Vitamins form an integral part of our diet and help us with normal body growth. The derivation of the word vitamin is from Latin ‘vita’ meaning life and ‘amine’, which means amine of life. If we lack vitamins, we are likely to suffer health issues as a result of vitamin deficiency also known as hypovitaminosis. For example, vitamin A deficiency symptoms are dry and rough skin; dry and inflamed eyes, eyelids and surrounding tissues; throat and chest infection; night blindness; and stunted or delayed growth. The deficiency of vitamin A causes these problems, and they can be resolved by adding a sufficient amount of the vitamin in the affected person’s diet. Hypovitaminosis is caused by a general lack of food or an unbalanced diet in which the food that is the source of the vitamin is lacking in quantity.
Vitamins are the essential micronutrients needed by an organism for the proper functioning of bodily activities like metabolism and development. Most vitamins are not synthesised in an organism; therefore, it has to rely on the supply of vitamins from its diet. However, vitamin K is the exceptional vitamin which is synthesised in the human body, i.e., in the small intestines.
Vitamin A is one of the most essential nutrients needed by our body. It helps us with proper vision. It forms a vital role in the production of certain pigments that are vital for the optimum functioning of the retina. The most important sources of vitamin A are nuts, fish, eggs, liver, fortified margarine, beet greens, milk and milk products like cheese and butter, green leafy vegetables, mangoes, watermelon, banana, pumpkin, carrots and potatoes.
Vitamin A deficiency is caused by the lack of vitamin A. There could be a number of reasons for vitamin A deficiency. However, the general lack of food and overall deficiency of vitamins and nutrients are associated with Vitamin A hypovitaminosis. However, less intake of animal sources of food like meat and dairy products and less consumption of green leafy vegetables and fruits are also some known causes. As an estimation, 1/3 children under five years of age suffer from the deficiency of Vitamin A globally; as a result, approximately 670,000 children below five die every year.
Due to the severe lack or deficiency of vitamin A, one can face many physiological problems. The problems are as follows:
(1) Dry Eyes- Vitamin A form the part of creation and repair of skin cells, this may cause an ophthalmological condition like dry eyes or xerophthalmia which is characterised by extremely dry eyes which can lead to the inability to produce tears; the problem may worsen due to eczema.
(2) Diminished Vision and Night Blindness- Due to the lack of vitamin A, and lowering in the pigmentation of the eyes, the affected person may face retinal problems like impaired vision especially in lower light conditions or night blindness.
(3) Infertility- Due to the deficiency of vitamin A, both men and women can experience an impact on their ability to reproduce. The reason behind this is that vitamin A is needed for the development of babies. It also functions as an antioxidant required by men with diminished fertility caused by oxidative stress in the body.
(4) Stunted or Delayed Growth- Vitamin A also helps in the growth and development of the body; hence, its deficiency can lead to stunted or delayed growth in children.
The best way to treat vitamin A deficiency is by including foodstuffs rich in vitamin A in the diet. However, in an extreme situation, supplementing the diet with vitamin A pills is the best method of faster recovery. In a case like dryness of the eyes, eye drops are recommended during the process of recovery. Also, if the dryness of the eyes has caused infections like eczema, then taking care of the infection is the necessary secondary treatment. For children who have a stunted or delayed growth, along with the supplement of vitamin A, other nutrients vital for the growth like calcium, proteins, and other vitamins can help them reach the previously retarded growth faster.
Question 1: How to Diagnose Vitamin A Deficiency?
Answer: It is a common deficiency in people who are malnourished or undernourished. The signs of the lack of vitamin A is more evident in the affected person’s eyes and skin. Extreme dryness of the eyes and roughness of the skin are the most obvious signs of the deficiency. Also, prolonged deficiency can lead to stunted growth in children. In adults as well as children, loss of vision, especially in a low light situation can be a sign of the Vitamin A hypovitaminosis. These are all the noticeable signs of the deficiency. Also, there are laboratory tests that can help a lab-technician to check the retinol levels in the blood for better scrutiny of the severity of the condition.
Question 2: Can Vitamin A Deficiency be Fatal?
Answer: Vitamin A is an important constituent needed for a child’s normal growth. A severe lack of vitamin A can lead to retarded growth in children and incomplete development of organs in newborn babies which can be fatal. Also, a lactating mother has a high risk of mortality in an extreme case of the deficiency; furthermore, the breast-milk from such mother can be inadequate to supply the infant with the necessary amount of daily vitamin A dosage. All these factors can turn fatal.