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Health Benefits of Vitamin A: The Miracle Vitamin
So many issues can be related to vitamin A deficiency. The 2 most abundant sources of retinol are liver and cod liver oil- 2 things which I had never even heard of until a few years ago (seriously, I didn’t know people could eat liver!). I am sure a majority of people in the Western world grew up the same- lots of process foods, very low fat and cholesterol, margarine, etc. We are severely lacking in this nutrient. It is very potent for people that start it too- many have to start beef liver or cod liver oil very slowly in order to prevent a healing reaction. There are SO many health benefits of vitamin A and it is important that we know what the common deficiency symptoms are.
Vitamin A is a crucial nutrient needed to heal from copper imbalances. It is a prime part of creating ceruloplasmin. (Source-PubMed) Most A is stored in the liver so blood tests can’t be very effective in telling us our A stores. Low ceruloplasmin and low potassium on the HTMA are good indicators of an A deficiency. I know there is a blood test for A but it really wouldn’t reflect A in storage. Read my entire post on copper balancing here for more information.
Autoimmune disorders, leaky gut, inflammation, ATP energy production, food intolerances, and more are connected with vitamin A. Retonic acid impacts about 500 different genes!! This article is probably one of the best I have ever come across. Vitamin A is so important for our healing process, but we do need to go slow with it and support our livers!
The Lie about Vitamin A and Beta Carotene
One of the BIGGEST lies we have been told is that beta carotene is the same as vitamin A. While beta carotene is an important nutrient, it has to go through a process to be converted into retinol. In order to make this conversion we need a healthy gut, healthy liver and gallbladder (bile flow is the KEY), and certain enzymes and nutrients (like zinc). From this study, “Î²-Carotene is absorbed from the intestine and is converted into vitamin A only in the presence of bile acids.” So we need a healthy liver, period!
Even a person in 100% health will still not get a full conversion of beta carotene to retinol- some experts say we need at least 6 times the beta carotene to be able to use it for retinol. Some say it is up to 12 times more beta carotene than retinol!
There has been so many misconceptions over the last few decades about vitamin A and the foods that contain it. Eggs, butter, liver, and cod liver oil are among the highest sources of retinol but we keep hearing that fat and cholesterol are bad or that animal products are not necessary because they are unhealthy. We’ve even been told that retinol is toxic- which stemmed from a story of people eating polar bear liver. This makes ZERO sense when you realize that our ancestors thrived on foods like this for thousands of years. Toxicity from food sources is very unlikely. Synthetic vitamin A supplements and medications (like Accutane) are more likely to cause toxicity issues, especially liver damage.
Fat and cholesterol are essential for health. We have an epidemic of obesity, hormonal disorders, and autoimmune diseases despite the “low-fat” craze that has been going on for decades. The problem is not the fat or cholesterol- it is the QUALITY of the food we are consuming. Factory farming, hundreds of pesticides used, genetically modified foods, added sugar, and artificial ingredients have ruined our food supply. Luckily more people are catching on now to the lies that we’ve been fed.
The Many Health Benefits of Vitamin A
The BIG eye-opener about retinol is that it is absolutely essential for gut and immune health. This article is absolutely A-mazing with its information on why vitamin A is a huge missing link to this auto-immune epidemic that we have going on. Vitamin A has a relationship with the gut lining, as well as making us able to have a wide tolerance of foods.
Vitamin A is also needed for vision (along with zinc): night blindness is often the first sign of vitamin A deficiency. Also, Vitamin A is a main part of the treatment of measles, chickenpox, and some cancers, because of its role in immune system health. Vitamin A is also essential for raising low potassium levels as this vitamin helps us retain potassium.
Symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency:
- Night blindess (one of the first signs)
- Poor vision (wear glasses? You most likely have a vitamin A deficiency)
- Dry hair/ nails
- Dry skin
- Ridges on nails
- Color blindness
- Skin cancer
- Reproductive issues
- Weak immune system (chronic colds)
- Infections: cold sores, boils, etc
- Poor smell, taste or appetite
- “Chicken Skin”- keratosis pilaris: Little bumps that show up mostly on the back of the arms, buttocks, and thighs.
- Women of childbearing age are at a risk of vitamin A deficiency as well
Where to Find Vitamin A as Retinol
You can find retinol in eggs, butter, liver (especially beef), cod liver oil, and dairy products.
My top supplement choices are NutraPro Virgin Cod Liver oil and Perfect Supplements desiccated beef liver supplement. You can use the code SASSY for 10% off your whole order with Perfect Supplements too!
If you are brave, you can attempt to cook liver. I’m not quite at that stage yet so I use the beef liver powder. Honestly, for those that are very sensitive I would suggest starting with a beef liver supplement before attempting to eat it that way you can get your body used to the nutrients. Beef liver is a very nourishing food and is abundant in retinol, copper, iron, zinc, B12, folate, choline and taurine.
