Vitamin A is essential for feeling your best. It improves skin condition and vision, and boosts your immune system so your body can fight disease and even some types of cancer. Vitamin A is present in some foods we eat, like carrots, liver, dark fruits and veggies, eggs, and more, and most people get all the vitamin A they need from their diet. Some people, however, do benefit from supplements. If you are taking a vitamin A supplement, maximize your body’s ability to absorb it by getting the right amount, knowing what to eat, and knowing what to avoid.
Eat a meal containing fat with your vitamin.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is best absorbed by your body when you eat it with foods containing fat. Good options are red meat, liver, cream or cheese, whole milk, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon. If your overall diet is very low in fat, you may not absorb vitamin A efficiently.
Eating a diet high in saturated fat causes health problems like high cholesterol, weight gain, and heart issues. The important thing is to eat a balanced diet, with enough fat but not an unhealthy amount. Your doctor can help you with this. Ask, “Can you help me come up with a healthy diet plan?”
Avoid taking vitamin A supplements on an empty stomach.
Taking your supplement when you haven’t eaten anything, or even with very low-fat foods, may cause stomach upset, indigestion or heartburn. This also increases the chance that the vitamin could pass through your system without being fully absorbed by your body.
Avocado contains a high amount of “good fats,” and studies have shown this food might help your body absorb vitamin A. Adding one whole avocado to your meal may even double the amount of vitamin A you can absorb.
Get enough zinc.
You need to have enough zinc in your diet in order to fully absorb vitamin A. Women need at least 8mg every day (up to 10 or 11mg if pregnant or breastfeeding), and adult men need 11mg daily. Foods high in zinc include beef, pork chops, chicken, crab, oysters, lobster, fortified cereals and oatmeal, cashews, almonds, swiss cheese, chickpeas, and kidney beans.
Treat digestive conditions medically.
Even if you have enough fat in your diet, you still won’t absorb vitamin A well if you have a medical condition that limits your body’s ability to absorb the fats you eat. Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, disease of the liver or gall bladder, cystic fibrosis, and problems with your pancreas can affect your fat absorption. These will require treatment or additional vitamin A supplementation to get your RDA of vitamin A.
How you absorb fat is also decreased if you have had part or all of your stomach removed, such as after certain kinds of weight-loss surgeries.
Drink less alcohol.
Alcohol can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb vitamin A (and other needed nutrients).Stop drinking alcohol altogether, or limit your alcohol intake to, say, one glass daily to maintain good health and promote vitamin absorption.
Avoid weight-loss medications.
The prescription medication Orlistat is used to help people lose weight, but because of how it works it can interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin A. Olestra, a fat substitute sometimes added to food, can cause similar problems. Avoid these if you require a vitamin A supplement.
Change your medicines that block vitamin A absorption.
If you are at risk for vitamin A deficiency, speak to your healthcare provider about any medications that you are taking. Some cholesterol medicines called bile acid sequestrants, like cholestyramine and colestipol, can block vitamin A absorption; another kind of cholesterol medicine, called statins, can actually help vitamin A absorption. Omeprazole (Prilosec) is used for heartburn and reflux, and can cause absorption issues, as can the antibiotic Neomycin. Switching to different medicines with your doctor’s advice can help.
Discuss your medicines and your vitamins with your doctor, to avoid any interactions. Say something like, “My dietician wants me to take a vitamin A supplement. Will that cause any problems with the medicines you prescribe to me?”
Get your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin A.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies make suggestions based on research about how much vitamin A you need each day. Typically, adult men need 900 micrograms (3,000 international units, or IU) and adult women need 700 micrograms (2,300 IU) daily. Make sure you’re getting the amount you need.
Pregnant women require slightly more: 770 micrograms (2,600 IU) daily. When lactating and breast feeding, the RDA increases to 1,300 micrograms of vitamin A daily (4,300 IU). These requirements are for women age 19 or older.
The RDAs for children have been set by the U.S. Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization, and they vary depending on the child’s age. Ask your doctor if your child needs additional vitamin A, and how much they should receive.
The current RDA numbers have been in place since 2002, but some supplement packaging might still list the old dosage of 5,000 IU.
Eat foods high in vitamin A.
Good natural sources of this vitamin are meat products such as beef kidney and liver, eggs, and dairy. This form of vitamin A is called retinol and it is in a form that the body can use. Be sure to also get vitamin A from fresh produce like carrots and other yellow or dark vegetables, also known as carotenoids, which are precursors of Vitamin A. Great sources are broccoli, kale, spinach, sweet potato, squash, cantaloupe, dried apricots, mango and sweet red peppers.
Take a daily multivitamin.
Multivitamins often contain 100% of the RDA for vitamin A, and taking one daily multivitamin is an easy way to get all the supplements you need. Choose a vitamin that states on the label that its vitamin A is at least 20% beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A found in some foods and is safe even in large quantities. Multivitamins are available at your local drug store. You may want to ask your doctor, dietician, or pharmacist if they recommend a certain brand.
Choose a multivitamin that provides close to 100% of the daily need for all the vitamins and minerals it contains, rather than one that has a “megadose” of 500% of one and only, say, 15% of another.
Do not take an additional vitamin A supplement unless you are directed by a doctor to do so. Vitamin A toxicity can occur if you consume very high levels. The amount found in a daily multi-vitamin combined with a healthy diet is enough for most people.