Given how much coverage there is on the interweb about the dangers of taking too much Vitamin A in the early stages of pregnancy I always figured this would be one topic many of my clients would raise with me – but It almost never happens. It’s a funny one.
Here’s what you need to know:
Having too much OR too little vitamin A in your blood when you become pregnant can result in your baby having birth defects. There are different effects for having too much than there are to having too little. I won’t go into the details as they are scary enough.
World wide more children are born with Vitamin A deficiency than vitamin A toxicity, but if you parse the online literature, you’d be forgiven for thinking that toxicity is a huge problem for would be moms.
The reality, however, is that the evidence for this is not that strong - but neither can it be dismissed out of hand.
Currently the general advice is to not take in more than 10,000 units a day of vitamin A.
I’m ok with this because I’m of the opinion that this is plenty – that is, in the context of an otherwise very good nutrient intake.
The problem with the modern world is that people generally do not have a very good nutrient intake, and on top of that we live in a world that is nearly terrified by the idea of eating fat in case -God forbid - it clogs up our arteries (it doesn’t!). The problem is that Vitamin A comes to us inside the fat…so if we cut the fat we also cut the vitamin A.
Most of my clients are not consuming enough Vitamin A when they initially come to see me, and this does worry me a lot. I’m not worried for my clients, because I always correct the problem…I’m worried for the many moms-to-be out there that are consuming too little vitamin A.
Let’s be straight and honest here even though it may not be nice to hear – the number of kids with food intolerances is on the increase - this is related to low vitamin A status, the number of kids needing glasses is on the rise – this is related to low vitamin A, the number of kids with asthma and allergies is on the rise – this is related to low vitamin A status, the number of SNA teachers in on the rise because the number of kids with learning difficulties is on the rise – this is related to low vitamin A status. There are more too.
They are not all caused exclusively by low vitamin A status…but there is good evidence for all of them being related in some way. It worries me. I hate seeing kids suffer and having their capabilities reduced by physical or mental impairment.
On the flip side many medical advice sites worry that moms-to-be might be getting too much Vitamin A and cite the easy availability of high dose vitamin A supplements. This is a possible concern, though not as big an issue as it is made out to be.
My take on why the Toxicity argument seems to be the dominant one is that it’s far harder to deal with a birth defect than it is to deal with a gradual loss of function or let’s say a minor defect that occurs later on, if a kid needs glasses for example. I totally get this of course, it’s an emotionally difficult thing to deal with any birth defect, and so it is fear that gets our attention.
How do you know how much vitamin A you are eating on any given day? It’s tedious to work out but nutrient databases and software programs would be needed to get a decent average.
In the absence of this knowledge, it’s useful to know that Vitamin A is one of 4 vitamins that are called fat-soluble vitamins, the other 3 are D, E and K. Once you are getting enough of all of these vitamins together in your diet it nearly eliminates the risk of toxicity and of your child suffering from the effects of too much vitamin A in the womb. They offset each-others toxicity by helping the body use them all more effectively.
So in all reality the only way one can get Vitamin A toxicity is to take lots of it in a supplement, and not eat the other vitamins from the same family.
If you are worried that this might be happening you I recommend you get Cronometer, the free version, and input your total nutrient intake for a week, supplements included, and see how much Vitamin A you are consuming on average. Adjust to keep it below 10,000 IU’s per day.