Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Which is the Better Supplement: Beta Carotene or Vitamin A?

Is there any difference to the body whether you use vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate or in the form of beta carotene? I know the retinyl palmitate can be toxic, but is it better to use? Kathy C.

Dear Kathy,

In nature, beta carotene is the plant form, also called "pre-vitamin A" and your body converts this to the forms of vitamin A needed in the body for your vision, healthy skin, immune system, and other functions.
Receiving too much beta carotene (whether from carrots or pills) can cause a build-up of the pigment and may turn the skin orange. This symptom is not harmful in itself, and will reverse when the excessive intake is stopped.

Pre-formed vitamin A (retinol, retinal, retinyl) is found in animal sources, such as egg yolk, whole milk, butter, meat, and especially concentrated in fish liver and fish liver oils.
Too much vitamin A can be toxic and even fatal, because it is a fat-soluble substance. This means the body cannot easily rid of the excess, and it can cause physical damage, even lead to death. This has occurred rarely from dietary sources (in cases of arctic explorers eating polar bear liver--an extremely highly concentrated source of vitamin A) and more commonly in people supplementing with too much cod liver oil or other concentrated sources of the vitamin over a period of time.

Neither source is preferred by the body; we are able to get what we need from either animal or plant sources. Using the beta carotene form, however, is safer in cases where one may be exceeding their needs.

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