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Vitamin A and Thyroid Health

Published November 26, 2012

Note: Most people reading this currently take nutritional supplements, and yet most people don’t have a good understanding about the vitamins and minerals they’re taking.  Because of this, what I’ve decided to do is to write some articles which discuss the different roles of each of the vitamins and minerals in the body, and since this website focuses on thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, I figured it would be a good idea to briefly discuss how they relate to thyroid health.  This article will focus on the importance of vitamin A.

Out of the four different fat soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K), vitamin A was the first fat-soluble vitamin to be discovered.  Vitamin A has a number of important functions.  It plays a very important role in immunity, which of course is important for anyone with an autoimmune thyroid condition such as Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  Vitamin A can help with the inflammatory and repair process.  It helps greatly in preventing infections from developing, and an infection can potentially trigger an autoimmune response.

Vitamin A is important when it comes to eye health.  It can specifically help to decrease the incidence of cataracts, as well as degeneration of the macula.  Vitamin A also plays an important role in healthy skin.  Because of this it can help greatly for people who have acne.  Vitamin A can also help to prevent conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.  In addition it helps to maintain the epithelial tissues of the skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and genitourinary tract.

What Is The Role Of Beta Carotene?

Beta-carotene is  part of a group of compounds called carotenoids, and is the most active precursor of vitamin A.  Beta Carotene is converted into vitamin A.  While many people take beta carotene supplements, it’s important to understand that beta carotene is just one of the carotenoids.  So if someone has a vitamin A deficiency, taking beta carotene can help, but in my opinion it really is best to take a whole food vitamin A supplement, as well as eat foods that are rich in vitamin A (as well as beta carotene), which I will discuss shortly.  Plus, many people have problems converting beta carotene into vitamin A, which is yet another reason why you shouldn’t rely on taking beta carotene alone.

What Role Does Vitamin A Play In Thyroid Health?

Thyroid hormone plays a role in the conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A.  As a result, it is common for people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis to be deficient in vitamin A.  Perhaps this also explains why so many people have problems converting beta-carotene to vitamin A, although this problem does occur in people who don’t have hypothyroid conditions.

Since vitamin A is very important for optimal eye health, some people with thyroid eye disease have asked me whether taking vitamin A can help with their condition.  My experience is that vitamin A by itself won’t help too much with most cases of thyroid eye disease, and the reason for this is because the eye problem is usually caused by the autoimmune response.  While vitamin A supplementation probably won’t cure thyroid eye disease, since this vitamin is important for both eye health and immune system health, it definitely won’t hurt for people with this condition to supplement with vitamin A as part of their natural treatment protocol.

How Can One Detect a Vitamin A Deficiency?

It can be challenging to determine if someone is deficient in vitamin A.  Testing vitamin A through the blood isn’t reliable.  One can use histological examination of the conjunctiva to determine if someone has a vitamin A deficiency.  Lesions on the skin known as follicular hyperkeratosis might be observed in people who have a vitamin A deficiency, along with night blindness.

Food Sources of Vitamin A

Fish is one of the best food sources of vitamin A.  Cod, salmon, and halibut are excellent sources.  Meats such as liver, beef, and chicken are also high in vitamin A, along with eggs.  You can obtain beta-carotene from certain fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe.

Supplementing With Vitamin A

When someone is deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral, I often get asked why they can’t simply correct the deficiency by eating foods rich in the vitamin or mineral that they’re deficient in.  As I have stated in other articles I have written, if someone has a moderate or severe deficiency then eating foods rich in that specific vitamin or mineral will help to some extent, but probably won’t be enough to correct the deficiency.  So if someone has a moderate to severe vitamin A deficiency, then they most likely will need to supplement with vitamin A.

What are some of the deficiency symptoms?  Since vitamin A plays an important role in eye health, a deficiency will commonly lead to night blindness, as I mentioned before.  It can also cause other problems with the eyes.  I also mentioned earlier that a deficiency in this vitamin can also lead to problems with the skin, such as follicular hyperkeratosis, as well as acne.  A deficiency can also increase one’s susceptibility to infections, and also cause issues with the reproductive system.

How much vitamin A should someone take if they are deficient?  This of course will vary from person to person.  The RDI is 5,000 IU of vitamin A, but besides this being on the low side, it also isn’t enough to correct most deficiencies.  So if you’re currently taking a multi-vitamin that has vitamin A, chances are it won’t be enough to correct a deficiency.  Although synthetic vitamin A supplements can help to correct a deficiency, I’m a proponent of whole food supplements since vitamin A works best along with other synergists and cofactors.  This of course is the case with other vitamins and minerals as well.

Vitamin A Toxicity

Since vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, it can potentially be toxic if taken in large doses.  One usually needs to take an extremely high dose of vitamin A over a period of time in order for it to be toxic.  However, if someone has a liver condition then it might not take as much vitamin A to cause problems.  Some conditions warrant up to 300,000 IU per day of vitamin A for a short period of time, but I wouldn’t advise anyone taking this high of a dose on their own.  And of course women who are pregnant also need to be careful about taking too much vitamin A.  I’ve never seen anyone have any problems with a vitamin A toxicity when taking a whole food supplement, as it usually is the synthetic form that causes problems.

Beta-carotene is non toxic, and since this is a precursor to vitamin A it might make sense to just take beta-carotene.  Once again, taking beta-carotene can definitely help to correct a deficiency in many cases, but as I mentioned earlier, some people have a problem converting beta-carotene to vitamin A.  In addition, since all of these vitamins, minerals, and other synergists work together I prefer supplementation through whole food vitamins.  After all, we really are meant to obtain our vitamins through food, and so it just makes sense that the next best thing would be to take whole food supplements.

So hopefully you now have a better understanding of the functions of vitamin A, and also how it relates to thyroid health.  You should also now know some of the best food sources which have vitamin A, although just remember that supplementation is usually necessary to address a moderate to severe deficiency.  Synthetic vitamin A can be toxic in high doses over a prolonged period of time, and sometimes even when taking it for a short duration, and so one needs to be careful not to take too much.