Actually there’s really no such thing as Vitamin A. Instead, the term is an umbrella designation for a family of compounds called retinoids that are found through the plant and animal kingdoms. These ubiquitous chemical structures exist in a variety of forms and perform multiple functions in a healthy biological system.The three most common forms of retinoids are called retinyl palmitate, retinol and retinoic acid.
Perhaps the most important retinoid role involves the division of parent cells and the development of resultant offspring, so-called “daughter cells”. These processes, known as mitosis and differentiation are the most important of cellular events.Mitosis involves a cell splitting in two and forming a parent and an offspring. Via this process one cell, made up of the combined female egg cell and male sperm cell (it’s called a zygote from the Greek word for combined) turns into the 100 trillion cells or so of the human body. Obviously, the division is critical to formation of an animal body and this most fundamental of all biological phenomena is initiated and regulated by Vitamin A. Differentiation is even more critical. Once a cell it divides it may need to shape up, so to speak. Daughter cells have to develop to become mature liver, muscle, bone, heart or “whatever”cells. They have to shape up and take on a certain form. Offspring lung cells have to mature to do the things that a parent lung cells can do and the same is true for heart cells or muscle or bone cells any other cells that divide. This maturation processes is what is called differentiation and it is a sophisticated affair that requires a tightly choreographed chemistry, and biological precision.And, much like the maturation of human being from baby to teenager to adult, the process is fraught with danger. Anytime a system is growing and maturing and developing it reaches critical points where its survival is threatened. These tumultuous juncture points can be a matter of life or death for any system including a cell. Fortunately nature has provided support to sustain the cell in its stressful differentiation periods…it’s called nutrition! In fact one of the most important roles for nutrients is to assure healthy differentiation and of the entire support nutrient the most important bar none, the most powerful maturation nutrient is none other than the biochemical family known as Vitamin A.
Under conditions of vitamin A deficiency cell division is accelerated and cell differentiation is suppressed. The net result is the production of lots of un-differentiated.,immature cells. This can show up as various health issues ranging from to asthma to cancer to birth defects to skin conditions like psoriasis and acne all of which involve the appearance of large numbers of rapidly dividing immature cells that can muck up ordinarily organized chemistry. In all these conditions relatively high doses of Vitamin A (we’ll get to those in a moment) can provide effective therapeutic treatment.
Vitamin A plays another important role in the biochemical play of life. It turns on the production of meat. Not the kind of meat you get at McDonalds, but rather the kind of meat of that makes up the mass of the body. Technically the meat is called collagen and connective tissue and muscle protein and it gets pumped out cells called fibroblasts when commanded to do so by the alpha vitamin, Vitamin A. Breakdowns in connective tissue are behind degenerative disease and that means Vitamin A can be used to help prevent diverse and distinct disorders including osteoporosis, heart disease, aneurysms and circulatory issues. It can accelerate the healing of tissue after surgery or burns or wounds or other physical trauma. It can reduce the development of fine lines and wrinkle saggy skin and plain old regular aging. And, it’s not just sick or old folks that benefit from the body building benefits Vitamin A. Kids need it too. The most important sign of Vitamin A deficiency in children which 100 million kids worldwide is suboptimal growth and development. Without enough Vitamin A children will stop growing and eventually die.
Vitamin A Part 2
Athletes take note: Vitamin A can improve performance and provide tremendous benefits because it helps increase protein synthesis from muscle cells. This means Vitamin A is one of the most important nutritional supplements for weight lifters and body builder and anyone interested in improving athletic performance. And you don’t have to be pumping iron or running a marathon to benefit; the increased protein synthesis cans also improve vitality and energy and day to day strength for sedentary couch potatoes too.
Perhaps the most well-known role for vitamin A involves vision. Some of the Vitamin A you ingest ends up in your eyes where it acts to turn light into our reality (!). In other words, if you think see the world through rose colored glasses think again. You actually observe the world through lenses made up of (partially, at least) of Vitamin A! From a historical perspective, the most significant sign of a lack of Vitamin A was night blindness, which can which can ultimately result in total blindness. This was noted as early as 3500 years ago by ancient Chinese and Egyptian physicians used Vitamin A-rich fish liver oil as a treatment and cure. The health of the cornea also depends on Vitamin A and deficiencies can lead to swelling, inflammation and ultimately ulceration and blindness.
