Vitamin A

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

While all nutrients play important and unique roles, in the world of nutrition one vitamin stands out like a diamond among ordinary gemstones.  In a nutritional world of betas this stuff is truly vitamin version of an alpha male.  In fact, it’s actually called Vitamin Alpha or more simply, as most people refer to it, as Vitamin A.

Actually there’s really no such thing as Vitamin A.  Instead, the term is an umbrella designation for a family of compounds called retinoids that are found through the plant and animal kingdoms.  These ubiquitous chemical structures exist in a variety of forms and perform multiple functions in a healthy biological system.The three most common forms of retinoids are called retinyl palmitate, retinol and retinoic acid.

Vitamin A Alpha
Perhaps the most important retinoid role involves the division of parent cells and the development of resultant offspring, so-called “daughter cells”. These processes, known as mitosis and differentiation are the most important of cellular events.Mitosis involves a cell splitting in two and forming a parent and an offspring.  Via this process one cell, made up of the combined female egg cell and male sperm cell (it’s called a zygote from the Greek word for combined) turns into the 100 trillion cells or so of the human body.  Obviously, the division is critical to formation of an animal body and this most fundamental of all biological phenomena is initiated and regulated by Vitamin A.

Differentiation is even more critical.  Once a cell it divides it may need to shape up, so to speak.  Daughter cells have to develop to become mature liver, muscle, bone, heart or “whatever”cells.  They have to shape up and take on a certain form.  Offspring lung cells have to mature to do the things that a parent lung cells can do and the same is true for heart cells or muscle or bone cells any other cells that divide. This maturation processes is what is called differentiation and it is a sophisticated affair that requires a tightly choreographed chemistry, and biological precision.And, much like the maturation of human being from baby to teenager to adult, the process is fraught with danger.  Anytime a system is growing and maturing and developing it reaches critical points where its survival is threatened. These tumultuous juncture points can be a matter of life or death for any system including a cell.  Fortunately nature has provided support to sustain the cell in its stressful differentiation periods…it’s called nutrition!  In fact one of the most important roles for nutrients is to assure healthy differentiation and of the entire support nutrient the most important bar none, the most powerful maturation nutrient is none other than the biochemical family known as Vitamin A.

Under conditions of vitamin A deficiency cell division is accelerated and cell differentiation is suppressed.  The net result is the production of lots of un-differentiated.,immature cells.   This can show up as various health issues ranging from to asthma to cancer to birth defects to skin conditions like psoriasis and acne all of which involve the appearance of large numbers of rapidly dividing immature cells that can muck up ordinarily organized chemistry.  In all these conditions relatively high doses of Vitamin A (we’ll get to those in a moment) can provide effective therapeutic treatment.

Vitamin A plays another important role in the biochemical play of life.  It turns on the production of meat.  Not the kind of meat you get at McDonalds, but rather the kind of meat of that makes up the mass of the body.  Technically the meat is called collagen and connective tissue and muscle protein and it gets pumped out cells called fibroblasts when commanded to do so by the alpha vitamin, Vitamin A.  Breakdowns in connective tissue are behind degenerative disease and that means Vitamin A can be used to help prevent diverse and distinct disorders including osteoporosis, heart disease, aneurysms and circulatory issues.  It can accelerate the healing of tissue after surgery or burns or wounds or other physical trauma. It can reduce the development of fine lines and wrinkle saggy skin and plain old regular aging.   And, it’s not just sick or old folks that benefit from the body building benefits Vitamin A.  Kids need it too. The most important sign of Vitamin A deficiency in children which 100 million kids worldwide is suboptimal growth and development.  Without enough Vitamin A children will stop growing and eventually die. [Vitamin A Part 2]

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition