Why is Vitamin A so important for your eyes?

I’m sure you are aware about the health benefits of Vitamin A. But do you know how crucial vitamin A is for your eyes?

Photo by Sarah Chai

 What is Vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a fat soluble Vitamin. It is absorbed from the intestine and stored in the liver. The liver releases Vitamin A compounds as per the body’s requirement.

Why is Vitamin A important for the eyes?

The most important function of Vitamin A is to assist in the visual cycle. Wondering what the visual cycle is? Let me explain. A series of chemical reactions that take place in our retina as soon as light enters our eyes. These chemical reactions generate signals that are sent to our brain. That is how we are able to see. This series of chemical reactions is collectively referred to as the ‘visual cycle’.

What role does Vitamin A play in the visual cycle?

Vitamin A is converted into retinol in the body. Retinol is an important component of the visual cycle that is essential to maintain clear vision.

Apart from vision, does Vitamin A serve any other function in the eye?

Yes. Vitamin A also maintains the health of your eye tissues, keeping them moist and shiny. Deficiency of Vitamin A leads to loss of the healthy lustre of eyes.

Why is Vitamin A also important for overall health?

Vitamin A is required for good immunity. Vitamin A also promotes growth and development of the body and gives a healthy glow to the skin.

Which foods are rich in Vitamin A?

Since Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, it is found in naturally occurring fat rich foods such as

  1. Cheese
  2. Eggs
  3. Oily fish
  4. Milk and yoghurt
  5. Liver and liver products such as liver pâté – this is a particularly rich source of vitamin A, so you may be at risk of having too much vitamin A if you have it more than once a week (if you’re pregnant you should avoid eating liver or liver products)

Beta-catorene is an anti-oxidant present in certain fruits and vegetables. Our body can convert beta carotene to retinol.

Foods that contain Beta-carotene are

  1. Yellow, red and green (leafy) vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers
  2. Yellow fruit, such as mango, papaya and apricots

What causes Vitamin A deficiency?

The most common cause of Vitamin A deficiency is inadequate dietary intake. Also in young children, intestinal worm infestation also interferes with the absorption of Vitamin A.

 What are the signs of Vitamin A deficiency?

Vitamin A deficiency is most common among children. A child with Vitamin A deficiency will show the following symptoms.

1. Dry Eyes

The medical term for the eye symptoms occurring due to Vitamin A deficiency is “Xerophthalmia”. This term is derived from a Greek word “Xeros” meaning “dry” and “ophthalmia” meaning “eyes”

Dry eye is an early symptom of Vitamin A deficiency. A child suffering from Vitamin A deficiency will have dry looking lustreless eyes.

If the deficiency is left uncorrected, brownish silver scaly spots appear on the white part of the eye. These spots are known as bitot’s spots. They are dry, foamy, raised and have the appearance like ‘sandbanks at receding tide’

2. Night blindness

A child with vitamin A deficiency will have difficulty seeing at night. Older children may specifically complain about being unable to see at night or in dim light, while younger children who have not yet learned to communicate effectively may bump into objects in poor lighting conditions.

Night Blindness is a relatively early symptom. If Vitamin A deficiency is left untreated for a long time, vision during daytime also decreases and eventually permanent blindness can occur.

Xerophthalmia is a leading cause of blindness worldwide, especially among young children. Therefore in most hospitals, pregnant women and newborn children are given adequate Vitamin A supplements to prevent Vitamin A deficiency.

3. Recurrent infections

Insufficient Vitamin A could lead to a poor immunity. Children with vitamin A deficiency might suffer from recurrent respiratory or gastrointestinal infections.

4. Poor healing

Vitamin A is required for wound healing. A child with Vitamin A deficiency will have dry lustreless skin and any injuries will take longer time to heal.

What is the treatment for Vitamin A deficiency?

A child with symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency needs medical attention. A doctor will examine the child and will prescribe Vitamin A supplements. The dose and duration of these supplements depends on the child’s age, weight and the severity of Vitamin A deficiency.

Vitamin A toxicity

I would like to mention an important point here that Vitamin A can be toxic if excessive supplements are taken. This condition is termed a “Hypervitaminosis A”

Symptoms of hypervitaminosis A can be nausea and vomiting, dry and peeling skin, swollen bones, joint pains, hair loss, drowsiness and confusion. Since Vitamin A is stored in the liver, excess of Vitamin A can cause injury to the liver leading to jaundice and swollen liver.

Hypervitaminosis is not known to occur by eating Vitamin A rich foods. It is however more common among people who take excessive Vitamin A supplements.

Photo by Luna Lovegood

I hope through today’s post, I’ve helped you understand the importance of including the right amount of Vitamin A rich foods in your diet.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or email me at neha.pednekar1489@gmail.com

I’ll see you soon in another interesting post, till then take good care of your eyes and stay healthy!

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