Vitamin A is also important for the immune system. While most people think of Vitamin Cwhen it comes to warding off colds and supporting the body’s defenses, as it turns out Vitamin A plays even more significant anti-pathogenic, anti-toxin role. In addition to having an enhancing effect on specific antibodies, the workhorses of immunity, Vitamin A upregulates the body’s non-specific, general resistance to infection. Dr. Robert Atkins, of Atkins Diet fame recommended taking extremely high doses (up 100,000 i.u., 50 times RDA) to be taken (along with Vitamin C and Zinc) at the first sign of a cold.
Finally, no discussion on Vitamin A would be complete without mentioning its non-essential cosmetic properties. Topical Vitamin A is one of the most important and powerful anti-wrinkle ingredients you could every use. The same connective tissue and protein stimulating properties you can get from eating or supplementing with Vitamin A can be targeted to the skin by directly applying the stuff. It’s so effective at driving protein and collagen synthesis that it’s regulated by the FDA as a drug. The brand name for this prescription Vitamin A cream as most people know is Retin-A and it contains just .01 to 1 percent retinoic acid (the most potent form of Vitamin A) and that’s all you need to use just a few times a week to have noticeably smoother, healthier and younger looking skin.
Worldwide, Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is considered a serious problem by the World Health organization. Because of its growth stimulating properties, children are especially susceptible to the negative health impacts of VAD. According to the World Health Organization, deficiencies in Vitamin A affect nearly 250 million preschoolers; it’s the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and it increases the risk of disease and death from serious infections. In addition to visual problems some of the indicators of VAD include dry eyes, skin conditions including acne and dermatitis and decreased resistance to infections and chronic colds and respiratory conditions.
Vegetarians and vegans are especially at risk for Vitamin A deficiency which is only found in animal products. Eggs, beef organ meats and dairy are nature’s richest sources of Vitamin A and especially high concentrations are found in liver and kidney. Non-meat eaters (as well as carnivores that want make sure they’re getting enough) may want to consider supplementation with 20,000 international units a day. The RDA for Vitamin A is a paltry 5000 i.u., but daily doses as high as 50,000 iu have been used for short periods of time for treating acne and heavy menstrual bleeding. In one study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 1993,la whopping 300,000 iu daily dose was used to suppress the formation of tumors in lung cancer patients.
While Vitamin A is only found in animal products, many fruits and vegetables do produce a “phyto” version of this important nutritional molecule. It’s called beta carotene and can be obtained via dark green leafy vegetables as well as red and orange fruits veggies like cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkins and squash and sweet potatoes. Kale and turnip greens are particularly good source of beta carotene which is essentially 2 molecular chunks of Vitamin A stuck together to form what can be considered pre-vitamin A. Beta carotene conversion to Vitamin A requires enzymes and effective biochemistry and depending on the health of the individual this may or may not occur.
As with any health issue you are dealing with in the body, first and foremost, GET ON THE HEALTHY START PACK, or the new Healthy Body Start Pack 2.0.
Last, but most certainly not least, Vitamin A absorption requires bile and that means you want your gall bladder, and hundreds of thousands of patients lose theirs every year. Liver disease, which affects 30 percent of Americans, can mess up the body’s ability to process Vitamin A too. Pretty much anything that impairs fat absorption, including pancreatic insufficiency, small intestine inflammation and lymphatic congestion, can have a negative impact on the body’s ability to process and utilize vitamin A from foods and even supplements. If you suspect any issues with fat malabsorbtion or you are sans gall bladder, you might want to think about taking a vitamin A supplement and eating vitamin A rich foods with fat absorption aids such as lecithin, digestive enzymes, pancreatic enzymes, bile salts, probiotics and apple cider vinegar.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I'm Ben Fuchs, a nutritional pharmacist from Boulder CO. I specialize in using nutritional supplements where other healthcare practitioners use toxic pharmaceutical drugs. I look at the human body as a healing & regenerating system, designed divinely to heal & renew itself on a moment to moment basis. "Take charge of your biochemistry through foods and supplements, rather than allow toxic prescription drugs to take charge of you.