(Psst…none of this is medical advice–just a word to the wise.)
They've fooled us again.
Mainstream medicine has impersonated and demonized Vitamin A– much like it did nourishing saturated fats and energizing sugar. This is nothing new.
They warn us about "vitamin A toxicity.”
Of course, too much of anything is poison– isn’t it?
But now, instead of cherishing this vital nutrient, we’re told we should “proceed with caution” as we’re simultaneously prescribed topical retinoids, Accutane, and synthetic supplements.
Make it make sense.
Let’s unpack why vitamin A in its natural form (retinol) is nothing to be afraid of and how it supports nearly every aspect of your health.
What is vitamin A? (that’s a loaded question)
Here are the basics.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient essential for the health of your immune system, cellular metabolism, and tissues that make up your eyes, lungs, gut lining, and skin. (1)
Without it, the whole system would fall apart.
And since the body doesn’t make vitamin A, we must get it through food sources or supplementation.
That isn’t up for debate.
Most of the confusion lies in navigating all the different forms of vitamin A. So let’s set the record straight.
The only active form of vitamin A is retinol (found in animal products).
Not carotenoids (plant form).
Not retinyl palmitate (synthetic form).
Beta-carotene found in sweet potatoes and alpha-carotene in leafy greens are both precursors to vitamin A that must be converted using thyroid hormone, copper, and vitamin C.
Unfortunately, this usually happens at a rate of about 3.6-28 percent due to poor absorption, a sluggish thyroid, and nutrient deficiencies. So it’s simply not a reliable source of vitamin A for most people.
Synthetic forms of vitamin A found in fortified foods and multivitamins also fall short. They lack the natural cofactors needed to do their job and require the body to pull from its own resources.
This can lead to depletion with long-term supplementation. They’re also often made with industrial petrochemicals and solvents– increasing the body’s toxic load. Not ideal.
And then we have retinol– the good stuff.
It’s the only inherently bio-available form of vitamin A.
Retinol is 12 times more beneficial than beta-carotene because the body can easily absorb and use it.
Our bodies desperately need retinol.
Retinol is one of those ancestral nutrients our modern culture often takes for granted.
And it could be impacting our health more than we know.
The further away from nose-to-tail eating we get and the more synthetic our world becomes– our need for retinol increases exponentially.
Not only is this form of vitamin A essential for several metabolic processes in the body– but it might just be the key to alleviating the “mystery” diagnoses of our day.
Doctor Weston A. Price realized this while investigating tooth decay and facial form over his career as a dentist.
He found that a lack of fat-soluble Vitamin A is often the root cause of many health concerns like weak jaw structure, skin conditions, poor vision, and infertility– just to name a few.
Here’s a deeper look into how retinol affects each system of the body specifically.
BENEFITS OF VITAMIN A FOR METABOLISM
Vitamin A is a metabolic powerhouse because it optimizes energy production and lowers inflammation caused by oxidative stress.
It does this by
- creating ATP (energy) in the cell
- defending cells against free radical damage
- assisting in vitamin D activation and calcium absorption
- making bioavailable copper in the liver (which is needed to turn food into energy)
- binding to the transport protein Transthyretin to assist in converting thyroid hormone
It’s the cornerstone of healthy cell development, tissue building, and metabolic longevity.
BENEFITS OF VITAMIN A FOR IMMUNITY
Healthy cells are the foundation of a healthy immune system.
Vitamin A strengthens the body’s epithelial tissues and mucous membranes– the first line of defense against pathogens.
It also directly promotes and regulates the immune response by stimulating the production of white blood cells.
It’s often called the “anti-infection” vitamin because it naturally protects your body against bacterial, parasitic, and viral infections. (2)
Maybe we don’t have to fear germs and rely on sanitizers after all.
Just some food for thought.
BENEFITS OF VITAMIN A FOR GUT HEALTH
Vitamin A helps maintain the lining of the digestive tract, reduces inflammation, and supports a healthy microbiome.
It’s especially helpful in normalizing a specific bacteria found in small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) called Bacteroides vulgatus.
A study compared the growth of this bacteria in a diet devoid of vitamin A and one with sufficient amounts. They found that a vitamin A deficiency directly affected the bacterial community. (3)
The less vitamin A, the more abundant B. vulgatus became.
When they reintroduced retinol-rich foods, this bacteria diminished.
In this same study, they also compared the effects of retinol versus the other forms of vitamin A (b-carotene, retinoic acid, and retinyl palmitate).
