Vitamin A

Vitamin A is also known as retinol. Good sources of vitamin A include cheese eggs oily fish (such as mackerel) milk fortified margarine and yoghurt.

Liver is also a rich source of vitamin A. But, because it's such a rich source, if you already eat it every week, you might want to choose not to have it more often.

If you're pregnant, you should avoid eating liver because of the amount of vitamin A it contains.

How much do I need?

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means you don't need it every day because any of the vitamin 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

What does it do?

Vitamin A has a number of important functions. For example it:

  • helps maintain the health of skin and mucus linings (in the nose for example)
  • helps strengthen immunity from infections
  • helps vision in dim light

What happens if I take too much?

Some research suggests that having more than an average of 1.5mg per day of vitamin A over many years may affect your bones and make them more likely to fracture when you're older.

Older people, particularly women, are already at risk of osteoporosis. This is where bone density reduces and so the risk of fractures increases.

If you eat liver or liver pate once a week, you might be having more than an average of 1.5mg of vitamin A per day.

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, but remember, if you're out in the sun, take care not to burn.

Many multivitamins contain vitamin A. Other supplements, such as fish liver oil, are also high in vitamin A. So 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 pate 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.

What is our advice?

You should be able to get all the vitamin A you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. But if you do decide to take a supplement that contains vitamin A, it's a good idea not to take too much because this could be harmful.

Liver is a very rich source of vitamin A. So, if you eat liver or liver products, such as pate every week, you might want to think about not eating it more often. You should also take into account the amount of vitamin A in any supplements you are taking.

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 pate, 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.

But if you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby, Agency and Health Department advice is:

  • avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A, including fish liver oil (except on the advice of your GP)
  • avoid eating liver or liver products such as pate because these are very high in vitamin A
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