Vitamin A is an essential nutrient to maintain our vision, skin and immune system in good health. That being said, it can be a little difficult to supplement with this molecule. We’ve designed this new article to answer all the questions you may have regarding vitamin A and its supplements.

Besides the three main functions mentioned above, it is a potent antioxidant that can slow the effects of ageing. While vitamin A deficiency is seldom seen in the Western world, individuals on heavy weight-loss diets can become significantly deficient.

Key Facts

  • Vitamin A contributes to healthy sight, skin and immune system.
  • These supplements are considered toxic if consumed in high concentrations. Provitamin A (beta-carotene) supplements are a safer and equally effective option.
  • Beta-carotene is also a potent antioxidant that contributes to reducing the harmful effects of free radicals.

Ranking: The best vitamin A supplements in the market

Choosing the right supplement isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. We want to make this task easier for you, so we’ve designed the following ranking with the best supplements available on the Australian market right now. After carefully analysing their specific properties, we believe this list offers both overall quality and value for money.

No. 1: Blackmores, Vitamin A (tablets)

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Specialised in the development of health supplements, Blackmores is one of Australia’s most trusted brands in the industry. Recognised throughout Australasia, the company’s quality control ensures the highest standards for its products. Their vitamin A supplement is therefore a great option, offering both quality and great value for money.

Each pack contains 150 tablets and you’ll be set for months to come, since they recommend taking a single capsule a day during mealtime. Each tab will give you approximately 1,500 micrograms of retinol in the form of retinyl palmitate, contributing to a healthy vision and a stronger immune system. Not vegan-friendly. Price per tablet: $0.083.

No. 2: NOW Foods Natural Beta-carotene (softgels)

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American-based company NOW Foods develops natural supplements and healthy food products since 1968, and their vitamin A supplement features a very high dose of beta-carotene. A single one of their softgels contains 500% of the daily requirement of vitamin A, making it ideal for individuals with high deficiencies.

Each package contains 90 softgels, which are not suitable for vegetarians as the gelatinous coating is made from bovine extract. Past customers have been very satisfied with this product, some preferring it over traditional vitamin A. It contains a small quantity of vitamin E. Price per softgel: $0.165.

No. 3: Solgar Beta-carotene (softgels)

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American company Solgar has been specialised in top quality nutritional supplements since the 1940s, and these softgels will offer you the powerful dose of provitamin A you might just need. This natural product extracted from the Dunaliella salina, a seaweed rich in several carotenoids, such as alpha and beta-carotene.

Your organism will therefore be able to synthesise these into just the right amount of vitamin A. The intake recommended by the manufacturer is one softgel a day during meals. While it is free of gluten and dairy, this product is not vegan-friendly. Price per softgel: $0.24.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about vitamin A

Vitamin A is a nutrient that has been used since ancient times to treat eye defects. It is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of our retina cells, which is the reason why it is also called “retinol”. You can either ingest this antioxidant, or apply it directly on your skin.

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Vitamin A is a natural antioxidant. (Source: Abetlanda: 110743755/ 123rf.com)

What is vitamin A exactly?

This essential molecule regulates hundreds of vital processes in our body. Involved in vision, immunity, growth and reproduction, this substance is commonly found in products of animal origin. Our body is also able to create it from its precursors, carotenoids.

Beta-carotene is the most important for vitamin A synthesis. Also known as provitamin A, this carotenoid is present in foods such as sweet potatoes and carrots. Acting as an antioxidant, this substance combats the action of free radicals that lead to cell ageing.

This molecule can be found in various forms throughout our organism. For example, vitamin A present in the retina cells is called retinal, while the correct name is retinyl ester when it is stored in fat or in the liver. But all you have to remember is that all retinoids and different versions of vitamin A.

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Did you know that humans have been aware of the beneficial effects of vitamin A on vision since 1,500 BC?

How does vitamin A help my body?

Vitamin A allows your retina’s photoreceptors – cones and rods – to react to light. This phenomenon allows you to have colour vision, especially in low-light conditions. Retinol is also vital for other processes like hormone regulation. We’ve listed some of its main functions in the table below:

System Function
Visual Normal vision. Vision in low-light conditions
Muscular Creation of new cells
Cardiovascular Creation of defensive cells
Reproductive Foetal development
Immune Activation of the defensive system. Creation of immune cells
Nervous Preservation of ordinary memory
Hormonal and ageing Antioxidant (beta-carotenes)

What is the recommended dose of vitamin A?

A daily intake of 1 microgram (mcg) of retinol is recommended for men, and 0.8 mcg for women. However, vitamin A can be taken preformed or as provitamin A. This is why intake quantities are always indicated in micrograms of “Retinol Activity Equivalents” (RAE):

Knowing exactly how much vitamin A you ingest can be confusing at times, in particular if you use precursors such as beta-carotene. The RAE table below will help you measure the right equivalence.

