Vitamin A also known as retinol is an indispensable micronutrient required for healthy eyes, skin health, good vision, and proper functioning of the immune system as well as the growth and survival of humans. It is fat soluble vitamin that exists as an ester especially as retinylpalmitate in dairy products and in animals. When consumed it is converted to retinol in the small intestines. The precursor for vitamin A is carotene and it is found in vegetables, carrots, it is usually broken down retinaldehyde and further broken to retinol, the form that is readily absorbed into the body. Since it is a fat soluble vitamin, experts usually advice it is should be consumed together with fats for effective absorption. Dietary sources of vitamin A include squashes, dried apricots, dark leafy vegetables, red bell peppers, liver, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, tropical fruits, and carrots. The daily recommended value of vitamin A is 5000 international units when this is not available in an individual’s diet, it leads vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin A deficiency is one of the oldest documented medical conditions, it has been marked due to its ocular manifestations. Presently, vitamin A deficiency has raised public health concerns cutting across countries of Africa and south Asia, however, it is also found in pockets in other continents. Global epidemiological studies reveal that the population groups at risks to this deficiency are usually the children of the pre-school age and women in the reproductive age bracket. Apart from low levels of vitamin Ai n diets, other causes of vitamin A exist. Lifestyle choices like excessive alcohol consumption usually reduce vitamin A levels in the blood. Diseases involving the hepatic tissue could affect the levels of vitamin A in the body as the body can’t store the required level of vitamin A for the body use. Furthermore, when urine is excessively excreted due to urinary tract infections, tuberculosis, cancer, nephritis, pneumonia, the levels of vitamin A is negatively affected. Also, vitamin deficiency could be an aftermath of iron deficiency.
Vitamin A deficiency manifests through different signs and symptoms through which an individual is warned about the low levels of vitamin A in the body. The following are some signs or changes which suggest vitamin deficiency, this should be checked immediately to avoid severe consequences.
Poor Vision and other Eye Signs.
The early signs of vitamin A deficiency start with eye, manifesting as itching, burning, or inflammation of the eyelids as well as the nearby tissues. Poor vision in the night or in the presence of dim light, when you experience this such that you can’t even identify the shapes of figures under light with low intensity, then there is need to visit an ophthalmologist. When this is allowed to persist unchecked it could turn to complete night blindness.
Also dryness of the eyes, due to the loss of goblet cells is a sign of low levels of vitamin A in the body. These cells help to ensure that the eyes are lubricated by the continuous production of mucus. This can further lead to a condition known as xeropthalmia, a condition in which the eyes can’t produce tears due to the accumulation of dead goblet cells on the outer membrane of the eyes as debris. This condition is the severe form of night blindness and most times associated with Bitot‘s spots which are well partitioned foamy-white irregular spots found on the transient side of the cornea.
Increased susceptibility to Infections
For the immune system in to be maintained and function properly, vitamin A is needed. However, whenever there is a drop in the retinol level of the body the mucous membrane shrink become flaky, dry, porous. This compromises their ability to be protective barriers against pathogenic agents like bacteria, parasites and other harmful antigens lading to the incidence of several infections within a short time.
The epithelial cells of several organs are not unaffected due to this deficiency. This cells become flat, hardened, and aggregate upon on each other to form a heap. This lowers the body system’s resistance against infections. For example, the epithelial cells of the respiratory organs ranging from the nose, to the trachea, throat, bronchi are dried and rough making them vulnerable to infections caused by bacteria. The same applies to the linings of the digestive system which gradually starts drying up leading to decreased absorption and increased susceptibility to intestinal infections and diarrhea. The reproductive tracts are not left out as the unusual keratinizing metaplasia is evident in therenal pelvis, uterus, oviduct, and other accessory sex glands.
Skin Reactions and Signs
Visible changes are usually evident on the skin due to deficiency of vitamin A. This manifests as itching dry skin, with a scaly appearance in a condition known as Xeroderma. Follicular hyperkeratosis could also occur, and this is characterized with rough, dry, scaly skin. Vitamin A deficiency can also manifest as Phrynodermaor toad skin, which is associated with the appearance of follicle-like goose pimples on the upper arm and thighs first and then along the shoulders, back of the abdomen and then the buttocks. The palms and the soles of the hands and feet respectively could increase in thickness due to the increased thickness of the keratin layers of these regions. Also, the sweat glands could be blocked with keratin horny plugs, such that the secretion of sweat is greatly reduced leading to a very an unhealthy looking skin.
Other signs due to the reduction of vitamin A levels in the body include changes in the skeletal systems. These changes are manifested as the impaired growth of bones and teeth, spinal cord distortion, brain injury and irregular formation [pattern of the skull and the vertebral column
A good understanding and proper personal health surveillance through consistent periodic medical check s will be very helpful in noticing these signs that show that one is suffering from vitamin A deficiency. Also when, these signs are noticed, they should not be treated lightly or linking them to stress or undermine its seriousness. Rather, it should necessitate medical consultations to put them in check to avoid severe complications.