Vitamin A is vital for growing children. This vitamin helps with vision development, healthy eyes and night vision. It is necessary to build strong tooth enamel. Sufficient Vitamin A stores help the immune system to function properly.
Vitamin A needs healthy levels of proteins and iron in the body to be absorbed. The vitamin is stored in the liver in large quantities. This means a Vitamin A deficiency can take up to two years to present symptomatically. This is how long it might take for liver stores to become depleted.
Let’s have a look at factors that can cause limited Vitamin A in the body:
- Limited supply in diet. Diet lacking in yellow fruits and vegetables especially.
- Iron deficiency. Improper deworming can lead to blood parasite infestation. Parasites deplete iron stores, which in turn interferes with Vitamin A uptake
- Protein deficiency
- Zinc deficiency
If ice cream is the closest your child comes to ingesting protein, give yourself a pat on the back already. Ice cream should contain whey – which is made up of amino acids. These are building blocks for muscles and aid in normal liver functions. And remember, Vitamin A is fat-soluble. Therefore chasing the yellow fruit and veg with some ice cream increases Vitamin A absorption in the body.
Don’t knock the cereals either. Most are fortified with iron, which is sometimes the only iron toddlers will ingest if they have a limited food repertoire. Just remember – dairy products can interfere with the uptake of iron in the body. Thus, sticking some dry cereal in your child’s lunchbox can be a winner. If iron supplementation was prescribed, avoid consuming dairy products shortly before or after taking supplements. Oral supplements can take up to 30-45 minutes before being utilized in the bloodstream.
In South Africa Vitamin A supplementation, together with deworming is done in clinics and sometimes at preschools by registered health professionals. This single dose 200 000 IU supplement is recommended for toddlers twice yearly up to age 6 to ensure sufficient liver stores. After age 6 a single dose supplement, always together with deworming, can be administered by health professionals once a year.
The main and characteristic symptom of Vitamin A deficiency is dry eyes. Lesser known symptoms may include colour vision fluctuations, extreme fatigue and weakened tooth enamel – leading to tooth decay. Deficiency is diagnosed clinically by correlating medical history, diet and symptoms and can be tested through Retinol blood test. Even suspected deficiency without positive blood test should and can be treated easily through diet and medically prescribed supplementation. If supplementing inadequate diet with multi-vitamins, Vitamin A levels in a multi-vitamin should be between 1000-3000 IU per day to be significant, depending on the age and weight of a child. Adult supplementation can be up to 10 000 IU per day. Supplementation in the form of beta carotene is more bio-available, so more body friendly. Always supplement with the aid of your physician or general medical practitioner. Sensitivities/allergies should always be ruled out beforehand.
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