By Jordan Pie
[Qualified Nutritionist & GAPS Practitioner - New Zealand]
Vitamin A plays a key role in several cellular and bodily functions, and without a sufficient amount, our body can’t function as it should. This fat-soluble vitamin is critical for our vision, cell differentiation, reproduction, bone formation, immune system function and wound healing.
When it comes to vitamin A, there are many misconceptions, and not getting enough of this vitamin could mean your body isn’t functioning as well as it could be. Today I’m addressing the 5 most common misconceptions of vitamin A and shining a light on synthetic vitamin A and why you need to avoid it!
Misconception #1: Carrots and dark leafy greens are the best sources of vitamin A
Although carrots and dark leafy greens do hold nutritional value, they aren’t the best sources of vitamin A. There are two sources of vitamin A; retinoids (retinol) and carotenoids. Retinoids, including retinol, come from animal sources, whereas carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, come from plant sources. For example, carrots, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes contain carotenoids.
Unlike these plant sources, retinoids from animal sources offer greater bioavailability. This means your body can absorb and use the vitamin A from animal sources better than it can with carotenoids from vegetables. Carotenoids, like beta carotene, must first be converted into retinol in order to be used by the body. This requires a minimum of six units of carotenes to create just one unit of retinoid. In other words, you would have to eat 2kg of carrots to get the same benefits as 85g of beef liver!
Organic Beef Liver is the best source of vitamin A providing you with the most bioavailable and potent form. You can further boost these benefits with a beef liver supplement, like Cell Squared’s Certified Organic Grass-Fed Beef Liver Powder. Just one teaspoon added to your favourite dish has the vitamin A equivalent of 26g of cooked organic beef liver. Or you can try Cell Squared's Organic Grass-Fed Beef Liver Capsules for an even more convenient option.
Though beef liver may be the best source of vitamin A, it isn’t the only animal source. There are many excellent sources of vitamin A that will give your body a healthy serving of retinoids, including:
Cod liver oil
Lamb or goose liver
When consuming any animal product, it is best to look for certified organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised as this will give you the best quality vitamins and vitamin A, guaranteeing no unnatural fertilisers or pesticides are used on the grass. You can discover more on the importance of sourcing certified organic animal products here.
Misconception #2: Synthetic vitamin A is the same as natural vitamin A
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, synthetic vitamin A can cause vitamin A toxicity and adverse health consequences. This synthetic version of vitamin A is also known as retinyl acetate or retinyl palmitate and is made by combining beta-ionone with palm oil or fish oil. Palm oil is problematic for a number of reasons, including rainforest deforestation and the endangerment of orangutans, and beta-ionone uses acetone, calcium oxide and citrus.
Synthetic vitamin A supplements can cause serious health concerns. Our bodies know how to absorb and use true, natural vitamin A from wholefoods, but this synthetic version is foreign to us. As a result, it doesn’t know what to do with it, allowing levels to build up in our body, becoming toxic. Research has linked high levels of synthetic vitamin A to a number of health issues and birth defects. Isolated and synthetic vitamin A don’t work as intended, so multivitamins and synthetic supplements that contain it won’t help. This is why we need true vitamin A along with other nutrients found in Organic Grass-Fed Beef Liver Capsules.
Considered 'nature’s multivitamin', organic grass-fed beef liver is incredibly nutrient dense and contains several vitamins that will help your body utilise the vitamin A you are receiving. For example, you will also be getting B vitamins, iron and copper.
Synthetic vitamins, like synthetic vitamin A, are not only potentially dangerous but don’t provide the same benefits when pairing vitamins. Pairing specific vitamins can enhance their health-boosting properties. For example, vitamin A and D work together by helping your body utilize vitamin A, preventing any build-up of the vitamin. Research on traditional diets of cultures around the world has revealed that individuals typically had high levels of vitamin A in their diet. These cultures that existed long before indoor plumbing and insulated houses spent most of their time outdoors, which increased their vitamin D. Taking a vitamin D supplement along with beef liver supplements or cod liver oil will give you an excellent combination of vitamin A and D. You can get high-quality, true vitamin A supplements from Cell Squared’s liver supplements, so you don’t need to worry about the toxic risks associated with synthetic versions.
Misconception #3: You don’t need fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A
Many vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they dissolve in water. Since our bodies consist of plenty of water, they are easily absorbed and utilised. This is not the case with fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A which is similar to an oil. It does not dissolve in water and is absorbed in our bodies when we eat high-fat foods. This means we need to eat fat to get vitamin A into our bloodstream.
We also need fat to turn carotenoids into usable vitamin A. Even if you opted for the 2kg of carrots, you aren’t getting the fat needed to utilise vitamin A properly. The required fat for vitamin A absorption is already paired with the vitamin in true vitamin A sources like organic beef liver. Additional sources like butter, ghee and heavy cream also have the fat needed for vitamin A absorption.
Misconception #4: Pregnant or breastfeeding women and children should not take vitamin A
Pregnant women and children should avoid synthetic vitamin A but should make sure they are getting enough true vitamin A as it is vital for healthy development. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council has shared studies on the importance of vitamin A from animal sources for these individuals. For example, they have shared research that has found that vitamin A plays “an important role in embryonic development, particularly in the development of the spinal cord and vertebrae, limbs, heart, eyes and ears”. Further, they have stated that an adequate amount of vitamin A can prevent morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases in children. The government website also provides recommended amounts of vitamin A for pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as infants and children, which can be found here.
Misconception #5: Vitamin A is only good for vision
Ask five people what the benefits of vitamin A are and three to four times, you will hear “vision” or “eyes”. Although true, it isn’t the only benefit of vitamin A. Vitamin A isn’t a single compound but rather a collective of fat-soluble compounds, and this collection of compounds provides several health benefits!
Eye health and vision maintenance
Vitamin A is needed for differentiation of the conjunctiva and cornea, which prevents xerophthalmia, an eye disease caused by vitamin A deficiency. In addition, vitamin A maintains the light-sensing cells in our eyes and the formation of tears. Without it, our eyes and tear ducts can dry out, and you can experience night blindness.
During pregnancy, there is a lot of cell growth which requires vitamin A.
Additionally, vitamin A aids in reproductive health by maintaining fetal development and fertility.
An immune system that functions as intended will ward off infections and contagious diseases. Vitamin A is needed for immune function. Research has found that those who are deficient are more susceptible to infection.
Hair growth. Although it may not seem as crucial as maintaining sight or robust immune function, the wonders vitamin A does for your hair is an added bonus! For our hair to grow strong and healthy, we need vitamin A, and if we are deficient, we could experience hair loss or alopecia.
The chronic, inflammatory skin disorder known as acne could be treated by increasing vitamin A. Research has suggested that a vitamin A deficiency could increase one’s risk of acne as it causes an overproduction of keratin in the hair follicles, trapping dead skin cells.
Vitamins and minerals are critical to supporting bone health. Although it isn’t the only vitamin needed, research has found that those with lower levels of vitamin A are at higher risk for bone fractures. Bone health is further supported when vitamin A is paired with Vitamin D.
Although misconceptions about vitamin A still exist, more people are becoming aware of the incredible benefits of true vitamin A and avoiding the toxic synthetic version. To receive the benefits of vitamin A from an animal source, look for wholefood supplements like organic freeze-dried beef liver supplements or grass-fed, fresh beef liver from a reputable source. Vitamin A from wholefood sources offers greater bioavailability and contains other critical nutrients like B vitamins. Cell Squared provides a variety of organic supplements ranging from beef liver capsules to grass-fed ghee to help maintain your health and feel your best by increasing vitamin A.