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Vitamin A & Beta-Carotene are NOT the same thing

I used to have orange hands. 🍊✋ Why? Not because I ate too many carrots. My doctor actually told me to stop eating all orange coloured foods. So I did. For 1 whole year. Nothing changed. I had orange coloured hands because genetically, I lack an efficient enzyme called BCMO1. Let me elaborate on how this enzyme works when it comes to vitamin A. 🤓

Where do you think you get your vitamin A from?

Most people will say orange coloured fruits and vegetables, but that is a big misconception. Orange coloured foods contain BETA-CAROTENE, which is not the same thing as vitamin A.

Beta-carotene is the PRECURSOR to vitamin A (i.e. bioactive retinol).

So, why do we assume beta-carotene and vitamin A are the same thing? Possibly because beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A… however, this conversion is only 3% in the healthiest adult.

Furthermore, if you're one of the 45% of people (me 🤚) that genetically lack the enzyme [Beta-Carotene-Mono-Oxygenase-1 (BCMO1)] involved in this conversion, you might not be getting much (if any) vitamin A conversion at all! People with an inefficient BCMO1 enzyme have to be more mindful about actually consuming active vitamin A from food sources.

AND… to add insult to injury, there are even studies showing that with the more beta-carotene you consume in your diet, there is a 32-69% reduction in the conversion into vitamin A. A terrible inverse relationship for those of us who love orange coloured foods.

Why is ACTIVE vitamin A so important?

1️⃣ Skin health - Did you know the prescription drug Accutane (isotretinoin) used to treat cystic acne is a high dose active vitamin A (retinoid)? Also, check out my post on how active topical vitamin A (retinol) is useful for aging skin, collagen and improving the appearance of wrinkles.

2️⃣ Immune health - Not only does vitamin A work alongside your white blood cells to fight infections, it helps to support your vitamin D levels.

3️⃣ Fertility - In men and women, vitamin A helps with spermatogenesis and oocyte (egg) development. Also, high beta-carotene relative to active vitamin A inhibits estrogen in the follicle, which isn’t great for individuals having ovulatory problems.

4️⃣Children’s health - Adequate vitamin A is critical for immune health to fight infections and is needed for proper gonad development!

5️⃣ Pregnancy - Vitamin A helps with preventing birth defects in early embryonic development. CAUTION: There is a sweet spot for dosing when it comes to birth defects and vitamin A. Too much and too little is a problem. Always work with your doctor to find out which dose is safe since unfortunately, there aren’t very many prenatal vitamins out there that actually contain the active form of vitamin A. This is where food sources of active vitamin A are beneficial in safe amounts!

So, which foods even contain active vitamin A?

- Liver (highest source)

- Cod Liver Oil

- Fish

- Meat

- Eggs

- Butter


There you have it! Another goldilocks nutrient. As always, work with your own healthcare team to figure out which nutrient deficiencies you might have that might be impacting your health.

PMID: 20599666

PMID: 20980645

PMID: 33021314

PMID: 26251919

PMID: 12221263

PMID: 10944494

PMID: 22254103

PMID: 30909386

DOI: 10.4172/2167-0420.1000210


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