You may be deficient in vitamin A.

Vitamin D and vitamin A are essential partners in your immune and digestive health.  Vitamin A affects the immune system.  Over 70% of your immune cells live in your bowel.  Here, antibodies spend their time doing surveillance work.  Checking everything that floats by and identifying it as friend or foe.  Autoimmune conditions (e.g. IBD, hypothyroidism) are where your immune system attacks your own body.

The availability of vitamin A in your food is a key factor in a tolerant immune system.  This is an immune system that leaves harmless substances alone and yet has the capacity to see off threats (infections).  Immune tolerance is the essence of good health.  Vitamin A is the key to your ability to consume a wide range of food and yet not react adversely.

When I say vitamin A I mean retinol (stored form), retinal and retinoic acid (active forms).  BETA CAROTENE IS NOT VITAMIN A.  Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A found in red/orange fruit and veg.  41% of the UK female population have a genetic variation meaning they can’t convert beta carotene to vitamin A.  Anybody who is overweight, taking steroids, on a high grain or low-fat diet, or is hypothyroid will additionally be unable to convert beta carotene to vitamin A.

Vitamin A is critical for the repair and function of your bowel lining, preventing it from becoming leaky.  When cells are deprived of vitamin A, energy production declines and you will suffer fatigue.

When you are low in vitamin A, your body makes more inflammatory compounds and your immune system starts to go haywire. You need vitamin A to manufacture an important antibody called secretory IgA to protect you against infections.   Particularly infections in your airways and your gut.

What about toxicity?
If you are low in vitamin D (below 100nmol/L) vitamin A supplementation can be counter-productive as they work together.  Some people may get enough from their diet if they regularly eat organ meats such as the liver.  The Council for Responsible Nutrition in their 2004 report noted a long history of safe use of vitamin A supplementation at a dose of 10,000iu.  I would only use this high-level dosing for very particular reasons and for a specific period of time.

Pregnant women are well-advised to avoid supplementing retinol but to eat organ meats at least once a week.   This is a whole other area for exploration.


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