What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is an important vitamin. It is also known as retinol.
You can only get it from food and drink. You can get it either from vitamin A in foods, or from molecules known as povitamin A carotenoids. These provitamin A carotenoids break down in your body to become Vitamin A.
What foods give you vitamin A?
Vitamin A is found only in foods from animals such as:
- whole milk
- egg yolk
It is in the fat in these foods, so there is less of it in low fat varieties of milk and cheese.
Provitamin A carotenoids are found in green leafy vegetables, orange/yellow-coloured fruit and vegetables like:
- sweet potato.
What is the recommended dose of vitamin A?
Most people in Australia get enough vitamin A in their diets.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin A for adult men and women is 0.9 and 0.7 mg for men and women, respectively.
Do I need vitamin A supplements?
Lots of people take vitamin supplements, but there is no good evidence that they help unless you have a deficiency. Australia’s best guide to how to eat healthily – the Australian Dietary Guidelines – doesn’t recommend them.
Vitamin supplements are expensive. They are best taken only on a doctor’s advice. Most people get the vitamins they need from a healthy diet, which has a wide variety of foods, including:
- plenty of vegetables, of different types and colours, and legumes/beans
- grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain, and/or high cereal fibre varieties such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
- milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat.
Who is at risk of vitamin A deficiency?
You can get vitamin A deficiency if you can’t absorb it from your food, such as if you:
- drink a lot of alcohol
- have conditions like anorexia nervosa, liver disease, cystic fibrosis or coeliac disease
- have recently had gastrointestinal surgery.
Vitamin A deficiency symptoms and diagnosis
Vitamin A deficiency can cause trouble seeing, especially at night. It can also make it hard for you to fight infections.
Vitamin A deficiency is usually diagnosed following a blood test.
Vitamin A deficiency treatment
If your vitamin A levels are very low, or your doctor suspects you have a vitamin A deficiency, they may prescribe you vitamin A supplements.
Don’t take vitamin A supplements unless your doctors tells you to. Too much vitamin A in your body can cause serious problems, including nausea, hair loss, blurred eyesight, orange skin colour and an inability to control body movement. For pregnant women, too much vitamin A can cause birth defects.
Last reviewed: February 2016