Remember: 1 mcg of retinol is equal to 1 mcg of RAE, and 12 mcg of beta-carotene are equal to 1 mcg of RAE.

Population group RAE daily dose (mcg)
Babies 0-6 months 400
Babies 7-12 months 500
Children 1-3 years 300
Children 4-8 years 400
Adolescents 9-13 years 600
Women over 13 700
Men over 13 700
Pregnant women 1,200

What foods are rich in vitamin A?

We exclusively find preformed vitamin A – or retinol – in foods of animal origin. For instance, one hundred grams of veal liver will provide you with a thousand times the recommended daily dose of this substance. Here are some of the richest foods in vitamin A you can find out there:

Food Quantity of vitamin A (mcg) % of the Recommended Daily Dose
Veal liver (100 g) 9,442 1,000%
Lamb liver (100 g) 7,500 800%
Cod liver oil (1 tablespoon) 1,350 150%
Mackerel (100 g) 252 28%
Camembert (cheese) (100 g) 240 27%
Salmon (100 g) 150 17%
Foie gras (1 tablespoon) 130 14%
Butter (1 tablespoon) 100 11%
Egg (1 XL egg) 75 9%

Vitamin A is fat-soluble and is stored in your body’s tissues, which is why you don’t actually have to consume these foods every day. Either way, most of them are rich in saturated fats and cholesterol and should not be eaten in excess. We recommend turning to foods rich in beta-carotene if you want to increase your vitamin A intake.

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Foods from plant sources are rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene. (Source: Photka: 53950131/ 123rf.com)

What foods are rich in beta-carotene?

Foods rich in provitamin A come from plant sources, meaning that vegan individuals can meet their vitamin A needs. As mentioned before, this substance also acts as an antioxidant to fight the effects of ageing. You’ll find some of the main sources of beta-carotene in the table below:

Food Quantity of beta-carotene (mcg) RAE equivalence (mcg) % of the Recommended Daily Dose
Pumpkin (100 g) 3,123 260 29%
Canary melon (100 g) 1,190 99 11%
Lettuce (100 g) 800 67 7%
Red capsicum (100 g) 686 57 6%
Apricot (100 g) 565 47 5%
Broccoli (100 g) 483 40 4%
Peas (100 g) 405 35 3%

You can easily calculate the quantity of vitamin A found in a beta-carotene-rich food: all you have to do is divide the micrograms of provitamin A by 12. The value obtained corresponds to the “Retinol Activity Equivalents” (RAE), which indicate the amount of vitamin A that you’ll get after metabolising beta-carotene.

Nowadays, our diet tends to be rich in meat and fatty products, but poor in foods of plant origin. Don’t forget that beta-carotene isn’t the only thing you’ll get from fruits and vegetables: fibres, antioxidant elements and other vitamins are some of the other benefits present in foods of plant origin.

Who is affected by vitamin A deficiency?

As we said before, vitamin A deficiency is rare in industrialised societies. Our diet is rich in meat and fatty products, both containing high amounts of retinol. Developing countries are more affected by this kind of deficiency, as their diet is poorer and includes a small variety of nutrients.

That being said, it’s not impossible to find individuals with dangerously low levels of vitamin A in Australia. Individuals on vegan diets may suffer from deficiency if they do not eat enough foods rich in carotenoids. Hypovitaminemia is also a risk for people following overly aggressive weight-loss plans.

On the other hand, vitamin A deficits can be provoked by certain diseases that affect proper nutrient absorption. Crohn’s disease, cirrhosis and sprue, for instance, will lead to retinol deficiencies if they are not treated properly. If you suffer from vitamin deficiency despite having a balanced diet, please consult a doctor.

How does vitamin A deficiency manifest itself?

Vitamin A is essential for the proper functioning of your skin, sight and immune system. All of these different systems will slowly be affected by a lack of this nutrient. Note that milder forms of vitamin A deficiency may be asymptomatic. Here are some of the consequences that may occur if this deficiency worsens:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Unexplained itching or stinging all over the body
  • Difficulty healing wounds
  • Loss of night vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe vision disturbances, such as corneal ulcers
  • Frequent infections, especially flu and gastroenteritis
  • Infertility, miscarriages, and foetal growth failure
  • Frequent bone fractures
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite

Vitamin A or beta-carotene supplements: which are better??

Stored in your body’s fatty tissues, vitamin A is hard to get rid of, and an excess of it will lead to undesirable side effects. These may include nausea, vomiting and a deterioration of your immune system. Your life could even be at risk in case of a particularly important overdose.

Your body only synthesises the amount of vitamin A it needs when ingesting beta-carotene. Up until today, the only proven side effect of an excess of beta-carotene is the appearance of a yellowish tinge on the skin. While it may be unpleasant, note that this problem is purely cosmetic and won’t pose a threat to your health.

Andrew WeilMedical Doctor

“Individuals who consume the necessary levels of beta-carotene decrease their risk of coronary events, macular degeneration, and other age-related diseases.”

