Vitamin A is actually a blanket term that encompasses a few different compounds including the retinoids (retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid) and carotenoids including beta-carotene. Our bodies, in all their brilliance, can pull some Harry Potter-like magic and turn these molecules into other things. Retinol to retinal, retinal to retinol or retinoic acid, carotenoids to retinol, etc. So what do they do in our bodies?
Eyeballs- All this retina-somethingymabob sounds familiar right? You’re thinking eyes, right? Of course you are, you are brilliant. Retinol and retinal both play a role in our vision by allowing the process of nerve transmission to go from the eyeball to the brain. This is why people tell you carrots are good for your eyes. Wanna know what else it can do?
Gene Transcription- Remember when we talked about epigenetics and how gene expression can be turned on and off? Well retinoic acid can bind to retinoid X receptors and change the rate of gene transcription meaning how quick or slow our DNA tells our cells to make certain proteins in our body. Neat, huh? (That was for you, Jarrett).
Immunity- The cells of our skin and the cells that line our airways and digestive tract are our first line of defense against infection. Retinol is clutch for our immune system because it these cells together and is needed to develop our white blood cells which also fight off infections.
Disease Prevention- I feel like I don't even need to mention this, of course when we get sufficient vitamins and minerals they protect our bodies from getting sick. Some studies have shown vitamin A has a protective role against cancer development particularly in the skin, breast, liver, colon, and prostate. Because vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin we do store it and can develop a toxicity. This is extremely rare when eating whole foods and much more likely to happen with supplementation. So again, another vote for whole foods not popping pills.
Fetal Development- And for you pregos (though both of mine have birthed their fetuses- shout out to Bennett and Jackson ;) retinoic acid is needed to develop little fetus limbs so they don't look like the leopard spotted gecko I just adopted. It also assists in the formation of their their heart, eyes, and ears and regulates the expression of the gene for growth hormone. Who needs steroids when you can just eat carrots?
Where else do you find this nifty little guy other than carrots? Think orange and green! There are carotenoids in our dark leafy greens but the chlorophyll overpowers them so we just see green. Get your dose from eggs, liver, butter, whole milk, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, mangoes, spinach, broccoli, kale, collards, and butternut squash.
How have you guys been? What do you want to hear about next?