Vitamins and minerals - Vitamin A 

  • Overview

Vitamin A 

Vitamin A is also known as retinol and has several important functions.

These include:

  • strengthening immunity against infections
  • helping vision in dim light
  • keeping skin and the linings of some parts of the body, such as the nose, healthy

Good sources of vitamin A

Good sources of vitamin A include:

  • cheese
  • eggs
  • fortified low-fat spreads
  • yoghurt

Liver is a particularly rich source of vitamin A, although this means you may be at risk of having too much vitamin A if you eat liver more than once a week (see below).

You can also contribute to your vitamin A intake by including good sources of beta-carotene in your diet, as this can be converted into vitamin A by the body.

How much vitamin A do I need?

The amount of vitamin A adults need is:

  • 0.7mg a day for men
  • 0.6mg a day for women

You should be able to get all the vitamin A you need from your daily diet.

Any vitamin A your body does not need immediately is stored for future use. This means you do not need it every day.

What happens if I take too much vitamin A?

According to some research, having more than an average of 1.5mg a day of vitamin A over many years may affect your bones, making them more likely to fracture when you are older.

This is particularly important for older people, especially women, who are already at risk of osteoporosis. This is where your bone density reduces and you have a higher risk of fractures.

If you eat liver or liver pâté more than once a week, you may be getting too much vitamin A.

If you do not get enough vitamin D, you could be more at risk of the harmful effects of too much vitamin A. People who may be particularly short of vitamin D include:

  • all pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • all people aged 65 and over
  • people who are not exposed to much sun, for example those who cover up their skin for cultural reasons, or those who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods
  • people with darker skin, such as people of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin

Many multivitamins contain vitamin A. Other supplements, such as fish liver oil, are also high in vitamin A. If you take supplements containing vitamin A, make sure your daily intake of vitamin A from food and supplements does not exceed 1.5mg. If you eat liver every week, do not take supplements that contain vitamin A.

If you are pregnant, do not take multivitamins containing vitamin A unless advised to by a doctor.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the vitamin A you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take a supplement that contains vitamin A, do not take too much because this could be harmful.

Liver is a very rich source of vitamin A. Do not eat liver or liver products, such as pâté, more than once a week. Also be aware of how much vitamin A there is in any supplements you take.

If you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby:

  • do not take supplements containing vitamin A, including fish liver oil, unless advised to by your GP
  • do not eat liver or liver products, such as pâté, because these are very high in vitamin A

Women who have been through the menopause and older men, who are more at risk of osteoporosis, should avoid having more than 1.5mg of vitamin A a day from food and supplements. This means:

  • not eating liver or liver products, such as pâté, more than once a week, or having smaller portions of these
  • taking no more than 1.5mg of vitamin A a day in supplements (including fish liver oil) if you do not eat liver or liver products
  • not taking any supplements containing vitamin A (including fish liver oil) if you eat liver once a week

Having an average of 1.5mg a day or less of vitamin A from diet and supplements combined is unlikely to cause any harm.


Page last reviewed: 26/11/2012

Next review due: 26/11/2014

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Comments

The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

PlantStrong said on 07 June 2013

I think these Vitamin A recommendations are the worst recommendations I have seen. There is practically no vitamin A in these sources:

cheese, eggs, milk, fortified low-fat spreads, yoghurt.

Liver and fish oil have high amounts of Vitamin A, but it's so high it's too high. Animal sources of vitamin A can poison people when from fish oil and animal livers. Generally animal sources of Vitamin A are bad sources of vitamin A. And it doesn't take much to eat to much bad Vitamin A from liver and fish oil.

The best sources for vitamin A are:
Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Dark Leafy Greens, Butternut Squash and dried herbs/spices. These are the best way to get vitamin A as the chances of getting poisoned from these sources is next to impossible, you can turn orange if you eat to much vitamin A from vegetables but you would have to eat a lot of vitamin A to do this, and as soon as you stop eating them you would return to a less orange colour... however it beats orange sun tan creams, with all the chemicals that pollute your skin.

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rom016 said on 09 June 2012

@darylms As this articles next review date is March 2013; I am assuming the box specifically for pregnant women, at the top right, was there when you posted your comment. Which clearly states

'Having large amounts of vitamin A can harm your unborn baby. Therefore, if you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby, do not eat liver or liver products,...'

I doubt pregnancy reduces the risk to the mother as she enters into the deficiency of vitamin D warning. Therefore she still dose not want to overdose on vitamin A as this increases her risk of suffering osteoporosis in later life. 1.5mg is two and a half times the recommended daily intake of vitamin A for a woman. Consuming over double your recommended daily intake of anything is usually harmful.

If they really were scaremongering they would advise a total avoidance of liver, pate and vitamin A supplements, rather than being aware of your intake especially if you are in one of the low vitamin D categories.

I feel your comment is more about self gratification than clarification, however I do agree that more information about the typical vitamin A content of liver would be useful.

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darylms said on 25 November 2011

I'm afraid this article is not as helpful as it could be.

It states that some research suggests that more than 1.5mg a day over many years can affect bones when you're older. And eating liver more than once a week may lead to an average intake of more than 1.5mg a day, and pregnant women may be more prone due to lack of vitamin D.

Then it says that pregnant women should *never* eat liver?

Is there any risk to the baby, or is the risk to the mother in older age? If the risk is to the mother, then does 18 months count as 'many years', or does this depend on multiple pregnancies?

I'm afraid this seems more like dumbing down (similar to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist's advice that you should never drink alcohol)?

Or is it really the case that a single meal of liver and onions during pregnancy can harm you and/or your baby?

Please give us some useful information. Liver once a fortnight? Liver once a month? No more than 2oz a week?

Or some figures that we can use to make up our own minds; how much vitamin A does the body get from 100g of liver? How much vitamin A is harmful for those seriously deficient in vitamin D? For what period of time does the limit need to be exceeded before harm is caused.

I'm going to do my own desktop research now to try to find some sensible advice, but it seems to me the article should be recommending something like;

'Eat liver only occasionally during pregnancy and breastfeeding, once or twice a month at the most, and limit portions to under 100g of liver per person'.

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johnross47 said on 26 October 2011

It would useful if quantities were given as mgs and as IU where such measures have been set.

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If you are pregnant

Having large amounts of vitamin A can harm your unborn baby. Therefore, if you are pregnant or thinking about having a baby, do not eat liver or liver products, such as pâté, because these are very high in vitamin A.

Also, do not take supplements that contain vitamin A. Ask your GP or midwife if you would like more information. 

Vitamins and special diets during pregnancy

The essential vitamins and minerals, and how to get enough of them in pregnancy