Vitamin A is also known as retinol. It has several important functions, such as strengthening immunity against infections, helping vision in dim light and keeping the skin and other parts of the body healthy.
Good sources of vitamin A
Good sources of vitamin A include:
- oily fish, such as mackerel
- fortified low-fat spreads
Liver is a particularly rich source of vitamin A. Do not eat liver if you are pregnant.
Beta carotene as a source of vitamin A
The body can change beta carotene into vitamin A so including these sources will also help. The main food sources of beta-carotene are:
- yellow, orange and red vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers
- green (leafy) vegetables, such as spinach
- yellow fruit, such as mango, apricots and papaya
How much vitamin A you need
The amount of vitamin A adults need is:
- 0.7mg a day for men
- 0.6mg a day for women
You should be able to get all the vitamin A you need from your daily diet.
Any vitamin A that your body does not need immediately is stored for future use. This means you do not need it every day.
Taking too much vitamin A
According to some research, having more than an average of 1.5mg a day of vitamin A over many years may affect your bones, making them more likely to fracture when you are older.
Older people, particularly women, are already at risk of osteoporosis. This is where your bone density reduces and you have a higher risk of fractures.
If you eat liver or liver pâté once a week, you may be getting more than a daily average of 1.5mg of vitamin A.
If you do not get enough vitamin D, you could be more at risk of the harmful effects of too much vitamin A. People who may be particularly short of vitamin D include:
- pregnant and breastfeeding women
- people aged 65 and over
- people who are not exposed to much sun, for example those who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods
- people with darker skin such as people of African-Carribean and South Asian origin
Many multivitamins contain vitamin A. Other supplements, such as fish liver oil, are also high in vitamin A. If you take supplements containing vitamin A, make sure your daily intake of vitamin A from food and supplements does not exceed 1.5mg. If you eat liver every week, do not take supplements that contain vitamin A.
Vitamin A in pregnancy
Having large amounts of vitamin A can harm your unborn baby. So if you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby:
- do not take supplements containing vitamin A, including fish liver oil, except if you are advised to by your GP
- do not eat liver or liver products, such as pâté, because these are very high in vitamin A