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 Vitamins: Vitamin A -- Betacarotene 

Uses: With the many functions performed by vitamin A, it has a variety of uses in basic tissue and health maintenance, in clinical treatment for a number of problems (some of which may be vitamin A deficiency symptoms), and in the prevention of many illnesses and diseases. Vitamin A works better when there are sufficient body levels of zinc and an adequate intake of protein.

Infections. Vitamin A helps in many cases to protect tissues during infections and promote rapid recovery, primarily through its support of the health of the skin and mucous lining barriers and its stimulation of mucus production. It also appears to improve antibody response and white blood cell functions. In these ways, vitamin A may be even more helpful in the prevention of infections. By keeping the mucous membranes healthy, it also helps protect against the irritating effects of smoke and pollution.

Eye problems. Vitamin A is often suggested for a variety of eye problems. Night blindness may be an early sign of vitamin A deficiency, but vitamin A functions in many ways to support the health of the eye tissue. It has been used in the treatment of conjunctivitis, blurred vision, nearsightedness, cataracts, and glaucoma, but there is no hard scientific evidence, other than anecdotal, that vitamin A works for these conditions.

Because of its beneficial effects on the skin, vitamin A is used to treat a variety of skin problems, both by local application to rashes, boils, skin ulcers, and so on, and by increased intake to help the skin’s internal healing process. It may have some effect in psoriasis and in periodontal disease. Vitamin A can be supplemented for all kinds of wound healing, including before and after surgery. Its use in healing acne has been controversial, with some studies showing very good results and other studies showing no demonstrable effects. The amount used is usually about 100,000 IUs per day, as 50,000 IUs twice daily, with doses up to 300,000 IUs per day having better success. Used with 800 IUs of vitamin E daily (doesn’t need to be taken at the same time as an A supplement) the vitamin E promotes the activity of vitamin A. One hundred thousand IUs of vitamin A may help alleviate severe acne in many cases. Of course, with these higher doses of vitamin A, some signs of toxicity, such as frontal headaches, can develop and should be watched. If these occur, decreasing the amount of vitamin A will usually alleviate them. Retin A, a new pharmaceutical derivative of vitamin A, appears to help reduce wrinkles (and acne) by restoring skin tissue when applied topically.

Cancer prevention. By its influence in maintaining the cell integrity of the skin and the mucous membrane linings, as in the lungs, digestive system, and urinary and genital tracts, and by its support of proper cell differentiation, vitamin A as beta-carotene has been shown to be helpful in lowering lung cancer risks. It is likely, because of its effects on epithelial cell membranes, adequate beta-carotene intake will reduce risk of many other cancers. Likewise, a deficiency of vitamin A, beta-carotene, or both, increase the risk of cancers.

Pollution protection. The antioxidant function of vitamin A helps to protect the body tissues from the irritating effects of stress, smoke, air pollution, and chemical exposure.

Other uses. Vitamin A has also been tried with some success in treating a variety of other problems, including asthma, fibrocystic breast disease, plantar warts, sebaceous cysts, ulcers, and premenstrual syndrome. In fibrocystic problems, one small study showed a reduction in breast pain and lumps with 150,000 IUs daily, used under medical supervision.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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