Vegans are disadvantaged - Vitamin A deficiency

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer


Vitamin A is essential to promote your immune system, health and well-being, a moist skin, assist in growth and many other metabolic functions including night driving.

Plant food does not seem to contain fat soluble vitamin A known as retinol, instead exists as a pre-cursor called beta-carotene mostly found in vegies The richest sources of beta-carotene are yellow, orange, and green leafy fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, spinachlettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, and winter squash). In general, the more intense the colour of the fruit or vegetable, the more beta-carotene it has.

In our intestines beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A by an enzyme and retinol (vitamin A) is formed.

Animal foods, by contrast supply vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate which is converted to retinol in the small gut, which doesn’t require any gut enzymes for the conversion.

The bad news is that certain gene mutations can stop enzyme activity and prevent beta-carotene being converted to retinol. The enzyme that does this conversion is-15,15′-monoxygenase (BCMO1)

There could be several gene mutations that can prevent conversion of beta-carotene to retinol, A host of non-genetic factors can lower beta-carotene conversion in the gut to retinols leading to vitamin A deficiency.

Further, the lack of this conversion can affect thyroid function, alcoholism, liver disease and zinc deficiency.

In the Western world, 70 percent of the vitamin A is provided from animal foods and only about 30 percent from carotenoids.

Vegans need to be aware of vitamin A deficiency and for peace of mind the blood levels should be checked by the pathology labs. Meanwhile those vegans who don’t lack the enzyme BCMO1 can produce enough vitamin A from plant foods to stay healthy.

Ref: EchoWatch article By Denise Minger

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