vitamin A exactly?

Vitamin A has many varied functions. Retinol not only creates the pigments in the retina of the eye, but also is integral for good vision, especially night vision, and overall eye health.

Beta-carotene is the most important for vitamin A synthesis. The human body converts beta carotene into vitamin A (retinol), so essentially it is a precursor of vitamin A. We need vitamin A for healthy skin and mucus membranes, our immune system, and good eye health and vision. Beta carotene in itself is not an essential nutrient, but vitamin A is.

Vitamin A can be found in the food we eat, through beta carotene, for example, or in supplement form. The advantage of getting our beta carotene from our food is that the body only converts as much as it needs.

Did you know that humans have been aware of the beneficial effects of vitamin A on vision since 1,500 BC?

How does vitamin A help my body?

Because vitamin A helps protect the surface of the eye (cornea), and it is essential for good vision. Vitamin A, at least when in combination with other antioxidant vitamins, also appears to play a role in decreasing the risk of vision loss from macular degeneration (AMD). We’ve listed some of its main functions in the table below:

System Function
Visual Normal vision. Vision in low-light conditions
Muscular Creation of new cells
Cardiovascular Creation of defensive cells
Reproductive Foetal development
Immune Activation of the defensive system. Creation of immune cells
Nervous Preservation of ordinary memory
Hormonal and ageing Antioxidant (beta-carotenes)

What is the recommended dose of vitamin A?

Many of the terms you see on labels or supplement web sites can help you understand how much of the vitamin or mineral you should take. The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) and the AI (Adequate Intake) are the amounts of a vitamin or mineral you need to keep healthy and stay well-nourished. They’re tailored to women, men, and specific age groups. Here is a table to help understand the RDA for Vitamin A:

Remember: 1 mcg of retinol is equal to 1 mcg of RAE, and 12 mcg of beta-carotene are equal to 1 mcg of RAE.

Population group RAE daily dose (mcg)
Babies 0-6 months 400
Babies 7-12 months 500
Children 1-3 years 300
Children 4-8 years 400
Adolescents 9-13 years 600
Women over 13 700
Men over 13 700
Pregnant women 1,200

What foods are rich in vitamin A?

As we already mentioned, there are two types of vitamin A and they can be found in different types of food. Animal products contain preformed vitamin A or retinol. For example, three ounces of meat packs a whopping 444% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin A. Here are some of the richest foods in vitamin A you can find out there:

Food Quantity of vitamin A (mcg) % of the Recommended Daily Dose
Veal liver (100 g) 9,442 1,000%
Lamb liver (100 g) 7,500 800%
Cod liver oil (1 tablespoon) 1,350 150%
Mackerel (100 g) 252 28%
Camembert (cheese) (100 g) 240 27%
Salmon (100 g) 150 17%
Foie gras (1 tablespoon) 130 14%
Butter (1 tablespoon) 100 11%
Egg (1 XL egg) 75 9%

Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) represents an average daily intake that is sufficient to healthy people to meet their nutrient requirements. Vitamin A is responsible for the normal functioning of a number of organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and the reproductive system. It is essential for normal vision and strong immune system.

Foods from plant sources are rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene.
(Source: Photka: 53950131/

What foods are rich in beta-carotene?

Beta carotene is an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A and plays a very important role in health. It’s responsible for the red, yellow, and orange colouration of some fruits and veggies. You’ll find some of the main sources of beta-carotene in the table below:

Food Quantity of beta-carotene (mcg) RAE equivalence (mcg) % of the Recommended Daily Dose
Pumpkin (100 g) 3,123 260 29%
Canary melon (100 g) 1,190 99 11%
Lettuce (100 g) 800 67 7%
Red capsicum (100 g) 686 57 6%
Apricot (100 g) 565 47 5%
Broccoli (100 g) 483 40 4%
Peas (100 g) 405 35 3%

You can easily calculate the quantity of vitamin A found in a beta-carotene-rich food: all you have to do is divide the micrograms of provitamin A by 12. The value obtained corresponds to the “Retinol Activity Equivalents” (RAE), which indicate the amount of vitamin A that you’ll get after metabolising beta-carotene.

Nowadays, our diet tends to be rich in meat and fatty products, but poor in foods of plant origin. Don’t forget that beta-carotene isn’t the only thing you’ll get from fruits and vegetables: fibres, antioxidant elements and other vitamins are some of the other benefits present in foods of plant origin.

Who is affected by vitamin A deficiency?

As we said before, vitamin A deficiency is rare in industrialised societies. Our diet is rich in meat and fatty products, both containing high amounts of retinol. Developing countries are more affected by this kind of deficiency, as their diet can be poorer and include a small variety of nutrients.

Vitamin A deficiency can result from inadequate intake, fat malabsorption, or liver disorders. While deficiency is rare in developed countries, many people in developing countries do not get enough vitamin A. Those at highest risk of deficiency are pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, infants and children. Cystic fibrosis and chronic diarrhoea may also increase your risk of deficiency.

Vitamin A deficits can be provoked by certain diseases that affect proper nutrient absorption. Crohn’s disease, cirrhosis and sprue, for instance, will lead to retinol deficiencies if they are not treated properly. If you suffer from vitamin deficiency despite having a balanced diet, please consult a doctor.

How does vitamin A deficiency manifest itself?

