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Vitamin A For Children: Right Dosage, Benefits, And Side Effects

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Vitamin A is a group of fat-soluble essential vitamins available in the human diet in two forms, preformed vitamin A (retinoids) and provitamin A (carotenoids). Retinoids are found in animal products, while carotenoids are available in plant foods.

Both these forms perform different functions in the body. It is important for you to include a variety of foods in your child’s diet to meet the vitamin A requirement, especially because young children are at risk of vitamin A deficiency.

Read this post to know about the importance of vitamin A for kids, how much they need, and various food sources of this vitamin. 

Why Do Children Need Vitamin A?

Vitamin A is one of the essential vitamins that our body cannot manufacture, and thus, it needs to be included in the diet. This micronutrient has an important role because it (1) (2):

  1. supports normal growth and development in children.
  1. helps maintain healthy teeth, bones, and soft tissues.
  1. is required to maintain the structural integrity of all the surface tissues, such as skin, to combat infections and facilitate wound healing.
  1. supports vision and eye functions.
  1. aids in maintaining a healthy immune system due to its antioxidant properties. A healthy immune system is vital for protection against pathogens.
  1. Helps in proper functioning of heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.

Apart from these, there are several other physiological functions, such as management of oxidative stress 

How Much Vitamin A Do Kids Need?

The following table provides the recommended dietary allowance (daily intake) of vitamin A in micrograms of retinol activity equivalents (mcg/day RAE) for children of various age groups (3).

AgeRDA (boys)RDA (girls)
4 – 8 years400mcg RAE400mcg RAE
9 – 13 years600mcg RAE600mcg RAE
14 – 18 years900mcg RAE700mcg RAE

Note: Retinol Activity Equivalent (RAE) indicates vitamin A of all types, from all sources, that are eventually converted by the body into retinol.

1mcg  RAE = 1mcg retinol / 2mcg supplemental beta-carotene / 12mcg dietary beta-carotene / 24mcg dietary alpha-carotene or beta-cryptoxanthin

Source: National Institutes of Health

Your child can meet this nutrient requirement by consuming a well-balanced, healthy diet. A well-balanced diet includes food from various food sources in moderation.   

Food Sources of Vitamin A

Preformed vitamin A, i.e., retinoids, like retinoic acid, are found in dairy products, meat, and fish. It is also available in fortified foods and vitamin supplements. Provitamin A, i.e., carotenoids, include alpha-carotene and beta carotene, are found in fruits and vegetables. The table below shows some of the best vitamin A sources to include in a child’s diet.

List of Vitamin A foods (3)

FoodMicrograms (mcg) RAE per servingPercent DV*
Beef liver, pan-fried, 3 ounces6,582731
Sweet potato, baked in skin, 1 whole1,403156
Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup57364
Pumpkin pie, commercially prepared, 1 piece48854
Carrots, raw, ½ cup45951
Cheese, ricotta, part-skim, 1 cup26329
Herring, Atlantic, pickled, 3 ounces21924
Milk, fat-free or skim, with added vitamin A and vitamin D, 1 cup14917
Cantaloupe, raw, ½ cup13515
Peppers, sweet, red, raw, ½ cup11713
Mangos, raw, 1 whole11212
Egg, hard-boiled, 1 large758
Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled, 1 cup667
Apricots, dried, sulfured, 10 halves637
Broccoli, boiled, ½ cup607
Salmon (oily fish), sockeye, cooked, 3 ounces597
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 1 cup324

*Percent DV = Daily value percent is the amount of nutrient available in one serving of food. For example, if the label lists 25% for vitamin A, it means that one serving provides 25% of the vitamin A you need each day.  

Note: Lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are some other types of carotenoids found in food that are not converted to vitamin A. 

Some fortified foods, like ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and juices, contain added preformed vitamin A, an active form of vitamin A easily absorbed by the body.

Vitamin A overdose can occur due to excess intake of vitamin A supplements and excess consumption of liver. It is best to limit liver intake to once in a week and only serve small portions (4). If your child is on vitamin A supplements or is consuming other animal sources of vitamin A, like fish oil, then do not feed them liver. 

