Vitamin A For Kids

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Vitamin A is an essential vitamin that is required for good vision and a healthy immune system. Vitamin A is also important for normal growth and development.

The body does not produce vitamin A itself, but it can be obtained from foods such as carrots, spinach, kale, cantaloupe, apricots and tomatoes. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness, dry eyes and skin problems such as cracked lips. It can also cause anemia because the body cannot absorb iron properly without it.

Vitamin A helps protect your eyesight by making them more sensitive to light so you can see better in dimmer conditions than someone who lacks this nutrient in their diet or supplements. This is why many people take vitamin A supplements before going out at night so they can see better without having to use their headlights on their car or other sources of artificial light like streetlights or flashlights!

Vitamin A For Kids

High-dose supplementation with this essential vitamin improves a child’s chance of survival by 12 to 24 per cent in some parts of the world; it bolsters the immune system, helps protect against life-threatening infections like measles and diarrheal disease, and is needed for vision and bone growth.

Ideally, children should get enough vitamin A from a balanced, healthy diet that includes milk, cheese, eggs, fruits and vegetables like mangoes, papaya, carrots, yams and squash or foods fortified with vitamin A. However, in low-income countries, young children often do not eat a well-balanced diet rich in the appropriate vitamins needed for growth, development and survival. These children are especially vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency and its devastating consequences.

Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem affecting over 250 million children in more than half of countries worldwide. As of 2013, 29 per cent of children – or nearly one in three – ages 6 to 59 months were vitamin A deficient. About half of these affected children lived in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Protection with two doses

Vitamin A capsules
© UNICEF/UNI112542/SattarVitamin A blue capsules, which are administered to infants between the age of 6-11months, and vitamin A red capsules, which are administered to children between the ages of 1-4 years.

In areas where under-five mortality is high or deficiency is a public health issue, two high-dose vitamin A supplements per year can save lives. Supplementation is safe, only costs 2 cents per dose, and when delivered through platforms like Child Health Events, can be an equitable way of reaching the most vulnerable.

There have been dramatic improvements since 2000, when only five countries in sub-Saharan Africa reached at least 80 per cent of target children with the two required doses. According to recent data, this number had more than tripled in 2014, to 17 countries in the region. Despite these gains, there is an urgent need to make further progress to reach the hardest hit boys and girls who continue to lack vitamin A that is essential for them to survive and thrive.

In 2014, UNICEF supported vitamin A supplementation programmes focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where the needs are greatest. These critical child survival interventions protected 92 million children living in the least developed countries. Nevertheless, 46 million of the world’s most vulnerable children were left behind, putting them at an increased risk of disease and death. Future efforts need to focus on the marginalized, the poorest and the least educated, who are disproportionately affected by child mortality and vitamin A deficiency.

Child health events: equitable and effective

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Vitamin A supplements are often delivered during Child Health Events alongside other high-impact health interventions such as vaccination, mosquito net provision and deworming. Child Health Events are one of the most equitable delivery strategies because they extend the reach of health systems, bringing vitamin A supplements directly to communities in need. This helps ensure that every child is fully protected. The events are especially successful at reaching vulnerable children in hard-to-reach communities and in fragile settings with weak health services. Particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, countries that have adopted this approach have effectively reached boys and girls with the required two doses each year.

Since twice-yearly events were introduced in 2001, the United Republic of Tanzania has maintained high coverage of vitamin A supplementation among children ages 6 to 59 months. The country holds community-based Child Health Days to address malaria, hookworm, vitamin A deficiency and growth monitoring. The vitamin A component has been highly successful: between 2005 and 2011, national two-dose coverage exceeded 90 per cent, coinciding with the country’s declining rate of child mortality, from 126 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 68 per 1,000 in 2011.

Moving forward

Currently, Child Health Events are the best way to reach all boys and girls in sub-Saharan Africa with the two doses per year that are needed to improve their chances early on in life. The events succeed because they target and reach vulnerable communities, where routine health systems are weak and under-five mortality rates are high. Since health needs and service delivery vary greatly from country to country, Child Health Events must be tailored specifically to each context in order to ensure that no child is forgotten.

