Vitamin A, also known as retinol, has several important functions.
- helping your body's natural defence against illness and infection (the immune system) to work properly
- helping your vision in dim light
- keeping your skin and the lining of some parts of the body such as your nose healthy
Good sources of vitamin A
Good sources of vitamin A (retinol) include:
- oily fish
- fortified low-fat spreads
- milk and yogurt
- liver and liver products such as liver pâté
Liver and liver products are rich sources of vitamin A. You may be at risk of having too much vitamin A if you have these more than once a week. If you're pregnant, avoid eating liver or liver products.
You can get vitamin A by including good sources of beta-carotene in your diet. The body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A.
The main food sources of beta-carotene are:
- yellow, red and green (leafy) vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers
- yellow fruit, such as mango, papaya and apricots
How much vitamin A you need
The total vitamin A content of a food is usually written as micrograms (µg) of retinol equivalents (RE).
The amount of vitamin A adults aged 19 to 64 need is:
- 700µg a day for men
- 600µg a day for women
You should be able to get all the vitamin A you need from your diet.
Your body stores any vitamin A it does not need immediately for future use. This means you do not need it every day.
Effects of taking too much vitamin A
Having more than an average of 1.5mg (1,500µg) a day of vitamin A over many years may affect your bones. This can make them more likely to fracture when you're older.
This is particularly important if you're older or if you've gone through the menopause. This is because you have a higher risk of osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones.
If you eat liver or liver pâté more than once a week, you may be getting too much vitamin A.
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 from food and supplements does not exceed 1.5mg (1,500µg).
If you eat liver every week, do not take supplements that contain vitamin A.
If you're pregnant
Having large amounts of vitamin A can harm your unborn baby. If you're pregnant or thinking about having a baby, do not eat liver or liver products, such as pâté. These are very high in vitamin A.
Avoid taking supplements that contain vitamin A. Talk to your GP or midwife if you would like more information.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE