‘Vitamin A’ deficiency and avoidable blindness

Sighstavers India, June 2014
‘Vitamin A’ Deficiency and Avoidable Blindness

We’ve all heard our moms tell us how carrots are good for the eyes, probably right after we refuse to eat them in our salad or frown on learning that carrot subzi is the menu for dinner. Well, now it’s time to understand the science behind the age old wisdom. Carrots and other Vitamin A rich foods constitute an essential ingredient in the fight against avoidable blindness.

What is Vitamin A?

Vitamin A – just like other vitamins, minerals and useful compounds – is an essential micronutrient. This means it cannot by manufactured by our body and requires to be consumed through our diet. The Vitamin A from our food gets stored in the liver, before being bound to protein and transported to the part of the body where it is needed.

How is Vitamin A useful to the body?

Vitamin A is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system, helping the body replace skin cells daily, supporting the proper functioning of various surface tissues, and assisting the conjuctiva in producing mucous to protect the eye against infection. It also helps the eye see better in poor lighting, and protects it from corneal ulcers that lead to avoidable blindness.

How does Vitamin A deficiency occur?

Vitamin A deficiency can occur through inadequate dietary intake, whether as a result of poor maternal diet or sub-optimal breastfeeding for infants, or insufficient consumption of nutrient-rich foods by children and adults. It can also occur due to diseases, including parasitic infections, diarrhoea, or other infections such as measles.

What are the effects of Vitamin A deficiency?

One of the main consequences of Vitamin A deficiency is an increased risk of severe infection. The body’s demand for Vitamin A increases during disease and poor intake during this period can exacerbate the deficiency and worsen the infection. It also causes Night Blindness, dryness in the conjunctiva, and in severe cases, damage to the cornea resulting in permanent blindness.

What foods are rich sources of Vitamin A?

Bright yellow and orange fruits and vegetables such as mango, apricot, musk melon, papaya, carrot, sweet potato, pumpkin, etc., are important plant sources for Vitamin A. Among animal sources, liver (esp. fish liver), egg yolk, and dairy products such as milk, butter and cheese are rich in Vitamin A and help fight avoidable blindness.
Since Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it should be consumed with some fat in the diet to aid absorption.

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