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Carrots are a source of vitamin A.

Carrots are a source of vitamin A.
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Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for your health. You get it from what you eat each day. Vitamin A deficiency is a rare and easily avoidable condition.

What is vitamin A?

Vitamin A is an important vitamin. It is also known as retinol.

You need vitamin A for your eyes, especially for being able to see at night. It is also important for your immune system for your skin.

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:

  • liver
  • butter
  • cheese
  • whole milk
  • egg yolk
  • fish.

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:

  • cabbage
  • carrot
  • lettuce
  • mango
  • spinach
  • 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
  • fruit
  • 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:

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

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