Over the long-term, other strategies for addressing vitamin A deficiency – such as food fortification and education in nutrition and the importance of a diverse diet – are critical to ending vitamin A deficiency. Until such programmes are sustained at scale, however, vitamin A supplementation through Child Health Events remains essential to ensuring child survival today.

importance of vitamin a supplementation

Vitamin A is the generic term for a group of fat-soluble compounds highly important for human health.

They’re essential for many processes in your body, including maintaining healthy vision, ensuring the normal function of your immune system and organs and aiding the proper growth and development of babies in the womb.

It’s recommended that men get 900 mcg, women 700 mcg and children and adolescents 300–600 mcg of vitamin A per day (1Trusted Source).

Vitamin A compounds are found in both animal and plant foods and come in two different forms: preformed vitamin A and provitamin A.

Preformed vitamin A is known as the active form of the vitamin, which your body can use just as it is. It’s found in animal products including meat, chicken, fish and dairy and includes the compounds retinol, retinal and retinoic acid.

Provitamin A carotenoids — alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin — are the inactive form of the vitamin found in plants.

These compounds are converted to the active form in your body. For example, beta-carotene is converted to retinol (an active form of vitamin A) in your small intestine (2Trusted Source).

Here are 6 important health benefits of vitamin A.

1. Protects Your Eyes From Night Blindness and Age-Related Decline

Vitamin A is essential for preserving your eyesight.

The vitamin is needed to convert light that hits your eye into an electrical signal that can be sent to your brain.

In fact, one of the first symptoms of vitamin A deficiency can be night blindness, known as nyctalopia (3Trusted Source).

Night blindness occurs in people with vitamin A deficiency, as the vitamin is a major component of the pigment rhodopsin.

Rhodopsin is found in the retina of your eye and extremely sensitive to light.

People with this condition can still see normally during the day, but have reduced vision in darkness as their eyes struggle to pick up light at lower levels.

In addition to preventing night blindness, eating adequate amounts of beta-carotene may help slow the decline in eyesight that some people experience as they age (4Trusted Source).

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. Though its exact cause is unknown, it’s thought to be the result of cellular damage to the retina, attributable to oxidative stress (5Trusted Source).

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that giving people over the age of 50 with some eyesight degeneration an antioxidant supplement (including beta-carotene) reduced their risk of developing advanced macular degeneration by 25% (6Trusted Source).

However, a recent Cochrane review found that beta-carotene supplements alone won’t prevent or delay the decline in eyesight caused by AMD (7Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Eating adequate amounts of vitamin A prevents the development of night blindness and may help slow the age-related decline of your eyesight.

2. May Lower Your Risk of Certain Cancers

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow or divide in an uncontrolled way.

As vitamin A plays an important role in the growth and development of your cells, its influence on cancer risk and role in cancer prevention is of interest to scientists (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).

In observational studies, eating higher amounts of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene has been linked to a decreased risk of certain types of cancer, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as cervical, lung and bladder cancer (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).

Yet, though high intakes of vitamin A from plant foods have been associated with a reduced risk of cancer, animal foods which contain active forms of vitamin A aren’t linked in the same way (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).

Similarly, vitamin A supplements haven’t shown the same beneficial effects (16Trusted Source).

In fact, in some studies, smokers taking beta-carotene supplements experienced an increased risk of lung cancer.

At the moment, the relationship between vitamin A levels in your body and cancer risk is still not fully understood.

Still, current evidence suggests that getting adequate vitamin A, especially from plants, is important for healthy cell division and may reduce your risk of some types of cancer (20Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Adequate vitamin A intake from whole plant foods may reduce your risk of certain cancers, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as cervical, lung and bladder cancer. However, the relationship between vitamin A and cancer is not fully understood.

3. Supports a Healthy Immune System

Vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining your body’s natural defenses.

This includes the mucous barriers in your eyes, lungs, gut and genitals which help trap bacteria and other infectious agents.

It’s also involved in the production and function of white blood cells, which help capture and clear bacteria and other pathogens from your bloodstream.

This means that a deficiency in vitamin A can increase your susceptibility to infections and delay your recovery when you get sick.

In fact, in countries where infections like measles and malaria are common, correcting vitamin A deficiency in children has been shown to decrease the risk of dying from these diseases (23Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Having enough vitamin A in your diet helps keep your immune system healthy and function at its best.

4. Reduces Your Risk of Acne

Acne is a chronic, inflammatory skin disorder.

People with this condition develop painful spots and blackheads, most commonly on the face, back and chest.

