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A, Vitamin: Absolutely essential for the proper growth of children, vitamin A or retinol is also needed by children and adults for proper vision (it can prevent and sometimes cure night blindness) and for healthy skin and mucous membranes lining the body's inner cavities. In addition, vitamin A helps the body fight infection and, according to Harvard University's recent Nurses' Health Study, may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Its precursor present in many plants, BETA-CAROTENE, may also reduce the risk of some cancers. The latest good news, according to a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study conducted in Africa, is that vitamin A and beta-carotene (and possibly other carotenoid vitamin A precursors) may reduce the transmission of AIDS from mother to infant. Formerly measured in international units (IU), which some vitamin bottle labels still list, vitamin A is now measured in retinol equivalents (RE). The latest Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) lists RE only, so that's what we use. To convert IU to RE: 1 RE = 3.3 IU if food source is an animal (retinol), 10 IU if food source is a plant (beta-carotene). DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS: Lowered resistance to infection; rough, dry and pimply skin; digestive problems; kidney stones; night blindness and eye disease, including xerophthalmia, which can cause permanent blindness. Results of the ongoing Nurses' Health Study (an eight-year program involving 89,000 women nurses) suggest that those who didn't get enough beta-carotene and retinol had about 25 percent more breast cancers than those whose diets met the RDAs. GOOD SOURCES: Liver, eggs, margarines and whole milk and low-fat milks fortified with vitamin A. Inaddition, beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, can be found in abundance in pumpkins, winter squash, car rots, sweet red peppers, apricots, mangoes, papayas and other bright yellow/orange/red fruits and vegetables, also in such dark leafy greens as chard, spinach, mustard, turnip and beet tops. PRECAUTIONS: Vitamin A is fat soluble, meaning that it can be stored in the body and that it's possible to OD on high-dosage supplements. The worst case scenario: blurred vision, increased skull pressure, hair loss.
Copyright ) 1995 by Jean Anderson and Barbara Deskins.