This is why we encourage you to supplement with beta-carotene if you want to increase your vitamin A levels. While this substance is naturally not flawless (for instance, use by smokers is contraindicated), it is considered much safer. You will also reap extra benefits from its antioxidant and photoprotective properties.

Who should take beta-carotene supplements?

You should get 100% of the daily requirements of beta-carotene and vitamin A with a balanced diet. However, you can always start supplementing to bring your retinol reserves back to adequate levels if you experience any symptom related to a deficiency. An additional intake of beta-carotene can improve the health of:

  • People with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • People with skin that burns very easily in the sun
  • People on low-calorie, nutrient-poor diets
  • People with very dry skin and brittle hair

While vitamin A can make your skin more sensitive to the action of the sun, beta-carotene will protect it. This substance seems to combat the ageing effect of sun exposure on your skin. Certain individuals also use it for purely aesthetic purposes, as it contributes to a prolonged tan.

What caution should I exercise with beta-carotene?

As we mentioned earlier, our body is able to synthesise the necessary amount of vitamin A from beta-carotene. When your retinol reserves are full, any remaining beta-carotene won’t be toxic to you, and your organism will eliminate it over time. Again, the only known side effect is an orange colouration of the skin and mucous membranes, a symptom that is completely harmless to your health.

That being said, certain groups should be cautious when adding this product to their diet. It has been proven that there is an increased incidence of lung cancer amongst smokers taking beta-carotene supplements. Furthermore, scientific research is lacking regarding the safety of these supplements during pregnancy.

Dr. A. BendichDepartment of Nutrition, Hoffman-La Roche Clinic

“Beta-carotene has been used for over 15 years to treat photosensitising skin diseases at doses equal to or greater than 180 mg/day, with no side effects other than skin colouration.”

In a nutshell, beta-carotene supplements are generally considered safe, although smokers should avoid them. Pregnant women must check with their healthcare provider prior to trying them. When compared to supplements, foods rich in beta-carotene present no side effects and are recommended for everyone.

Shopping Criteria

We know just how difficult choosing the right supplement for you can be, so we’ve designed the following section to detail some characteristics that you should take into account before buying your vitamin A supplement. These shopping criteria will be key in your decision:

  • Allergens
  • Vegan or vegetarian nutrition
  • Pharmacological interactions
  • Recommended daily dose
  • Value for money

Allergens

Beta-carotene supplements are most commonly found in the form of soft capsules. While allergies to carotenoids are rare, there have been reports of allergic reactions to the components of these gelatine capsules. Please be careful when buying such products if you are allergic to bovine proteins, soy or fish.

Vegan or vegetarian nutrition

As you know, beta-carotene comes from plant sources; but this doesn’t mean that its supplements are necessarily suitable for vegan individuals. As soft capsules containing the supplement are often made from bovine gelatine, we encourage you to carefully check the packaging of any product you’re interested in. Made from cellulose instead of gelatine, plant-coated capsules are also available on the market.

Dr. Laurie SteelsmithNaturopath

“Gelatine comes from collagen, a processing of bones and animal parts (usually from pigs and cows) from which a gel is formed. If you are vegetarian, search for capsules of plant origin made from cellulose.”

Pharmacological interactions

The efficacy of statins may be affected by these supplements. Consult your doctor of pharmacist before taking them if you follow a treatment to lower your cholesterol levels. In that case, you may need to adjust your lipid-lowering treatment before starting supplementing with beta-carotene.

Recommended daily dose

Many manufacturers offer very high doses of beta-carotene, but keep in mind that each individual has different vitamin A needs. We encourage you to make use of the table found in our article to calculate your daily retinol needs. Remember that excessive supplementation will increase risks of side effects.

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A source of vitamin A, carrot is easy to find and has a pleasant taste.(Source: Lisa870: 50231030/ 123rf.com)

Value for money

The use of beta-carotene supplements should be occasional, generally for a maximum period of three months. This is why most manufacturers offer packs of 30 to 60 capsules. The price can vary between 15 and 40 dollars, in part depending on the reputation of the manufacturer. Some products containing additives, such as vitamin E, will see their price increased.

Summary

Vitamin A is essential for our organism. This molecule helps us maintain a sharp vision, a beautiful skin and strong defences. Beta-carotene is a precursor of this vitamin, and its supplements offer an effective and safe way to obtain vitamin A. In addition, it will give you a wonderfully soft and tanned skin during the summer months.

We hope you found this article helpful in understanding vitamin A and its derivatives. We’re confident you’ll know be able to consciously buy the perfect product for your needs. Use these supplements wisely and follow healthy lifestyle habits, and you’ll reap the benefits of a vigorous health.

If you liked our guide on vitamin A, feel free to leave a comment in the section below, and share it on your social media!

(Source of featured image: Wilcox: 36349752/ 123rf.com)

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