And guess what?
They all caused a spike in B. vulgatus growth– except for retinol.
Not surprised? Neither were we.
BENEFITS OF VITAMIN A FOR THYROID HEALTH
The whole body is one big chain reaction.
This matters when you consider how one nutrient, like vitamin A, can affect so many different processes.
When it comes to thyroid function, vitamin A is one of the first links in the chain.
Without it, the body can’t convert copper into the bioavailable form, ceruloplasmin, in the liver.
Without ceruloplasmin, the hypothalamus can’t release thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). (4)
Without TRH, the pituitary gland can’t release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). It also means inactive thyroid hormone T4 can’t convert to active T3.
Low retinol can trigger copper dysregulation and ultimately lead to thyroid issues.
And hypothyroidism can cause a whole slew of unwanted symptoms like
- unreasonably cold hands and feet
- tiredness no matter how much sleep you get
- weight gain or inability to lose weight
- stubborn constipation
- depression or anxiety
- trouble focusing
- muscle aches and weakness
- dry and scaly skin
- brittle hair and nails
- increased hair shedding
- low libido
- irregular or heavy periods
These symptoms may be common, but that doesn’t mean they’re normal.
Prioritizing retinol levels is crucial in supporting thyroid hormone production and utilization in the body so you can feel your best– without taking thyroid medication.
BENEFITS OF VITAMIN A FOR IRON METABOLISM
Almost 25 percent of the population thinks they’re anemic. As a result, many of us take iron supplements without batting an eyelash.
But if you’ve been in the “pro-metabolic” space for any amount of time, then you know that low iron typically isn’t the root of the issue– it’s how the body uses iron.
The abundance of iron-fortified cereals, breads, baby formulas, and supplements on the market ensures plenty of iron in our tissues. But without enough nutrients like retinol to make bioavailable copper, the body can’t move that iron into the blood to be used.
The result? Low iron blood test results and iron-overloaded tissues. Quite the conundrum.
So instead of throwing more iron at the problem, we must first look at why the body isn’t using what it already has.
And since vitamin A drives iron recycling and the formation of red blood cells, that “iron deficiency” may actually be a vitamin A deficiency.
Most people find that giving their body what it needs mobilizes what’s in the tissues and resolves the problem.
Funny how that works.
BENEFITS OF VITAMIN A FOR HORMONAL HEALTH
Our hormones love retinol.
It's essential for converting cholesterol into progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. (5)
And remember, retinol also supports metabolism, moves iron, and improves thyroid health.
All of these factors add up to hormonal balance and full-body resilience.
Retinol is also critical for sperm formation and embryonic development.
So whoever said that women shouldn’t consume liver during pregnancy clearly didn’t do their homework.
Let’s do the don’ts.
BENEFITS OF VITAMIN A FOR SKIN (our favorite)
The skincare industry is utterly obsessed with vitamin A– just not the right kind.
Between Tretinoin, Retin-A, and Differin– it seems like every brand (and their mother) is coming out with a cheap imitation of this potent skin vitamin.
And we can’t forget the go-to “acne drug,” Accutane (aka isotretinoin).
Taking isotretinoin can lead to serious health problems like chronic skin dryness, erectile dysfunction, cell damage, mood disorders, skeletal damage, diabetes, gut issues, and even birth defects. (6) These are just the facts.
But this isn’t the type of vitamin A we’re talking about– obviously.
Animal retinol from ancestral foods is what your skin needs to thrive.
It's the backbone of all epithelial tissue in the body and does wonders for your skin's overall health and appearance.
Retinol repairs and supports the skin by
- strengthening skin cell integrity
- boosting collagen production so skin stays firmer for longer
- lowering oxidative stress in skin cells to calm inflammation
- accelerating healing to prevent sun damage and hyperpigmentation marks
- breaking down dead skin cells and increasing turnover to prevent the formation of acne blockages in the pore
- loosening keratin buildup to heal keratosis pilaris on the surface of the skin
- disrupting HPV replication to halt wart growth and increase normal tissue production
- regulating skin cell production to reduce plaque psoriasis
These are just a few ways true vitamin A builds, balances, and heals your skin– both topically and internally.
How to Get More Vitamin A
From animal foods.
Not isolated supplements.
This simple strategy ensures you get enough without overdoing it.
