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The Science Behind Vitamin A
Vitamin A was the very first vitamin to be officially named – hence it being awarded the first letter of the alphabet. Like vitamin C and E, vitamin A is an antioxidant and it is widely recognised for improving eye health, boosting the immune system, treating acne, preventing flu and other acute infections.
It protects the body from the effects of toxic chemicals like those lurking in our household products and it has also been shown to help prevent the development of cancer – especially skin and lung cancer. Needless to say it’s an absolute must for smokers and sun worshippers to supplement their diet with vitamin A.
Many women are deficient in this micronutrient, not just because of the reduction in our food supply but because of a previously undiscovered genetic variation. Scientists at Newcastle University, led by Dr Lietz, have discovered that nearly 50 per cent of British women have a genetic variation which reduces their ability to produce sufficient amounts of vitamin A from beta-carotene (a precursor to retinol or vitamin A). The research also showed that all of the study volunteers consumed only about a third of their recommended daily intake of ‘preformed’ vitamin A – the form found in dairy, eggs and milk.
As a result, Dr Lietz suggests that younger women are at particular risk because, “Older generations tend to eat more eggs, milk and liver which are naturally rich in vitamin A whereas the health conscious youngsters on low-fat diets are relying heavily on the beta-carotene form of the nutrient.”
In other words, we are not consuming enough of the right vitamin A and almost half of us have a genetic mutation which stops us from absorbing what we do get!
The news gets worse if you are overweight as further studies have shown that obesity causes a vitamin A deficiency. A Cornell University study published in Scientific Reports showed that obesity impairs the body’s ability to use vitamin A appropriately and leads to deficiencies of the vitamin in major organs – even with adequate intake. The study also showed that when the weight was shed vitamin A levels returned to normal. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to chronic eye problems, diabetes, respiratory issues and abnormal immune response.
So girls, if you live in the UK there is a very good chance you are deficient in vitamin A. If you are carrying extra weight the organs in your body may be starved of this vital nutrient. Foods rich in vitamin A include: sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, lettuce, apricots, bell peppers, fish, liver and tropical fruits.