Retinol is another name for which vitamin

Vitamin A products - what makes sense?

What's behind the vitamin A advertisement?

Vitamin A (also called retinol) is found in many food supplements. According to the manufacturers, it should ensure more beautiful skin, strengthen the immune system and help improve eyesight.

The following advertising statements are legally permitted for vitamin A or its precursor ß-carotene:

  • Vitamin A contributes to normal iron metabolism
  • Vitamin A contributes to the maintenance of normal mucous membranes
  • Vitamin A helps maintain normal skin
  • Vitamin A contributes to the maintenance of normal eyesight
  • Vitamin A contributes to the normal function of the immune system
  • Vitamin A has a role in cell specialization

The amount of vitamin A or its vegetable precursor ß-carotene (provitamin A) required by the body can easily be supplied by conventional foods such as carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, kale, spinach, lamb's lettuce, liver (sausage), eggs and dairy products. Fruits such as honeydew melon, apricots and mango are also rich in beta-carotene.

What should I look out for when using vitamin A products?

Overdosing on vitamin A can have dangerous effects. Acute poisoning can lead to headaches, nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, dizziness, itchy skin and increased internal pressure in the skull. If the amounts of vitamin A are too high in the long term, chronic damage such as jaundice, enlarged liver, skin tears, hair loss, joint and muscle pain, bleeding and even damage to the skeletal system are possible.

For this reason, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) recommends food supplements no more than 0.2 mg per day, since a lot of vitamin A is already absorbed with normal foods. If you want to take vitamin A-containing food supplements, make sure that the daily stated on the packaging Recommended intake maximum 0.2 mg do not exceed this under any circumstances. Vitamin A should only be taken during pregnancy after consulting a doctor.

Since a connection between increased vitamin A intake and lower bone density is considered likely, the EFSA recommends Postmenopausal women a restriction on the total intake of vitamin A (but not beta-carotene from natural foods). We therefore recommend this group of people to speak to their doctor before using a vitamin A-containing dietary supplement.

At this point it should be mentioned that additional doses of beta-carotene are included Smokers can promote the development of lung cancer. Since many soft drinks are enriched with beta-carotene and foods are colored with it (E 160), the BfR currently recommends not using beta-carotene in food supplements.

What does the body need vitamin A for?

Vitamin A is primarily involved in cell growth and the function of the immune system. A distinction is made between compounds that have all the effects of the vitamin (e.g. retinol) and compounds that are derived from vitamin A and only perform very specific functions. For example, the retinoic acid made from retinol is of fundamental importance for the health of the skin and mucous membranes. If vitamin A is converted to retinal, it is crucial for the function of the visual process.

The first sign of a vitamin A deficiency is night blindness, which makes it difficult to see at dusk. A pronounced vitamin A deficiency leads to blindness, reproductive disorders, bone damage and, in the worst case, severe disorders of the immune system. Such extreme deficiency situations are to be found especially in developing countries as a result of very one-sided nutrition or severe parasitic infections of the gastrointestinal tract.

In western industrialized nations, on the other hand, a deficiency is mostly due to diseases of the digestive tract, through which fat digestion and vitamin A absorption in the intestine no longer function properly. Loss of the vitamin through liver damage due to chronic alcoholism or the frequent use of drugs that damage the liver is also possible.

Other risk groups are mainly newborns and very old seniors. People who often suffer from severe infections are also at risk because they need more vitamin A.

In order to be able to make a uniform assessment of the vitamin A requirement coverage, the recommended intake is given in retinol equivalents (RAE). This also takes into account so-called "Provitamins" (like beta-carotene), which vitamin A can be made from. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) gives for Men aged 19 and over have a daily requirement of 0.85 milligrams (850 µg) rtinol equivalent per day, for women aged 19 and over 0.7 milligrams (700 µg) RAE per day. According to the DGE, pregnant women need 800 µg RAE. The recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are around 10-15% lower.

Can I cover my daily requirement with food?

Vitamin A itself is found in high amounts in the liver and foods containing the liver. In contrast, other animal foods such as meat and eggs contain small amounts of vitamin A. The organism primarily gains provitamins such as β-carotene (beta-carotene) and β-apo-carotinals as precursors of the vitamin from plant-based foods. Provitamins are converted to vitamin A in the liver, lungs and small intestine after they are ingested from food. Plant foods rich in provitamin include carrots, red peppers, pumpkin, lamb's lettuce, kale, and spinach. These should be used especially if liver and animal foods are rarely eaten.

1 retinol equivalent (RAE) corresponds to 1 µg retinol and 12 µg ß-carotene or 24 µg other provitamin A-carotenoids.

Old designations (RE) are based on the following calculations: 1 μg RE = 1 μg retinol = 6 μg β-carotene = 12 μg other provitamin A-carotenoids.

In the presence of oxygen, heat and light lead to the loss of vitamin A in the food. Assuming an average vitamin A loss of approx. 20 percent with the usual western diet and method of preparation of foods. In addition, the intake rate of vitamin A from food is a maximum of 75 percent, which also depends on the proportion of fat consumed at the same time. Nevertheless, there does not have to be a reason for undersupply. In addition to the occurrence of vitamin A and its precursors in numerous foods, up to 95% of the total amount of vitamin A is also stored in the liver, so that adults can be supplied with vitamin A for up to one year from these storage reserves. In addition, other organ systems such as the lungs, eyes and the digestive tract also store supplies of vitamin A precursors.

The National Consumption Study II showed in 2008 that a large part of the population consumes an above-average amount of vitamin A or retinol equivalents. Only 15 percent of men and 10 percent of women did not achieve the recommended intake, which, however, does not mean that there is a deficiency.

With a predominantly vegetarian or vegan diet, the intake of plant-based provitamin A (beta-carotene) is particularly important for maintaining an adequate vitamin A status. In order to ensure an adequate intake here, a very conscious diet and food selection are required.

Our tip:
If you eat a carrot salad without a fatty side dish such as a schnitzel or sandwich, add a small dash of oil. In this way, more β-carotene can be absorbed in the intestine. Also drink a vegetable juice every now and then, as more provitamins are released by destroying the cells when juicing.

These vitamin compounds are in accordance with EU guidelines 2002/46 / EG, Annex II (version of 05.07.2017) for retinol (vitamin A) in Germany and other EU countries in food supplements authorized:

  • Retinol
  • Retinylacetate
  • Retinyl palmitate
  • β-carotene (beta-carotene)

What you should pay attention to when using ß-carotene (provitamin A) products, we have put together in the article: Beta-carotene capsules: At best, slight sun protection.

For further reading:

DGE: Selected questions and answers about vitamin A, as of November 2020



BfR (2021): Updated maximum quantity proposals for vitamins and minerals in food supplements and fortified foods
Opinion No. 009/2021 of March 15, 2021

German Nutrition Society, Austrian Nutrition Society, Swiss Nutrition Society (ed.) (2020): Vitamin A (retinol), β-carotene. In: Reference values ​​for nutrient intake, 2nd edition, 6th updated edition

Biesalski, H./Bischoff, S./Puchstein, C. (2010): Nutritional medicine, Georg Thieme Published by Stuttgart / New York.

Max Rubner Institute (2008): National Consumption Study II. Results Report, Part 2, accessed on: November 17, 2020

Stahl, A./Heseker, H. (2010): Vitamin A: Physiology, Functions, Occurrence, Reference Values ​​and Supply in Germany, In: Ernahrung Umschau (9): 481-489, accessed on: November 17, 2020

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