"Eat your carrots, they’re good for your eyes!" Now there’s a sentence that has been etched in many a childhood memory. But can carrots, which are high in vitamin A and beta-carotene, really have an impact on the health of your eyes? Was Mom right?
It is a well-known fact that healthy eating habits are vital to maintaining a healthy body. Because many of the foods we consume contain vitamins that all have their own properties, it is also essential to have a varied diet. One of these vitamins is vitamin A. Beta-carotene, for its part, is a nutrient that is part of the carotenoid family. It is a precursor of vitamin A, meaning that the body transforms it into vitamin A. Beta-carotene derived from your diet is highly beneficial since it contributes to meeting your needs in vitamin A, after the body has converted it.
The role of vitamin A
Vitamin A is important to maintain your health, contributing to it in many ways. Here are a few examples of its benefits:
- It contributes to the development of teeth, bones, hair and nails.
- It contributes to maintaining the integrity of skin cells and eyes.
- It is essential to good night vision.
- It promotes regulation of the immune system.
- It has antioxidant properties, which can have preventative effects for certain diseases.
To do its job, vitamin A must be absorbed in sufficient amounts each day. Daily needs in vitamin A depend on a person’s age and gender, as well as other factors, such as pregnancy. For example, men aged 14 and over usually need a daily intake of 900 µg (3,000 UI), while women usually require 700 µg (2,330 UI). Your pharmacist can tell you more about your daily needs in vitamin A and the ways to meet them.
The consequences of vitamin A deficiency
In industrialized countries, it is rather rare to suffer from vitamin A deficiency, unless you have an illness that hinders your body’s absorption of this vitamin. A person suffering from insufficient vitamin A could present some symptoms, including:
- bad night vision;
- eyes that are sensitive to light;
- skin problems;
- less resistance to infections;
- growth problems.
It is not recommended to take supplements of vitamin A or beta-carotene, unless under medical supervision.
The consequences of excess vitamin A
Vitamin A is a lipid-soluble vitamin, which means that if it is taken in excess, it gets stored in your body fat. This can potentially lead to overdose symptoms, such as:
- pain in the bones or joints;
- nausea and vomiting;
- loss of appetite;
- dry skin.
Note that the symptoms of a vitamin A overdose can be similar to those of a deficiency.
Vitamin A and beta-carotene in food
Vitamin A in its natural state is found in foods of animal origin, such as:
- cod-liver oil;
Beta-carotene is mostly found in foods of vegetable origin, such as yellow-orange and dark-green fruits and vegetables:
- sweet potato;
Warning to smokers
Beta-carotene supplements can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. The same thing can occur in asbestos workers and alcoholics. Before considering taking such a supplement, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Warning to pregnant women
A daily intake of over 10,000 UI of vitamin A can lead to congenital anomalies. It is best to refrain from regularly eating foods that are high in vitamin A, such as wild-game liver, for example. Note that this is not a problem for beta-carotene, however, since it only transforms into vitamin A when you need it.
By filling up your plate with a variety of colours, you will not only make it more appetizing, but also rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene; meeting your daily needs will contribute to the health of your hair, nails, skin and eyes. Looks like Mom wasn’t so wrong after all!