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Why Is Vitamin A So Important?


It may not get as much buzz as its cousins vitamins C or D, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less crucial for your health. 

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Most people are familiar with common vitamins and their benefits. If anything, you can at least connect vitamin C with supporting your immune system or vitamin D with helping your bone health. But then there are likely some vitamins whose roles you’re not as sure about. Take vitamin A, for example; it’s a vitamin that’s way less talked about, but still hugely important. Here’s everything you need to know about vitamin A. 

How do you get vitamin A and what does it do? 

First, know that there are two different types of vitamin A. The first is preformed vitamin A (also known as retinol), which is found in animal products like meat and dairy. The other form is provitamin A, or carotenoids (such as beta-carotene), which are found in fruits and vegetables and get converted to retinol in your body after you eat them.  

Vitamin A does a ton: it helps your cells grow correctly; helps organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys function properly; and helps with other body systems like your vison, your immune system, and reproduction. For women, vitamin A is also important for pregnancy and breastfeeding.  

How much vitamin A do you need? 

The exact amount of vitamin A you need depends on your age and sex. It’s generally at least 700 micrograms of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) a day for women and 900 micrograms for men. You can find preformed vitamin A in foods like salmon and organ meats. Green vegetables like spinach contain provitamin A, as well as yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, like cantaloupe, pumpkin, and carrots. You can also find vitamin A in dairy products, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereals (just check the nutrition label). If you’re trying to get enough vitamin A into your diet, you can also try a daily multivitamin like Centrum Women, which contains 1,050mcg of vitamin A.  

Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it’s stored in your body and can accumulate over time if you’re consuming too much of it. High intakes of vitamin A can result in dizziness, nausea, and headaches. (If you have more specific questions about vitamin A for you, check with your doctor.) 

How do you know if you’re getting enough vitamin A? 

Vitamin A deficiency is pretty rare in the United States. If you aren’t getting enough vitamin A, you might experience vision issues like not being able to see at night. It can also affect your skin and may increase your risk for getting an infection, and impact your thyroid. Just keep in mind, a vitamin A deficiency is uncommon in the U.S.; people with a generally healthy diet are likely not at risk for having one. However, there are certain groups who might be more prone to not getting enough, including vegetarians, older adults, and children between the ages of 4 and 18. 

Haven’t I heard about vitamin A and skincare? 

Yes!  You can also use vitamin A topically to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles. In addition to helping smooth fine lines, anti-aging products that contain retinoids may help strengthen the skin’s ability to protect itself, improve hydration, and maintain collagen levels. Specifically, beta-carotenes are antioxidants, which may help protect cells from free radical damage. Check with your dermatologist to learn about the right products for your skin type.