The health and function of our eyes is often linked to vitamin A. Yet, this vitamin’s participation in a variety of physiological systems is sometimes understated. There are two primary forms of vitamin A; retinoid and carotenoid. Your body’s ability to convert carotenoids into retinoids is vital to your health.

o   Retinoid Forms- This type of vitamin A is important to the functioning of vision, the immune system, inflammatory system, reproductive system, and bone development, among other systems.  The retina contains photopigments that store vitamin A compounds. A form of vitamin A, retinal, plays a vital role in how the eye adapts to low light. The vitamin supports immune and inflammatory functions, protecting the digestive tract, preventing inflammation, and inhibiting infection. Vitamin A is also crucial to healthy cell growth.

o   Carotenoid  Forms- This version of vitamin A is extremely important in preventing deficiency of vitamin A in its retinoid forms. They are thought to be an important component to potential anti-cancer and anti-aging compounds due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Carotenoids also promote proper cell communication which may inhibit cell overgrowth, preventing cancers. Finally, some research suggests that because of high levels of beta-carotene in carotenoids, they may play an important role in reproduction.

Genetics, digestive issues, gut imbalances, disproportionate alcohol use, toxin exposure, and improper use of vitamin A and vitamin D supplements, as well as the use of over-the-counter and/or prescription medications can damage your ability to convert vitamin A appropriately.

In the United States, most retinoid form of vitamin A is derived from foods like butter, cheese, eggs, and organ meats like liver. Americans are rarely deficient is this form. Outside the US, vitamin A deficiency is common and leads to significant rates of blindness, viral infection, and child mortality. Carotenoid forms of vitamin A are not so abundant in American diets, since most adults eat very few vegetables daily. Carrots, tomatoes, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes are foods containing the carotenoid form of vitamin A.

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