Nutrition

Vitamin deficiency: Low levels of vitamin A could cause blindness

Vitamin deficiency is the root cause of many ailments, so keeping levels in check should be a health priority. Because our bodies produce vitamins from certain nutrients, eating a balanced diet can cover a wide spectrum of health needs. When the body becomes deprived of certain key nutrients, however, its function becomes hampered. In fact, some deficiencies can be so damaging that eyesight can be lost definitively.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) explains, Vitamin A deficiency contributes to blindness by making the cornea very dry, thus damaging the retina and cornea.

Research shows that low levels of vitamin A interfere not only with eyesight but are a driving cause of child mortality too.

The WHO explains: “An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 children who are vitamin A-deficient become blind every year, and half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight.”

The role of vitamin A in relation to eye health is well documented.

READ MORE: Heart attack: The common vitamin deficiency that may be ‘doubling’ your risk of an attack

The eye requires a range of pigments in order for the retina to function and perceive the full spectrum of light.

When vitamin A levels fall too low, the production of these pigments ceases, causing night blindness.

But the cornea is another part of the eye that relies heavily on vitamin A for nourishment.

Without enough vitamin A, the eyes dry out early because they’re unable to produce enough moisture to keep them lubricated.

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Research supporting supplementation with vitamin A is conflicting, however, with some studies showing the pill can increase the risk of death by 16 percent in some instances.

Christian Gludd of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, told New Scientist: “There’s absolutely no benefit from taking these supplements, and I would suggest people avoid them.”

Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the main symptoms of vitamin A deficiency are vision loss and blindness.

The health body explains: “Vision loss often begins as a problem adjusting to seeing in the dark, or night blindness.

“People with night blindness do not see well in the dark. But they can see normally if enough light is present.

“As vitamin A deficiency worsens, conjunctiva (the covering on the white of the eye that helps lubricate your eye) dries out.

“Then corneal (open sores) appear. If untreated it eventually leads to vision loss and blindness.”

Separate sources cite loss of tears, sores in the eyes, fatigues, dry cracked lips and bladder infections as symptoms of low vitamin A levels.

Sourcing vitamin A

Vitamin A can be sourced from animal products, so adhering to a balanced diet will substantially lower the risk of a deficiency.

Meat, fish, poultry and dairy products are all excellent sources of vitamin A.

Certain plant-based foods also contain the nutrient, such as fruits and vegetables that contain beta-carotene.

These vegetables and fruits are typically red, orange and green in colour and include carrots, mangoes, apricots, tomatoes, peas and spinach.

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