High vitamin A foods for your plate:
- Beef Liver
- Lamb Liver
- Cod Liver Oil (not the same as fish oil)
- Fatty fish (salmon, sardines)
- Raw goat milk
Our list may look different than the first result on Google. But that’s because these foods contain bioavailable retinol, not carotenoids.
And although packing liver loaf in your lunch box may not feel culturally appropriate in this generation, it’s far more nutritious than a bag of carrot sticks.
Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet– hands down.
Following a recent revival of nose-to-tail eating, many regenerative ranchers are once again saving and selling these prized cuts.
And what about cod liver oil?
Did you know that in the early 20th century, cod liver oil was often supplemented in schools for its high amounts of Vitamin A? Though this practice was lost through the years, folks in the wellness space are starting to remember the power of this vitamin A “super-food.”
And no, it’s not the same thing as fish oil– a common misconception. Though it has some amounts of PUFA, the benefits of high-quality retinol are worth it. In fact, if you ate enough eggs to match the amount of retinol you can get from cod liver oil, your PUFA from eggs would be significantly higher.
Moral of the story?
"Vitamin A is a substance that makes you ill if you don't eat it."- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1937
Is Vitamin A toxicity real?
It’s time to address the elephant in the room.
How much is too much?
Because blindly supplementing synthetic Vitamin A is drastically different than getting retinol through whole food sources.
The fear around toxicity mostly stems from using these harsh synthetics rather than consuming traditional foods.
The truth? Vitamin A in the form of animal retinol is safe and necessary. (7)
Natural vitamin A in skincare
You know what’s all-natural and incredibly high in bioavailable vitamin A?
Yep. It’s one of the many reasons we love it for the skin.
It’s possibly the best, all-in-one non-toxic moisturizer, wrinkle cream, and acne treatment.
Tallow works because it’s skin food.
It combines real fat-soluble retinol and saturated fat– a match made in skin heaven.
And unlike plant oils or petroleum-based products, your skin recognizes tallow and can benefit from all its nutrients.
This helps your skin
- Clarify pores and clear acne
- Defend against free radical damage and aging
- Stay radiant and glowy
- Feel soft and hydrated
- Repair psoriasis and eczema patches
- Keep firm and smooth
- And so much more…
So let’s not be fooled by vitamin A fear-mongering or plant-based propaganda.
Instead, let’s remember the healing practices of our past, eat food that’s actually good for us, and use traditional skincare that works with our biology–not against it.
As always, while we hope to be a no-nonsense resource, we encourage you to do your own research to find the healthiest options for you and your family.
You can check out our collection of good-for-you, tallow-based skincare products by clicking the link below. We hope to see you there!
- Vitamin A. (2019, January 2). Vitamin A. Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-A
- Mora JR, Iwata M, von Andrian UH. Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nat Rev Immunol. 2008 Sep;8(9):685-98. doi: 10.1038/nri2378. PMID: 19172691; PMCID: PMC2906676. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2906676/
- Hibberd MC, Wu M, Rodionov DA, Li X, Cheng J, Griffin NW, Barratt MJ, Giannone RJ, Hettich RL, Osterman AL, Gordon JI. The effects of micronutrient deficiencies on bacterial species from the human gut microbiota. Sci Transl Med. 2017 May 17;9(390):eaal4069. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aal4069. PMID: 28515336; PMCID: PMC5524138. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28515336/
- Sinha, Satwika & Kar, Kaushik & Dasgupta, Anindya & Basu, Saubhik & Sen, Sukanta. (2015). Correlation of Serum zinc with TSH in hyperthyroidism. Asian Journal of Medical Sciences. 7. 66. 10.3126/ajms.v7i1.12895. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281326251_Correlation_of_Serum_zinc_with_TSH_in_hyperthyroidism/citation/download
- Brabin L, Roberts C, Barr F, Agbaje S, Harper G, Briggs N. Sex hormone patterns and serum retinol concentrations in adolescent girls. J Reprod Med. 2004 Jan;49(1):41-51. PMID: 14976795. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14976795/
- Fill, K. (2023, January 3). Accutane Side Effects | Isotretinoin Effects on the Body & Mind. Drugwatch.com. https://www.drugwatch.com/accutane/side-effects/#:~:text=Other%20long%2Dterm%20issues%20from
- Olson CR, Mello CV. Significance of vitamin A to brain function, behavior and learning. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2010 Apr;54(4):489-95. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200900246. PMID: 20077419; PMCID: PMC3169332. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3169332/