You could go for a classic liver and onions recipe! Or you can try Nutrient Dense Meatloaf.
Beta Carotene has its own benefits but there have been several studies about how poorly it is converted into retinol. There are about 600 different kinds of carotenoids, and only 50 of them are even able to be converted into true vitamin A.
You can find beta carotene in pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, and spinach.
Stay away from isolated vitamin D supplements as well as they kill vitamin A stores. We actually need 25 times more A than D! That is how our ancestors lived- with a TON more a than D.
We need happy livers and adrenals to utilize vitamin A. If you are a slow oxidizer, this might be a problem for you: you need the vitamin A, but you can’t always utilize it. This is where liver lovers like bitter herbs, BioRay Liver Life, and herbs like dandelion root come into play. Read here for more about liver loving!
What else is involved in Vitamin A deficiency?
- Vitamin A deficiency is involved in hypothyroidism, and goiter formation
- It is involved in estrogen sensitivity.
- Adequate adrenal function is needed for moving vitamin A out of storage
- Iodine can be antagonist to vitamin A!
- Vitamin A is needed to reduce the toxic effects of too much vitamin D
- Vitamin A is needed for iron metabolism: it helps with both iron deficiency and overload. (Most likely because of its role in ceruloplasmin)
- Vitamin C helps with storing vitamin A
- Vitamin A is needed for bone, skin, and teeth health
- It is involved in adrenal hormone production as well as thyroxine output
- It can prevent and treat many cancers
- It helps with creating red blood cells, and strengthens the immune system
- Adequate protein helps mobilize vitamin A from the liver to be utilized
- It can help with anemia, adult onset diabetes, hypothyroidism, fatigue, depression, cold sensitivity, and more
Check out WAPF’s article called Vitamin A Saga– a really great read!
Seeing more info about “vitamin A toxicity” or “how to detox from vitamin A”? Please read this article here for ALL you need to know.
**REAL Vitamin A is NOT toxic***
There are several other bloggers/practitioners going around claiming that vitamin A is toxic- that we need to avoid it and that we need to detox it from our bodies. Unfortunately, these people are also claiming that beta carotene rich foods are involved in this, which (for me) throws the argument out the window. Vitamin A from plant sources is NOT the same as animal sources. It is the precursor to real vitamin A and has the potential to be converted- if there is enough of it and if the liver is up to the conversion.
So here are some facts about vitamin A that will hopefully help those that might be getting confused about this:
*Vitamin A is essential for gut and immune health
*Vitamin A is crucial for vision, skin, reproduction, and so much more
*We need anywhere from 6-12 times the beta carotene just to convert it to retinol.
** Many of us don’t even have the ability to convert it anyway because of our ancestry (think Northern European!). The SNP called BCM01 can give you more insight if you’ve done a test for genetics. (read more about this SNP here). Couple our ancestry with an environment that has made our liver, gut, and adrenals sluggish and it really decreases our ability to use vitamin A or beta carotene.
**SYNTHETIC vitamin A is absolutely toxic to the liver and should be avoided. Most of the studies you are going to see claiming to be “proof” that vitamin A is bad are referencing synthetic, isolated, and usually high doses of vitamin A supplementation.
**We need happy adrenals to mobilize vitamin A from the liver to be utilized. We need bile, digestive enzymes, and zinc to use vitamin A correctly. This is why in this site we recommend work on gut and liver healing FIRST before throwing retinol rich foods/supplements in. We have to be able to utilize it properly, otherwise you’re just wasting your money and possibly stressing your body out. This is why I do not always recommend things like beef liver or cod liver oil to clients right off the bat.
Vitamin A is one of the most common deficiencies we’re dealing with and there is a lot that goes into proper utilization (I include it with copper balancing for this reason- it’s all connected!). I call vitamin A the miracle vitamin because once we can introduce it and utilize it correctly, it can help immensely with healing.
Use common sense and critical thinking when on this journey back to better health.
One big thing to think of it- what did our ancestors eat? Many of them consumed retinol rich foods more than anything- butter, liver and other organ meats, fresh dairy, etc. They did not have the tendency for sluggish livers like we did though because they were eating a diet filled with nothing but whole foods and they did not have the same toxin exposure that we did.
We have the job of undoing the damage that has been done to us first- healing will happen in layers because of this. Not everyone can or should use vitamin A rich foods at the beginning of their journey. But this does not mean it is toxic, evil, or detrimental.
We really need to stop this “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to health. There is usually more than meets the eye, especially when it comes to nutrients. I have seen “proof” that all of these nutrients are toxic: vitamin A, vitamin D, copper, iron, manganese, calcium, potassium, and zinc. They are NOT all toxic, but if we’re overdoing things with supplementation then yes, we have the potential for making things shift too much in one direction. This is why whole food nutrition and true holistic health needs to be better appreciated.