Vitamin A is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects your cells against damaging free radicals and plays other vital roles in the body. However, it is potentially more dangerous than most other vitamins because it can build up to toxic levels. For this reason, it should be used with caution.

It has long been assumed that beta-carotene supplements taken at nutritional doses are a safer way to get the vitamin A you need. However, while this may be true in general, beta-carotene also appears to present some risks. See the full Beta-Carotene article for more information.

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient—meaning you must get it in the diet. The official U.S. recommendations for daily intake of vitamin A 38 are expressed in international units (IUs) or retinol activity equivalents (RAE), which are measured in micrograms, as follows:

  • Infants
    • 0-6 months: 400 mcg RAE or 1,330 IU
    • 7-12 months: 500 mcg RAE or 1,665 IU
  • Children
    • 1-3 years: 300 mcg RAE or 1,000 IU
    • 4-8 years: 400 mcg RAE or 1,330 IU
  • Males
    • 9-13 years: 600 mcg RAE or 2,000 IU
    • 14 years and older: 900 mcg RAE or 3,000 IU
  • Females
    • 9-13 years: 600 mcg RAE or 2,000 IU
    • 14 years and older: 700 mcg RAE or 2,330 IU
  • Pregnant Women
    • 18 years or younger: 750 mcg RAE or 2,500 IUs
    • 19 years and older: 770 mcg RAE or 2,560 IU
  • Nursing Women
    • 18 years or younger: 1,200 mcg RAE or 4,000 IUs
    • 19 years and older: 1,300 mcg RAE or 4,300 IU

Warning: Pregnant women should not take vitamin A supplements. Instead they should take beta-carotene.

We get vitamin A from many foods, in the form of either vitamin A or beta-carotene. Liver and dairy products are excellent sources of vitamin A. Carrots, apricots, collard greens, kale, sweet potatoes, parsley, and spinach are good sources as well.

Deficiency in vitamin A is common in developing countries.1 In the developed world, deficiency is relatively rare. However, certain diseases can cause vitamin A deficiency by impairing the ability of the digestive tract to absorb nutrients. These include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and cystic fibrosis.