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Vitamin supplements are a billion industry, but recommendations around which vitamins to take and how much to take can be controversial and change over time. One example is Vitamin A.
Some vitamins are stored in fat and used when needed, while others are rapidly excreted in the urine and do not build up in the body. If you take too much of a fat-soluble vitamin the levels in the body can exceed a healthy amount.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits including maintenance of vision, brain cell functioning, and skin and bone development.
As an antioxidant, Vitamin A helps reduce systemic inflammation by limiting the harmful effects of free radicals. Vitamin A also helps regulate gene expression, and helps cells divide and develop to perform a specific role. Many doctors believe that antioxidants should primarily come from the diet including fruits and vegetables and various other natural foods, rather than from a multivitamin.
There are two types of vitamin A available: performed vitamin A (which is found in dairy, fish, and meat) and provitamin A (which is found in fruits and vegetables). The majority of our Vitamin A intake comes from multivitamins, although it is also found in sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy greens, squash, lettuce, bell peppers, fish, and certain types of fruit.
A deficiency in Vitamin A, although generally found only in areas with high instances of malnourishment, can lead to loss of vision and weakness of the immune system – leaving the individual at high risk of infection. It includes side effects such as problems with night vision, vulnerability to infections, and dry skin.
In 2002 a study from Harvard found a correlation between a high Vitamin A intake and hip fractures among women. The type of Vitamin A was “preformed” and patients exhibiting an increased risk from fracture were taking in a combined 6,600 IU from a multivitamin and diet.
Other studies administering up to 25,000 IU a day for up to 16 years found no increase in bone fracture risk. Another study found that for the hip fracture risk to increase the subject had to be a woman and had to have a combination of low Vitamin D intake and high Vitamin A intake.
Scientists think that excessive Vitamin A causes over activity of various types of cells involved with bone growth and maintenance. Although this stimulation is healthy, among the cells that are stimulated are osteoclasts which break down bone.
A few years later, other studies on the harmful effects of Vitamin A were unable to reproduce and support the Harvard study. Now, the consensus is that Vitamin A cannot be linked directly to hip fracture. Based on these findings, today it seems that the recommended dose of 5,000 IU found in the average multivitamin is safe and effective.