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.


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. 

Page last reviewed: 26/11/2012

Next review due: 26/11/2014