A New England Journal of Medicine article on the possible relationship between the consumption of vitamin A at levels at, or above, 10,000 IU (200% of the Daily Value, or DV) or 3000 Retinol equivalents (REs) and some types of birth defects has raised serious public health concerns. A relationship between vitamin A intakes and birth defects has been known for some time, but the level of vitamin A that was associated with earlier studies was much higher than the levels indicated by the new study.
As a precautionary measure, FDA has several recommendations for women of child-bearing age relative to consuming foods containing vitamin A, including dietary supplements.
First, the form of vitamin A that is of concern is pre- formed vitamin A. Pre-formed vitamin A is found in animal products, primarily liver, and also may be added to fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and dietary supplements. (Examples of pre-formed vitamin A include retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate, which are found in the products' ingredient listings.) Women need to limit their intakes to about 100% of the DV for pre-formed vitamin A from these sources of this nutrient.
On the other hand, beta-carotene is a substance found naturally in plants, and it can be converted to vitamin A in the body. It is considerably less toxic than the pre-formed vitamin A. Therefore, women of child-bearing age are advised to choose fortified foods that contain vitamin A in the form of beta- carotene rather than pre-formed vitamin A, whenever possible. The vitamin A in fruits and vegetables is naturally in the form of beta-carotene, and high intakes of vitamin A from these sources is generally not of concern.
Finally, vitamin A is an essential nutrient and, as with all nutrients, the good health of women throughout child-bearing years, including during pregnancy, is dependent on consuming needed amounts of this nutrient. Taking too little vitamin A can result in adverse effects just as can taking in too much. The key is in finding the "right amount" through carefully reading product nutrition labeling.
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