Signs And Symptoms Of Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) or hypovitaminosis A, can be due to lack of a well-balanced diet, fat malabsorption or liver disorders. Low vitamin A level in the body leads to deficiency, which can present the following signs (5).

  • General fatigue
  • Dry skin, rashes, acne, breakouts, dry hair or hair loss
  • Recurrent infections marking poor immune response
  • Increased risk of anemia
  • Slow growth and development
  • Throat and chest infections
  • Poor wound healing
  • Ocular effects

Severe vitamin A deficiency can further cause the following signs.

  1. Blurry vision
  1. Sensitivity to bright light
  1. Irregular patches on the white of the eyes
  1. Night blindness (nyctalopia), the earliest manifestation of xerophthalmia, where the night vision is affected
  1. Severe dryness of the eye (xerophthalmia); if untreated can lead to blindness

If you observe any of the above signs of vitamin A deficiency in your child, then consult a pediatrician.

[Read: Vitamin D Deficiency In Children]

What Is Vitamin A Supplement?

According to the US National Institutes of Health, a dietary supplement is a substance that adds a nutrient to a person’s diet to minimize the risk of health problems. A supplement can be used to fill the nutritional gap in an individual’s diet (6).

Here are some important points about vitamin A supplements you should know before using them for your child (7).

  1. Do not use the supplements without discussing it with your child’s doctor.
  1. Vitamin A is available as part of multivitamin supplements as well as standalone vitamin A dietary supplements. These supplements come in multiple forms, such as tablets, capsules, gummies, powders, drinks, and energy bars.
  1. Beta-carotene supplementation is more effective than an equal amount of beta-carotene from food.
  1. Read the label or fact sheet to know the form and amount of vitamin A in the supplement.
  1. The nutrition label also tells you about other active ingredients, fillers, binders, and flavorings present in the supplement. It is crucial to note these ingredients as their safety and efficacy in children need to be checked before use.
  1. Oral vitamin A dietary supplements should be taken with a meal to enhance their absorption.

Vitamin A supplementation is a decision that you should take in consultation with a healthcare provider. Never give any supplement to the child without consulting the doctor. Most supplements do not cause any side effects in children when the recommended age-specific dose is administered. However, high doses can lead to vitamin A overdose.

[Read: Biotin Deficiency In Children]

Vitamin A Overdose And Its Side Effects

Being a fat-soluble vitamin, the body stores the extra vitamin A primarily in the liver and releases it when needed. However, in the case of excess storage, vitamin A toxicity (hypervitaminosis A) can occur due to excessive consumption of preformed vitamin A (retinoids) and not provitamin A (carotenoids).

Some of the symptoms of chronic toxicity are (5):

  • Dry itchy skin or skin irritation/rashes or desquamation (peeling skin)
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Bone abnormalities
  • Increased probability of bone fractures
  • Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Irritability, drowsiness, dizziness, headache

In severe cases, hypervitaminosis A could also lead to liver damage, coma, and death.

[Read: Nausea In Children]

Upper intake limit of vitamin A

The following table shows the upper intake limit of vitamin A for children of different age groups (8).

AgeUpper intake limit
4 – 8 years600 mcg
9 – 13 years900 mcg
14 – 18 years1,700 mcg

Vitamin A intake is important for your child. Feeding your child a healthy balanced diet containing all forms of vitamin A helps prevent deficiency. Add oily fish, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and colorful fruits such as mango, papaya, and apricot in their diet. If you have concerns that your child might not be getting enough vitamin A, then consult a pediatrician, who will tell you if it is necessary to use supplements. 

References:

1. Micronutrient Facts; CDC
2. Vitamin A; Medline Plus; U.S National Library of Medicine
3. Vitamin A; National Institute of Health
4. Meat in your diet; NHS UK
5. Chapter 7. Vitamin A; FAO
6. Dietary Supplements; National Institute of Aging
7. Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know; National Institute of Health
8. Vitamin A; Oregon State University

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