These spots occur when the sebaceous glands get clogged up with dead skin and oils. These glands are found in the hair follicles on your skin and produce sebum, an oily, waxy substance that keeps your skin lubricated and waterproof.

Though the spots are physically harmless, acne may have a serious effect on people’s mental health and lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression (24Trusted Source).

The exact role that vitamin A plays in the development and treatment of acne remains unclear (25Trusted Source).

It has been suggested that vitamin A deficiency may increase your risk of developing acne, as it causes an overproduction of the protein keratin in your hair follicles.

This would increase your risk of acne by making it more difficult for dead skin cells to be removed from hair follicles, leading to blockages.

Some vitamin-A-based medications for acne are now available with a prescription.

Isotretinoin is one example of an oral retinoid that is effective in treating severe acne. However, this medication can have serious side effects and must only be taken under medical supervision.

SUMMARY

The exact role of vitamin A in the prevention and treatment of acne is unclear. Yet, vitamin-A-based medications are often used to treat severe acne.

5. Supports Bone Health

The key nutrients needed for maintaining healthy bones as you age are protein, calcium and vitamin D.

However, eating enough vitamin A is also necessary for proper bone growth and development, and a deficiency in this vitamin has been linked to poor bone health.

In fact, people with lower blood levels of vitamin A are at a higher risk of bone fractures than people with healthy levels (30Trusted Source).

Additionally, a recent meta-analysis of observational studies found that people with the highest amounts of total vitamin A in their diet had a 6% decreased risk of fractures (30Trusted Source).

Yet, low levels of vitamin A may not be the only problem when it comes to bone health. Some studies have found that people with high intakes of vitamin A have a higher risk of fractures as well (31Trusted Source).

Even so, these findings are all based on observational studies, which cannot determine cause and effect.

This means that currently, the link between vitamin A and bone health is not fully understood, and more controlled trials are needed to confirm what has been seen in observational studies.

Bear in mind that vitamin A status alone does not determine your risk of fractures, and the impact of the availability of other key nutrients, like vitamin D, also plays a role (32Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Eating the recommended amount of vitamin A may help protect your bones and reduce your risk of fractures, though the connection between this vitamin and bone health is not fully understood.

6. Promotes Healthy Growth and Reproduction

Vitamin A is essential for maintaining a healthy reproductive system in both men and women, as well as ensuring the normal growth and development of embryos during pregnancy.

Rat studies examining the importance of vitamin A in male reproduction have shown that a deficiency blocks the development of sperm cells, causing infertility 

Likewise, animal studies have suggested that vitamin A deficiency in females can impact reproduction by reducing egg quality and affecting egg implantation in the womb (33Trusted Source).

In pregnant women, vitamin A is also involved in the growth and development of many major organs and structures of the unborn child, including the skeleton, nervous system, heart, kidneys, eyes, lungs and pancreas.

Yet, though much less common than vitamin A deficiency, too much vitamin A during pregnancy can be harmful to the growing baby as well and may lead to birth defects

Therefore, many health authorities recommended that women avoid foods that contain concentrated amounts of vitamin A, such as pâté and liver, as well as supplements containing vitamin A during pregnancy.

SUMMARY

Adequate amounts of vitamin A in the diet are essential for reproductive health and the healthy development of babies during pregnancy.

Taking Too Much Vitamin A Can Be Risky

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which is stored in your body. This means that excess consumption can lead to toxic levels.

Hypervitaminosis A is caused by consuming too much preformed vitamin A through your diet or supplements containing the vitamin.

Symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, headaches, pain and even death.

Though it can be caused by excessive intake from the diet, this is rare compared to overconsumption from supplements and medications.

Additionally, eating a lot of provitamin A in its plant form doesn’t carry the same risks, as its conversion to the active form in your body is regulated (37Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Eating high amounts of the active form of vitamin A from animal foods, medications or supplements can be toxic. Excessive consumption of provitamin A from plant foods is unlikely.

The Bottom Line

Vitamin A is vital for many important processes in your body.

It’s used to maintain healthy vision, ensure the normal functioning of your organs and immune system, as well as establishing normal growth and development of babies in the womb.

Both too little and too much vitamin A could have negative effects on your health.

The best way to ensure you get the balance right is to consume vitamin-A-rich foods as part of your normal diet and avoid supplementing with excessive amounts.

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