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Vitamin A plays a role in a variety of functions throughout the body, including:
* Vision * Gene transcription * Immune function * Embryonic development and reproduction * Bone metabolism * Haematopoiesis * Skin health * Reducing risk of heart disease * Antioxidant activity
Vitamin A is also known as retinol. Good sources include cheese, eggs, oily fish (such as mackerel), milk, fortified margarine and yoghurt.
Liver is a rich source of vitamin A but should be avoided during pregnancy for this reason.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. It does not have to be taken every day because any your body doesn't need immediately is stored for future use.
You should be able to get all the vitamin A you need from your daily diet. This is:
0.7 mg a day for men 0.6 mg a day for women
If you aren't getting enough vitamin D, you might be more at risk of the harmful effects of too much vitamin A. People who may be particularly short of vitamin D include women of Asian origin who always cover up their skin when they're outside and older people who rarely get outdoors. So if you're short of this vitamin it might be a good idea to boost the amount of vitamin D you're getting. Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish and eggs. The best source of vitamin D is summer sunlight.
Many multivitamins contain vitamin A. Other supplements, such as fish liver oil, are also high in vitamin A. If you take supplements containing vitamin A, make sure you don't have more than a total of 1.5mg per day from your food and supplements. If you eat liver every week, you should avoid taking any supplements that contain vitamin A.
If you're pregnant, having large amounts of vitamin A can harm your unborn baby. Therefore, if you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby, you should avoid eating liver or liver products such as pâté because these are very high in vitamin A. You should also avoid taking supplements that contain vitamin A. Ask your GP or midwife if you would like more information.
Women who have been through the menopause, and older men, who are more at risk of osteoporosis, should avoid having more than 1.5mg of vitamin A a day. This means:
* not eating liver or liver products, such as pâté, more than once a week - or having smaller portions of these * taking no more than 1.5mg of vitamin A a day in supplements (including fish liver oil), if not eating liver * not taking any supplements containing vitamin A (including fish liver oil) if eating liver once a week
Having a total of 1.5mg or less of vitamin A a day, on average, from diet and supplements combined is unlikely to cause any harm.