The Importance of Vitamin A in Children and Pregnant Women
Nutrition is one of the fundamental pillars in all stages of life. Moreover, each stage requires certain nutrients more than others. This is the case with vitamin A in children and pregnant women. Do you know why it’s so necessary or what risks in supplementing in excess of the recommended amount?
The first thing you need to know is that vitamin A is fat-soluble, and so it accumulates in the body’s fatty (adipose) tissue and liver and the body only excretes 5-20%. In addition, it’s easy to cover the needs through diet, as children need 400-600 micrograms and pregnant women 770 micrograms.
We can find it in red and orange vegetables, dairy products, and egg yolk. Another source is cod liver oil, although in quantities much higher than the Reference Daily Intake (RDI).
Did you know that its functions include cell differentiation, as well as maintaining good vision and the immune system? Stay tuned, as we’re going to tell you about it in detail throughout this article.
Why is vitamin A important for children and pregnant women?
As we mentioned above, having good levels of this vitamin can help prevent vision problems. In addition, by incorporating it into our diets, it reduces the risk of night blindness in pregnant women.
Furthermore, it reduces the risk of infections, diarrhea and measles in children whose immune systems are low. It’s important to take into account that after 48 hours of supplementation it can cause vomiting and dizziness.
Another effect on eyesight is the appearance of xerophthalmia in case of vitamin A deficiency. This is characterized by ocular dryness and corneal opacity.
It also protects the skin and digestive mucous membranes against degeneration or virus attacks and promotes bone growth. In addition, it keeps them well-hydrated by stimulating mucus secretion.
We should note that it isn’t recommended to take it in high doses, as there’s a risk of infant morbidity and mortality. We’ll cover its disadvantages in the next section.
It also acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, thus reducing relapses of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or colitis.
The dangers of vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy
Vitamin A deficiency is rare, except in underdeveloped countries such as India or South Africa, among others. Moreover, being a fat-soluble vitamin, it accumulates in the body, so supplementation is contraindicated when levels are normal.
The main danger is that it can produce teratogenic effects in the future baby. These can be malformations, especially in the skull, which doesn’t completely close and leaves parts of the brain unprotected.
It can also cause miscarriages, heart damage, and damage to the central nervous system. For this reason, the World Health Organization (WHO) only recommends vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy in countries where deficiency is a public health problem.
It’s important to know that these disorders are irreversible. In addition, doctors should assess whether there’s a secondary deficiency due to malabsorption of fats.
Another side effect is an increased risk of asthma in childhood after exceeding 2.5 times the RDI for this vitamin. This was seen in a Norwegian cohort study.
Low levels of this vitamin have been found in children with asthma, although it isn’t yet known whether this is a cause or a consequence.
How to incorporate vitamin A in children and pregnant women?
As you’ve seen, vitamin A is essential for the proper development of children, as well as for their defenses and sight.
Finally, it’s important to consume at least one serving of raw vegetables, such as tomatoes or carrots, every day. Also, in fall, delicious soups with roasted pumpkin and sweet potato are the order of the day!
Remember to dress the vegetables with virgin olive oil so that the vitamin A absorbs better. It’s also a good idea to make a stir-fry or sauce with grated tomato, since heat increases its distribution in the body.
In summary, avoid taking vitamin A supplements on your own without consulting a health professional. He or she will be in charge of assessing your case, and that of your children, and of establishing the dosage of the supplement if necessary.