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Retinol (vitamin A)

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Retinol (Vitamin A) is a fat-soluble vitamin that has an important role in several key functions in the human body. It helps your immune system function, helps your vision in dim light, and contributes to overall skin health. It is found in several foods, but can also be taken as a supplement. It is in the majority of multivitamins or can be taken as a tablet on its own.

Who is it for?

Taking retinol is primarily recommended for vitamin A-deficient patients. However, some people do take it as supplements if they have reduced amounts in their regular diet. People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), eye disorders or acne are often recommended to supplement their vitamin A at the direction of their doctors. Because of the benefits of retinol, people often self-supplement to increase immune system function, growth, bone formation, reproduction and wound healing.

How does it work?

  • To begin with the eyes, retinol is converted in the retina (part of the eye) to a form that improves the transduction of light into the neural signals necessary for vision.
  • This is how it can improve vision, particularly at night. In the rest of the body, retinol metabolites (chemicals created when retinol is broken down) are important for proper stem cell formation.
  • It is equally important for the growth and development of embryos.
  • Skin cells require retinol for cell turnover and the development of new cells.
  • Retinol also has a part to play in the body’s immune system.
  • Finally, it aids normal bone growth and tooth development in both children and adults.

Is too much, a bad thing?

Yes. Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with other medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable healthcare provider. Too much retinol is poisonous and can cause severe liver failure, even death. Symptoms of retinol toxicity include:

Retinol from foods is considered safe. But you can get too much from supplements. For adults over 18 the tolerable upper limit for vitamin A is 10,000 IU per day, however, you should only be taking doses close to that amount at the direction of your doctor.

Should anybody not take it?

Smokers and heavy alcohol drinkers should not take any retinoid containing supplements. It is also not suitable during pregnancy or when trying to conceive unless at the direction of your doctor, as it can increase the risk of birth defects.

Retinol has many interactions with medications, therefore should be avoided if taking any of the following: anticoagulants, antacids, anti-cancer drugs, orlistat, tetracyclines, or any other retinoid containing products. Speak to your doctor before starting retinol if you are on any medications or are unsure.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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