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Can Vitamin A Deficiency Cause Blindness?

Your body is a temple and for that temple to remain holy and healthy, one requires the right amount of nutrition. The lack of vitamins and proteins can cause your body to become weak and dull - affecting your internal and external organs as well. Low levels of vitamins can pave the way to the development of various diseases and health conditions, which can be severe in nature.

In the current article, we will focus on the impact of vitamin A and the plausible effect it could have on one's health in the absence of the necessary vitamin. Before going into it, let's explore the role of this essential vitamin in your health.

What Is Vitamin A?

A group of antioxidants, vitamin A plays a critical role in vision, bone growth and immune system. Generally, vitamin A is of two types - retinol and carotenoids, depending on the food source it is derived from. Vitamin A can be obtained from both animal and plant-based foods. Vitamin A from animal-derived foods is called retinol, where the pre-formed nutrient can be directly used by your body [1] .

Vitamin A derived from plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables are in the form of carotenoids, which are converted to retinol by the body after upon digestion. Beta-carotene is one of the most prevalent and effective pro-vitamin A carotenoids [2] .

The vitamin is beneficial for your health in various ways. From lowering the risk of certain cancers to boosting the health of your immune system, vitamin A has various other benefits too. It helps reduce the risk of acne, supports bone health, promotes healthy growth and reproduction and so on.

A lack of vitamin A in your body can cause certain adverse effects; check them out here.

Benefits Of Vitamin A For Your Eyes

Vitamin A plays an important role in your vision. For you to see things as it is, without any disruption, your eye needs to produce certain pigments for your retina to work properly and it is where vitamin A comes in. The vitamin is also beneficial in nourishing your eyes, including your cornea and help keep your eyes lubricated [3] .

The vitamin is necessary for converting the light that hits your eye into an electrical signal that can be sent to your brain. According to studies, vitamin A eye drops have been proven effective for the treatment of dry eyes. The study went on to assert that over-the-counter eye drops containing vitamin A were as effective for the treatment of dry eye syndrome as more expensive prescription eye drops formulated for dry eye relief [3] .

Vitamin A eye drops also have been shown effective for the treatment of a specific type of eye inflammation called superior limbic kerato-conjunctivitis [4] . According to another study, vitamin A supplements reduced their risk of developing advanced macular degeneration by 25 per cent in individuals aged over 50 [5] .

According to a study conducted by the researchers at Columbia University, Medical Center found that a synthetic, altered form of vitamin A showed the possible potential to slow the progression of Stargardt's disease, an inherited eye disease that causes severe vision loss in young people [6] .

When combined with other antioxidant vitamins, vitamin A has been proven to play a central role in decreasing the risk of vision loss from macular degeneration (AMD). Several studies also revealed that a combination of vitamin A and lutein may prolong vision in people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa (RP) [7] .

Can Vitamin A Deficiency Cause Blindness?

To answer the question - yes it does. For an individual to see clearly and distinguish objects, the eyes need to produce certain pigments for your retina to work properly. Consequently, vitamin A deficiency stops the production of these pigments, leading to night blindness - as the vitamin is a major component of the pigment rhodopsin [6] .

Rhodopsin is found in the retina of your eye and is extremely light-sensitive, which in turn causes individuals with the condition to have reduced vision in darkness as their eyes struggle to pick up light at lower levels. The lack of the discussed vitamin limits the production of moisture required for lubricating your eyes as well [7] [8] .

Lack of the right amount of vitamin A in your body can also lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. And as per studies, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, globally.

In pregnant women, vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness and may contribute to maternal mortality [9] . An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year because of vitamin A deficiency. Half of these children die within a year of losing their sight, studies reveal [9] [10] .

Sources Of Vitamin A

The best sources of vitamin A are as follows [11] :

  • Cod liver oil
  • Eggs
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Fortified skim milk
  • Orange and yellow vegetables and fruits
  • Other sources of beta-carotene such as broccoli, spinach, and most dark green, leafy vegetables

On A Final Note...

Considering and examining the study findings and assertion from health experts on the impact of the vitamin on one's vision, it is essential to point out that vitamin A deficiency does cause blindness [12] . However, the findings do not assert that although it does not cause proper blindness, night blindness is commonly reported.

Therefore, it is essential to consume foods that are rich in vitamin A and help prevent your eyes from falling victim to age-related eye diseases and cellular damage to the retina [13] . It is also important to note that, consuming vitamin A-rich foods alone will not help one prevent all sorts of vision-related problems, but reduce the risks of developing the conditions.

View Article References
  1. [1] Rando, R. R. (1990). The chemistry of vitamin A and vision. Angewandte Chemie International Edition in English, 29(5), 461-480.
  2. [2] Goldsmith, T. H., & Warner, L. T. (1964). Vitamin A in the vision of insects. The Journal of general physiology, 47(3), 433-441.
  3. [3] Saari, J. C. (2016). Vitamin A and vision. In The Biochemistry of Retinoid Signaling II (pp. 231-259). Springer, Dordrecht.
  4. [4] Babino, D., Golczak, M., Kiser, P. D., Wyss, A., Palczewski, K., & von Lintig, J. (2016). The biochemical basis of vitamin A3 production in arthropod vision. ACS chemical biology, 11(4), 1049-1057.
  5. [5] Goncalves, A., Estevinho, B. N., & Rocha, F. (2016). Microencapsulation of vitamin A: A review. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 51, 76-87.
  6. [6] Haslam, R. (2019). Vitamin and mineral supplements: Exploring how diet and supplements contribute to vision health. AJP: The Australian Journal of Pharmacy, 100(1183), 54.
  7. [7] Klaver, C. C., & Thiadens, A. A. (2018). Vitamin A for children with retinitis pigmentosa: an unresolved mystery. JAMA ophthalmology, 136(5), 496-497.
  8. [8] Perusek, L., Maeda, A., & Maeda, T. (2015). Supplementation with vitamin a derivatives to rescue vision in animal models of degenerative retinal diseases. In Rhodopsin (pp. 345-362). Humana Press, New York, NY.
  9. [9] Simkin, S. K., Tuck, K., Garrett, J., & Dai, S. (2016). Vitamin A deficiency—an unexpected cause of visual loss. The Lancet, 387(10013), 93-94.
  10. [10] Mishra, K., Jandial, A., Sandal, R., Khadwal, A., & Malhotra, P. (2018). Night blindness, Bitot’s spot and vitamin A deficiency. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 112(3), 225-225.
  11. [11] Yildirim, P., Garip, Y., Karci, A. A., & Guler, T. (2016). Dry eye in vitamin D deficiency: more than an incidental association. International journal of rheumatic diseases, 19(1), 49-54.
  12. [12] Singer, J. R., Bakall, B., Gordon, G. M., & Reddy, R. K. (2016). Treatment of vitamin A deficiency retinopathy with sublingual vitamin A palmitate. Documenta Ophthalmologica, 132(2), 137-145.
  13. [13] Tanumihardjo, S. A., Russell, R. M., Stephensen, C. B., Gannon, B. M., Craft, N. E., Haskell, M. J., ... & Raiten, D. J. (2016). Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development (BOND)—vitamin A review. The Journal of nutrition, 146(9), 1816S-1848S.
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