Vitamin A – what symptoms a deficiency causes

Woman with tired eyes: It can take some time for symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency to appear.  One of the first signs is usually problems with vision at dusk.

It can take some time for symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency to appear. One of the first signs is usually problems with vision at dusk. (Source: AndreyPopov/Getty Images)
A vitamin A deficiency rarely occurs in this country. When it can still occur and what symptoms are possible.

Vitamin A is vital for the body. Since the organism cannot produce it itself, the nutrient must be consumed daily with food. However, this is usually not a problem – the needs can usually be easily met with animal and plant foods. You can read exactly how high this is here .

In western industrialized countries such as Germany, a diet-related vitamin A deficiency (and symptoms resulting from it) is extremely rare. On the contrary, studies even show that people in this country often consume above-average amounts of vitamin A. If a vitamin A deficiency occurs, in countries like Germany it is usually the result of an illness.

It’s different in developing countries: There, a vitamin A deficiency as a result of an unbalanced (defective) diet is one of the most common causes of blindness and increased mortality in children.

Vitamin A deficiency: possible causes

Basically, the body can store vitamin A in the liver and can therefore survive a temporary nutritional deficiency. If a vitamin A deficiency occurs, there can be various reasons for this – here are some examples:

  • Insufficient consumption of foods with vitamin A (only conceivable with a very unbalanced diet)
  • Impaired fat digestion and absorption, for example in chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), diseases of the pancreas or liver
  • Taking fat blockers (for example the active ingredients orlistat or chitosan)
  • Increased need for vitamin A, for example as a result of inflammation, severe burns, alcoholism or kidney disease

Vitamin A deficiency: These symptoms are possible

Vitamin A plays an important role in many processes in the body. A prolonged deficiency can result in serious symptoms. The possible consequences of this nutrient deficiency include:

  • Night blindness, i.e. difficulty seeing at dusk
  • Drying out of the tear glands and subsequently the conjunctiva of the eye
  • corneal ulcers
  • Blindness
  • Loss of appetite
  • dry skin and mucous membranes
  • Muscle weakness
  • in children: slowed growth
  • weakened immune system or increased susceptibility to infections

    Vitamin A deficiency: how can it be diagnosed?

    A blood test can show whether you have a vitamin A deficiency. For this purpose, the concentration of retinol in the blood is determined. However, it must be borne in mind that the vitamin A level only drops significantly when the body’s stores are used up.

    Conclusion: The most important things in brief

    A long-term vitamin A deficiency is rare in Germany, but should be avoided as it can cause serious symptoms. If the vitamin A level is persistently low, this rarely has nutritional causes in this country, but is usually the result of an illness that impairs the absorption of the vitamin from food.


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