Vitamin A is essential for the proper functioning of your skin, sight and immune system. All of these different systems will slowly be affected by a lack of this nutrient. Note that milder forms of vitamin A deficiency may be asymptomatic. Here are some of the consequences that may occur if this deficiency worsens:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Unexplained itching or stinging all over the body
  • Difficulty healing wounds
  • Loss of night vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe vision disturbances, such as corneal ulcers
  • Frequent infections, especially flu and gastroenteritis
  • Infertility, miscarriages, and foetal growth failure
  • Frequent bone fractures
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite

Vitamin A or beta-carotene supplements: which are better?

Stored in your body’s fatty tissues, vitamin A is hard to get rid of, and an excess of it will lead to undesirable side effects. These may include nausea, vomiting and a deterioration of your immune system. Your life could even be at risk in case of a particularly important overdose.

Your body can also convert beta-carotene from plant-derived foods into vitamin A when needed. Beta-carotene may also have other benefits, in addition to being a precursor for vitamin A. Beta-carotene is called a provitamin A carotenoid because your body can convert it to active vitamin A.

Andrew WeilMedical Doctor
“Individuals who consume the necessary levels of beta-carotene decrease their risk of coronary events, macular degeneration, and other age-related diseases.”

This is why we encourage you to supplement with beta-carotene if you want to increase your vitamin A levels. While this substance is naturally not flawless (for instance, use by smokers is contraindicated), it is considered much safer. You will also reap extra benefits from its antioxidant and photoprotective properties.

Who should take beta-carotene supplements?

Not everyone should take Vitamin A supplements. As mentioned, too much vitamin A in the body can actually have negative affects. So it is important to understand who should take this type of supplement and who will benefit from it. An additional intake of beta-carotene can improve the health of:

  • People with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • People with skin that burns very easily in the sun
  • People on low-calorie, nutrient-poor diets
  • People with very dry skin and brittle hair

While vitamin A can make your skin more sensitive to the action of the sun, beta-carotene will protect it. This substance seems to combat the ageing effect of sun exposure on your skin. Certain individuals also use it for purely aesthetic purposes, as it contributes to a prolonged tan.

What caution should I exercise with beta-carotene?

As we mentioned earlier, our body is able to synthesise the necessary amount of vitamin A from beta-carotene. When your retinol reserves are full, any remaining beta-carotene won’t be toxic to you, and your organism will eliminate it over time. Again, the only known side effect is an orange coloration of the skin and mucous membranes, a symptom that is completely harmless to your health.

Eating foods rich in beta-carotene, along with other antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, seems to protect against some forms of cancer. However, beta-carotene supplements may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer in people who smoke or drink heavily. Those people should not take beta-carotene, except under a doctor’s supervision.

Dr. Melina JampolisPhysician Nutrition Specialist
“The only disease where a beta carotene supplement may help is in the prevention or slowing of age-related macular degeneration and the associated vision loss.”

In a nutshell, beta-carotene supplements are generally considered safe, although smokers should avoid them. Pregnant women must check with their healthcare provider prior to trying them. When compared to supplements, foods rich in beta-carotene present no side effects and are recommended for everyone.

Shopping Criteria

With all of the different types of supplements available, it can be difficult to know which is the best for you. There are a few different aspects to consider when purchasing Vitamin A supplements, and not all are the same. To make it easier for you, we have created this shopping guide with all of the different elements to consider before you make your purchase. These shopping criteria will be key in your decision:


A person can be allergic to almost any food. While allergies to carotenoids are rare, there have been reports of allergic reactions to the components of these gelatine capsules. Please be careful when buying such products if you are allergic to bovine proteins, soy or fish.

Vegan or vegetarian nutrition

As you know, beta-carotene comes from plant sources; but this doesn’t mean that its supplements are necessarily suitable for vegan individuals. As soft capsules containing the supplement are often made from bovine gelatin, it is recommended to carefully check the packaging of any product you’re interested in. Made from cellulose instead of gelatine, plant-coated capsules are also available on the market.

Damaris PhillipsAmerican Chef
“I try not to focus on taking things away; I try to add in nutrient-rich foods into the things I eat. I don’t say, ‘I’m going to take out the fat.’ I say, ‘What can I add in to make my muscles work more? What can I add into this that will give me the vitamins I need?'”

Pharmacological interactions

Herbs, vitamins, and other dietary supplements may augment or antagonise the actions of prescription and nonprescription drugs. Even supplements that do not have a documented pharmacologic action can affect the absorption, metabolism, and disposition of other drugs. Consult your doctor of pharmacist before taking them, especially if you follow a treatment to lower your cholesterol levels.

Keep in mind that each individual has different vitamin A needs, and there are several different dosing options available. We encourage you to use the table found in our article to calculate your daily retinol needs. Remember that excessive supplementation will increase risks of side effects.

A source of vitamin A, carrot is easy to find and has a pleasant taste.
(Source: Lisa870: 50231030/

Value for money

You should not be taking vitamin a supplements for a long time. Typically, the maximum period for these types of supplements is three months. You will usually find most bottles with 30 to 60 capsules.


Vitamin A is essential for bodies. We can get it from the food we eat, as well as from supplements. It is essential for many functions in our body including maintaining healthy vision, strengthening our immune system and even aiding the growth and development of babies in the womb.

Though a deficiency is not common, pregnant women and those in developing countries are most at risk of vitamin a deficiency.The best way to ensure an adequate nutrient intake is to eat a varied and balanced diet, full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthful fats, and lean proteins.

If you liked our guide on vitamin A, feel free to leave a comment in the section below, and share it on your social media!

(Source of featured image: Wilcox: 36349752/