Why Vitamin A Is Important For Children's Growth
Vitamins play an essential role in the healthy growth and development of your child. Many growth activities including tissue and bone repair or muscle and tooth formation depend on a healthy supply of a variety of vitamins. In general, your child's diet likely provides plenty of vitamins to cover all of their growth needs as many foods are fortified with vitamins.
Vitamin A, specifically, is one of the most important vitamins for your child during their development. This vitamin is crucial for bone growth, good vision and regulation of the immune system which helps ward off infections. Vitamin A promotes white blood cell production which helps to combat free radicals and bacteria in your child's body. In addition, this vitamin is critical to helping form the surface linings of eyes, as well as the urinary, intestinal and respiratory tracts. Foods such as whole milk, cheese, carrot juice, spinach, kale and apricots are rich in vitamin A.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a micronutrient. Micronutrients are dietary components, often referred to as vitamins and minerals, which although only required by the body in small amounts, are vital to development, disease prevention, and wellbeing. Micronutrients are not produced in the body and must be derived from the diet. Deficiencies in micronutrients such as vitamin A, can have devastating consequences. The vitamin A family of compounds play an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and cell differentiation. We get vitamin A from a variety of sources, but two of the most common food sources are retinol and beta-carotene.
- Retinol - Sometimes called “true” vitamin A because it is nearly ready for the body to use, retinol is found in animal food sources such as eggs and fatty fish. It also can be found in many fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, and in dietary supplements.
- Beta-carotene - Beta-carotene functions as a precursor to vitamin A. This means that it must be converted by an enzyme in the body to the retinol form of Vitamin A, in order to be absorbed by the body. Beta-carotene is found naturally in mostly orange and dark green plant foods, like carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos, and kale.
The body can store both retinol and beta-carotene in the liver, drawing on this reserve whenever it needs more vitamin A. However, recent research suggests that too much vitamin A, particularly in the form of retinol, may ultimately be bad for your bones. We’ll discuss this more later.
How Much Vitamin A is Needed?
The Institute of Medicine developed the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A in the form of retinol. While the body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A to help meet these requirements, there is no RDA for beta-carotene. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements recommends eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, including dark green and leafy vegetables and deep yellow or orange fruits in order to ingest appropriate amounts of beta-carotene.
NIH surveys show that most Americans receive adequate amounts of vitamin A in their daily diets. The recommended intakes for retinol are listed in International Units (IU) in the table, below. IU is a unit of activity or potency for vitamins, hormones, or other substances, defined individually for each substance in terms of the activity of a standard quantity or preparation.
What Foods Contain Vitamin A?
The majority of vitamin A rich foods are animal based. Plant sources of beta-carotene are not as well absorbed as certain animal sources of vitamin A, but they are still an important source of this vitamin. Dark orange and green vegetables and fruit, including carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, and kale are excellent sources of beta-carotene. Because of concerns about the negative effects of too much retinol, some people prefer to eat more foods rich in beta-carotene to satisfy their need for vitamin A.
- Egg yolks
- Heavy cream
- Cheddar cheese
- Whole milk
Common foods rich in beta-carotene are:
- Butternut squash
- Green peas
- Cantaloupe melon
- Fortified oatmeal
Benefits of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is important in order to grow healthy bones, but there are a number of other benefits to this vitamin.
- Development of teeth and tissues, in addition to bones, thus helping to build a proper body structure.
- Quick repair of bones, muscles, and tissues in case of any damage, important as most children are prone to falls and accidents.
- Development of proper eyesight as it is vital for healthy retina. It helps in developing vision in low light conditions.
- Healthy growth of soft membranes and skin cells.
All of these benefits are crucial for your child’s overall health and development.
Vitamin A Deficiency
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 preschool-aged children and 1 in 6 pregnant women are vitamin A deficient due to inadequate dietary intake globally. While vitamin A deficiency is more rare in the United States, it is important to understand the risks and symptoms associated with such an inadequacy, in order to prevent undue harm to your child.
There are a few common symptoms that can signal your child might be experiencing a vitamin A deficiency.
Such symptoms include:
- Dry Eyes
- Dry Skin
- Frequent Infections
- Inability to see in dim light or at night
- Spots in the field of vision or eyeball
As we’ve discussed previously, vitamin A is important for healthy vision in children. A deficiency can lead to temporary or permanent blindness in children if left untreated. In addition, a lack of vitamin A in the body will decrease your child’s ability to effectively fight off infection which could lead to serious, sometimes fatal, illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children around the world.
Treatment and Supplements
If you believe your child is vitamin A deficient, talk to your pediatrician about treatment. It is likely that a few simple diet changes could help your child increase his vitamin A intake and any complications resulting from deficiency would reverse over time. However, your pediatrician may find that your child’s deficiency is more complex or the result of a medical condition. In these cases, your pediatrician may recommend adding a vitamin A supplement to your child’s nutritional routine.
When choosing a supplement, work closely with your child’s doctor to ensure the safety of the supplement. In general, you will want to look for a supplement with the following qualifications, if possible:
- Non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)
- Natural Ingredients
- Certified USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Organic
- Clinically Tested and/or Doctor Recommended
Finding a balance for your child’s vitamin A consumption can be a delicate task. You can work with your pediatrician to ensure your child is getting what they need in order to to grow and develop healthily throughout their childhood. If you are concerned about your child’s height or vitamin A intake, Healthy Height™ is a great option for you.
The nutritional profile in Healthy Height™ is doctor developed and clinically shown to help kids grow! Our great tasting shake mix contains vitamins (including vitamin A) and minerals that support growth but are commonly deficient in children’s diets. Help your child get all of the nutrients they need and try Healthy Height™ today!